Saturday, January 30, 2010

Why I did not make my daughter do her homework

When my daughter was in high school, she stopped doing her homework. Just like that. Just quit. Oh, she did SOME of her homework. The art projects, the essays, the short films she made about books she'd read. She just quit the "stupid" stuff (her words, not mine-though looking at the worksheets, the reviews of reviews, the busywork that offered nothing to stimulate the mind, the imagination, the soul, I had to agree. It was stupid.)

As her grades started to slip, her father and I tried several methods to encourage, coerce and bribe her to resume but she persisted. That's when it occurred to me to ask a different question: Why?

"It's pointless and I just won't do it any more," she said (and of course I am paraphrasing.... but that was the gist of the thing.)

And, instead of grounding her or taking away her allowance, I said, "That makes sense to me," while silently cheering: You go, girl! The homework (I saw it) was pointless, and stupid and boring and lame - insert any adjective that means: This is a waste of time that makes my stomach hurt when I do it. And instead of making excuses or lying or getting sick,my daughter was taking a stand: This soul-deadening activity sucks and I refuse to do it.

I knew my daughter. She was never a slacker - she worked her butt off on any project that engaged her interest - but she was always a truth-teller, standing up for herself, speaking from a core of deeply held values - and I wasn't about to do anything to squash that.

Within a year, this same impulse led her to quit high school - but she did so with a clear and focused plan: To enroll in a GED completion program at the local community college.

It was the best decision she's ever made. The teachers and classes she encountered there reenergized her love of learning, and every class - including Math! - captivated her full interest and effort for which she received almost straight As.

It prepared her for the program she's in now - an intensive, four-year film study program.

Someday, she may have to learn that you cannot quit everything that bores you (though I still question that assumption). Maybe, she'll have to face some dull job that is all about the pay check. But maybe not.

The world is brimming with opportunity, with flexibility. Looking back, I'm so glad we didn't force our daughter to do her homework. I'm so glad we asked "why" and when she answered, I am so glad that we listened to her.


Jennifer Hudock said...

This is a great post, Amy. I have never been strict about grades with my own daughter, who is ninth grade now and having a horrible time with Geometry. She is in danger of failing, but I find myself asking the same question I asked in ninth grade. When in my life will I logically use Geometry unless I decide to become a mathematician. I still encourage her to do her best and study, but know pushing the issue will ruin the enthusiasm she has for the classes she enjoys. There is a part of me that wishes sometimes I'd have gone with a homeschool program and sought outside social activities so she could really excel and focus on the things that will truly shape her as a person. I applaud your decision and your daughter's commitment to the things in her life that really matter.

Amy Oscar said...

Thank you, Jennifer. This was one of those posts that I was kinda shy about putting out there. Im a "different" kind of parent and Im always afraid the parenting police will swoop in and call me names. But I know I made the right decision - to make sure she undersood her options and their consequences, and then, to let her make her own decision. Good luck with your own parenting journey. Isn't it wonderful?

joanna said...

Much applause for thinking outside the box. My son wants a military career and a GED won't get you in at this point, so we trudge on ;p

Tammy McLeod said...

I think you're really brave and I love this post. I'm not sure that I'd have the same courage to let go like you did and to trust. Your daughter is going to find a life that she is passionate about and you've been a very wise mother in allowing her to pursue that. Kudos!

John Kaminski said...

I have Kudos and problems with the post...mostly Kudos. As a professor at a major university, I clearly see the difference in students these days. From someone who studied philosophy and art and all sorts of other comparable subjects, I say GREAT. The problem becomes how your daughter will live her life. On one end, she can conform to what is expected and finish HS, go to college and find something that intrigues her. On the other hand, she can quit school (as she did), get her GED, and follow her passion to become the next Picasso (or add your favorite artist, writer, poet, etc. here). Unfortunately, the latter may lead to a life of difficulties that she cannot even begin to anticipate at this stage of her life. Sometimes, tough love and a little bit of direction is the best thing you can give her (this coming admittedly from a childless person).

