Friday, April 22, 2011

Do You Have Any Homework?

After spending twenty-two of my thirty-four years going to school, I finally get to answer, “No!” to that question.  It’s been five years since I’ve been assigned homework and three years since I’ve worked in a traditional school setting where I’ve designed, assigned, and graded large amounts of the stuff myself. 

It feels good to be done – lovely and very freeing, in fact.  Outside of work and family, my time is now my own, and I have no problem figuring out how to spend it.  But homework is still on my mind.  Puttering around the house, I run into literal piles of spiral bound notebooks filled with notes, double-spaced essays with comments lurking on the back pages, even a report titled The Desert that I wrote in fifth grade.  Talking with my coworkers, I discover that at least half of them also have stashes of homework from 20 to 50 years ago.  Even my father, who hated the majority of his homework assignments and who says that even after 40 years of not doing homework, he still feels relieved not to have any, brought in a couple of typed essays from his freshmen year of college when asked. 

Despite the freedom I feel now, and the feeling of dread and anxiety I associated with much of the homework I had through those twenty-two years, being assigned homework certainly wasn’t all bad.  Homework offered me a reason to sit quietly with my thoughts outside of the tumult of school.  I took it seriously – and luckily much of it was worth taking seriously, and as a result I learned plenty from what I was assigned.  But I also wonder if there was a cost.  Thinking back, I rarely had anyone ask me what I would like to pursue, what homework might be useful and interesting.  As a result, I didn’t really learn to follow my own curiosity – or rather attempted to do so in the limited time available after homework was done.

Working with young people through Mindport’s education program, I continue to consider the value of homework.  How does it affect an individual’s desire to learn?  What are its effects on a person’s life and the life of their family?  Is it useful?  What kind is useful?  Why?  When a student and I make a plan for what they might do between our meetings, should we even call it homework? Or is that too loaded a term? 

To help me look for answers, I’m starting to put together a show for Mindport’s gallery on this very theme, and I’d love to have your thoughts – and/or to see your homework (returned to you if a SASE is included). What was the best homework assignment you ever had?  The worst?  What homework would you give yourself?  What homework do you wish you’d been given?

Comment on this blog, or write to me at 210 W. Holly St. Bellingham, WA 98225 or talithamdj at yahoo dot com.  Looking forward to hearing from you. 

Tallie Jones

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