I firmly believe that homework is sent home to test the parents, not the children. My daughter is seven, and in the second grade, and already she brings home the most ridiculous assignments. The latest was called “Express Yourself!” Apparently they have been studying methods of verbal and nonverbal communication as a study unit. For this project, she had to pick something important to her (softball) and write four reasons why it was important to her. Then she had to make a poster about it and a five minute speech incorporating verbal and nonverbal methods of communication, creativity and good speaking skills. They are graded on all this. She also announced that she wanted to run for Student Council, and the poster and speech for that were due four days after the softball project. I tried my best to talk her out of it, until her father caught me, because I knew just how my week was going to be spent. I say my week, because despite K’s enthusiasm for A running for office, I knew he was going to do nothing on either the posters or the speeches, because I am “the creative one”, which is manspeak for “You’re stuck with it and I’m going into my office to play games on my computer with the door shut.” So Amanda and I spent all weekend on posters and speeches.
On Friday I went to Hobby Lobby and picked up a piece of poster board and a bifold foam board. The Student Council project was very specific: exactly one half poster, no more, no less, and no foam boards. Their permission slip to run for office had to be taped to the back of the poster along with a copy of their campaign speech to read. The “Express Yourself” project was much more nebulous and listed as a suggestion posters, power points, videos, songs, poems, etc. Amanda had already elected to make a poster, so hence the folding foam board. I also bought four packs of stick-on one inch black letters for neatness on the posters. I also bought a sheet of softball stickers. This was how I spent some of my half-day off on Friday while Amanda was in school.
When she came home from school, we tackled the Student Council poster. We cut the poster board in half, lightly drew straight pencil lines on the poster with a t-square (an antiquity now for sure) and put down the letters: “Vote Amazing A for Secretary”. We then went upstairs and printed out a photograph of her with a big shit eating grin on her face. We put that on the bottom of the poster. A was dying to put glitter glue on her poster, because she had seen that another girl had glitter glue, so we turned the “V” in Vote to a hand drawn check mark and filled it in with pink glitter glue. Then we made another bigger check in the lower left side of the poster and filled it in too. There. She had input into the poster and her beloved glitter glue. Then we put that aside and started on the softball poster. That was a little more challenging. We had to come up with a list of four reasons that she loves softball, and we finally came up with Fun, Friends, Learning and Teamwork. We put those on the left side of the poster in black sticky letters after a little bit more t-square wizardry. We printed out a big colorful picture of her with her softball team in their opening day parade, and she decorated the right side with the photo glued down in the middle and softball stickers around the pictures. Now the hard part? What was she going to say?
We started working on the speeches on Saturday. I asked her to just try to speak off the poster and describe what she was doing for Fun, Friends, Learning and Teamwork, but she proved incapable of extemporizing. I then had a rather inspired suggestion (if I do say so myself): she should address the classroom as if she were arguing with her mother in favor of playing softball. I thought that would satisfy the creativity, enthusiasm and expression categories quite nicely. However, she shut this down, stating that “the kids would laugh at her.” Since it is “supposed” to be her project I had to defer to her on that. We were going to have to write out a speech. Instead of doing that I asked her if she would like to do a power point and she agreed. So we went upstairs and made out six slides for her to speak from regarding her four points about softball: a title page, a slide for each of Fun, Friends, Learning and Teamwork and a wrap-up slide, where she again described the four points. Their grading algorithm was very specific that she make sure to include four strong reasons why this was important to her, and I wanted to make sure they were in there.
It was then time to finish the campaign poster and finish up the campaign speech. We got on Microsoft Word and typed her up a quick campaign speech (it only needed to be a minute long), printed it out and taped it to the back of the poster with the permission slip for her to run for office. Then we practiced the softball speech ad nauseum since it was due the following day. She ran through it with me and the babysitter who was there that evening. Since she was also being graded on enthusiasm, communication (verbal and nonverbal), visual aids and tempo and diction, we worked on all those things. Her father emerged from his man-cave in time to hear the presentation a couple times and offer constructive critisicm. We made her an emergency printout of her softball speech in case her power point crashed, put it with a USB key with the power point on it in her back pack, and packed up the posters for her to carry on the bus. And that was my weekend, except for some weeding and grocery shopping.
The point is here, despite my best efforts to the contrary, I really wrote those damn speeches and made those damn posters. She was incapable of doing anything except brainstorm the four points about softball, stick down the letters where I had drawn lines for them, stick stickers on the poster and write out part of a campaign speech. She was unable to extemporize on her subject at all, was unable to come up with bullet points under each of her four categories, and was unable to glue down any pictures evenly. Her main demand was that she get glitter glue on her campaign poster because someone else had had it. And all this is not because she is stupid. It is because she is SEVEN and she can’t think that way yet. I tried to get her to do this work herself every step of the way, since I am not one of these parents who wants to hover and control and design all student projects, and she just shrugged and looked blank. So who is that homework really for? Are there any kids that age who would be capable of coming up with all those points, writing a speech and designing a coherent poster? And are there any kids aged seven who know how to manage their time well enough to complete a project like this on time? I grant you this is the magnet school, but my daughter is pretty darn bright, and she was coming up empty on all that stuff. So I hope I get a good grade on my poster and I hope she does a good job of giving my speech.