Here Is Far From There, or Reading and Homework and Never the Twain Shall Meet

What I thought: my kids loved books, I loved books. One kid read early, the other read late, but they both loved books and stories and being read to with a burning deep sort of love. I don't want to say passion, because that makes it seem like they ran around a bellowed from the treetops, and that's not how it was, at least usually. Instead, it was more like they read walking down the street (until I stopped them with the old "death by automobile" thing). They read going down the slide. They snuck reading in the bathroom after lights out.

And do you know what I thought? I thought this meant school would be…well, if not easy, then at least something to which they were amenable. I thought they would read more widely, would read things that were amazing and fascinating—I thought reading had something to do with school.

This seems laughable to me now. 

Do you know what homework is? Homework is one of my children weeping in her room because she thinks there is NO WAY she can get all her homework done tonight. Homework is a 0, because one child forgot to write the class number on her sheet. Homework—school—seems barely to involve reading at all. Homework, schoolwork—they're something else entirely, they're all about knowing where things are, what's going on, finding various pieces of paper and filling in various blanks.

Here is what I must admit is also true: I was a major screwup at school for the most part, so my "memories" of having homework be a book to read, well, maybe they're a bit starry-eyed. Not entirely reliable. (Or maybe that's why I didn't do so well, because I only did the reading.)

Not every night is like this. But tonight is like this, and it makes me want to curl up in a ball at the bottom of my closet (with a book) and shut out the world. That, or to take my kids and run away to a place where—well, where this isn't happening.

There is no time to read tonight, but they will make time anyway. At least there's that.

Here is where we are, and There is where I thought we'd be, and they are just so very far apart.

20 thoughts on “Here Is Far From There, or Reading and Homework and Never the Twain Shall Meet

  1. What a perfect post. I write this while I’m sitting next to my filthy boy (from muddy soccer practice after school) who just finished dinner. He is engrossed in a book. So engrossed that he still hasn’t showered, or done his homework. So engrossed that he doesn’t even know I’m typing this inches from him.
    Homework ain’t gonna happen tonight. The shower will be three minutes tops. And he’ll read for another hour before I bug him.


  2. I have a teary 12-year-old who is worried about her honors reading test tomorrow. Vocabulary. Affixes and roots. I have no idea if they are even reading a book in HONORS READING. All she wants to do is read the next book after House of Hades…which doesn’t come out until next year. Ugh. I am a reading teacher and I don’t have answers to this either. I try to have my college students (developmental) read a lot, but all the “skills” are what they are tested on, and therefore what I am judged by. The whole thing sucks.


  3. Thank you for this.
    I began working this school year as an aide in the ESL dept. of my children’s elementary school. For 45 minutes a day I work with a small group of second graders on reading and vocabulary.
    I read aloud to them during every session. The teachers I work for don’t know I do this, and I’m not sure they would approve. They think the children should be working through their leveled reading series, period. I do have them read these books, but, to be honest, the students and I find these stories simplistic and boring. So I read aloud books of my own choosing, books with rich vocabulary and more complex plots.
    I think I’m doing them a world of good. I wish I could feel confident that my superiors would think so too.


  4. It also makes me ANGRY. I have spent much of the past few days organizing to get the parents at my kid’s middle school to refuse permission for their kids to take the new NYC middle school assessments. These assessments, 4×90 mins, to be given now and again in the spring–on top of the multi-day state tests they already take in April, well, they are just too much. And their sole purpose is to judge the middle school equivalents of Megsie, as if teachers should be judged by a student’s ability to select “the main idea” and not on whether their teaching inspires a love of learning (including reading–go Belinda) or demonstrates creativity, compassion, responsiveness, collegiality, etc. Sadly, many parents, including those whose kids attend progressive public schools, have fallen for this cult of quantification and evaluation. I implore you, enlightened commenters on this blog, to do all that you can to push back on this–whatever the particular “this” is in your community or for your child’s age group.
    Rant over. Just Feeling very lucky right now that both of my kids still get to do a lot of “Silent Sustained Reading” at their schools…and, Megsie, House of Hades, was DEVOURED by the resident 11 y.o. in this house.


  5. I’m having a horrific time with my youngest son and and currently contemplating chucking it all and homeschooling! Yikes! I’m serious, though — the more I read, the more I am enticed. I’ll keep you posted. In the meantime, I’ll meet you somewhere in the middle of the country — we can run toward one another with books clutched under our arms.


  6. This is the most beautiful post I’ve read here – so sad and so true.
    KK – others are fighting mad too – you aren’t alone!
    Elizabeth – if you haven’t, read Dumbing Us Down, by John Taylor Gatto. I’ll warn you, it’s what made me step into homeschooling.
    Anyone else feel like its getting awful close to Fahrenheit 451 around here?


  7. I so understand this. My daughter went to what was supposed to be this wonderful 21st century skills based (public) school program for high school. Instead she was judged on others’ failure to do their work and ended up having to pick up the slack- and her own individual work (mostly the mindless, useless stuff) added in- so h.s. was 6-8 hours of homework EVRY NIGHT and the same on weekends. She had no life, had little time to read (and she was such a reader and missed it terribly).
    After having gone to regular public school, private school and a public STEM program for h.s. she swears she will homeschool. School sucked the joy out of her life- and she generally reckons she had an “unhappy childhood” because of it. That’s not right.


  8. I researched the “homework crush” in detail in 2002 and wrote an article about it. Sadly, nothing seems to have changed since then! We “downshifted” our kids mid-way through their k-8 educations (i.e., removed them from “gifted” tracks), which profoundly improved our family life. They still both got into Specialized High Schools, where in fact less homework was given than in some of those G&T middle schools! The National Education Assn and National PTA recommend no more than ten minutes of homework per grade per night. Bring this to the attention of your PTAs, SLTs, Presidents Councils and CECs or School boards (outside of NYC), and you might start to see some action. I’m happy to help!


  9. As a veteran teacher, I have attempted to convince parents that most homework is useless. I’d rather see my students read, play outside with their friends and enjoy family time. Year in and year out, parents clamor for homework. So, I’m told to give in and I do.


  10. As a children’s author and a school librarian, my heart aches as I read this post. But I want to reassure you that things are changing in education. What you are seeing is the effects of 11 years of No Child Left Behind on teaching and learning. I am pleased to tell you, though, that the new Common Core standards are text based and will encourage kids to READ, discuss, and think in complex ways. A new day is dawning and I think you’re going to be glad. I know I will!


  11. Same story here for middle school minimum of 4-5 hours per night. Lots of upset and crying. Every year parents document and keep a daily log and I always hear things will change and I think it has gotten worse. Kids are told to cut out all or most of their extracurricular activities. To me it is crazy. I do not see then benefit. I feel like with core things are even more amped up and teachers are under more pressure than ever. And more tests than ever. State tests and then quarterly maps tests and kids feeling so much pressure to keep their scores on an upward trajectory. So far the tests have been our big stress. But we are still in elementary so we have been safe from the crazy homework yet but I feel like we are getting closer and closer to a ticking time bomb!


  12. My boys don’t read (16&14) as much as I would like anymore. I’m afraid they were burnt out by the “required” number of pages that they had to read in middle school. We talk a lot about reading and I hope that we have instailled a love of reading. We read all the time , everyday through elementary school, and hope they will come back to it when the homework has subsided.


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