Either way, I don't think that there is a correct answer...but I applaud you on taking a stance to support your daughter and wish all of you the best!

Amy Oscar said...

And I thank you, John, for sharing your thoughts. It's certainly a conundrum - one that my husband and I struggled with.. mightily.

On one hand, we wanted to honor her nature - intensely creative, uncomfortable with convention, and outspoken. On the other hand, we worried she might never learn to live in society - might never be able to deal with the inevitable disappointments, boring patches, setbacks.

That's why we didn't just let her drop out - we insisted she enroll at the community college after careful review of their HS completion program and the potential issues of obtaining a GED vs. a traditional HS diploma.

We talked with the admissions offices of the colleges she wanted to attend and received their assurance that her choice wouldn't negatively impact her chances for enrollment.

We didn't make this choice AGAINST anything. We were not pushing against the status quo, or a bad system, or boring teachers.

Rather, we chose to support our daughter's quest TOWARD engagement, TOWARD interest, TOWARD passion.

I'm guessing she will make future choices the same way.

Amy Oscar said...

One last thing... every kid is different. Our son, a more traditional thinker and learner, stayed in high school, graduating with honors and went on to do well in college. Today, at 21, he's struggling (a little bit later but no less painfully) with some of the same issues with which our daughter wrestled at 17 and 18.

As he works with his choices, we are honoring who HE is, too.

It's one of the reasons I wrote this post, to work out my thoughts about how to support someone you love without imposing your own fears and issues on her/him.

My Q has always been: How do we let our children find their natural, unique path (for every path is unique, even the most conventional) while doing our best to keep them safe, on a trajectory toward a positive outcome?

Katie O said...

and now
i get an assignment that is due in three weeks and i start it right there at my desk while the teacher is still reading the guidlines and then i work on it all day and all night for three weeks... except for the time im spending doing the other assignments for the other classes.
because the funny thing is
there is nothing in the world id rather do now
than write a five page screenplay on villainy (ive written an email begging for more pages write now its at 12. i think the limit is 10 but theres so much you can say about biplanes and flying circuss in the 1920s...)
make a three minute color film with camera movement...
call threefold and get permission to shoot over spring break
sit in starbucks and write for hours and hours.

i mean. i knew i would get here. and if i didnt know you wouldnt have known and if you hadnt known you never would have let me slip.
i wasnt slipping i was running.
and i wasnt running away
i was running here
and its nice here.

Amy Oscar said...

yes, that last comment was from the daughter herself. Thanks, love - no one could express this more beautifully. Big hug.

Trish Scott said...

Good for you! Good for your daughter! "Maybe, she'll have to face some dull job that is all about the pay check." Yes, maybe she will but she will also get out before it claims her soul. Love this post!

Dian Reid said...

Brilliant insight and understanding of your daughter. What a wonderful way to honor her. Thanks for sharing this...I'll remember this line of thinking when I have my own kids. Seriously...this is powerful.

Amy Oscar said...

Thanks, Trish, Dian... everyone who took time to comment on this post. Every comment inspires and encourages me to share more and more honestly. Even if my ideas feel different, I'm learning they're not as "out there" as I once imagined.

Katie O said...

i think the boring day jobs come when your used to boring day jobs... boring day jobs like high school. and you dont know that thats not the only option.

wholly jeanne said...

ah, the questions we live as we parents balance saving our teenage daughters from themselves while supporting and encouraging them to live into their own selves. congratulations on having the wisdom to know the difference and seeing - truly seeing - your daughter.

Lisa said...

Very courageous--of both of you! When my kids were in elementary school I started doing their word searches for them, then the maps that they had to copy from the book onto a piece of paper...pretty much anything that I thought was strictly busywork I didn't make them do. I gave them plenty of opportunities at home to learn that sometimes we have to do things we don't enjoy...clean toilets, dust your rooms...