A remote chance kids will do more than 19 measly minutes of homework at night

October 02, 2003|By Kevin Cowherd

THE 12-YEAR-OLD came home from school and I was ready for him, waving the newspaper in his face the way any good parent would. Read this, I said. It's about homework.

See, for years I have gotten all over my kids for not doing enough homework. Now here was the proof in a Page 1 story.

According to a new study, the average kid 12 and under spends just 19 minutes each night on homework. Nineteen minutes! And even high school kids are doing less than an hour most nights.

"Those figures can't be right," the boy said, handing me back the paper. "Where's the remote?"

I didn't know where the remote was, and I didn't care. But I knew those homework figures were right.

I keep hearing about all these kids who spend hours on homework each night. But none of them have ever lived in my house.

In my house, we have the same conversation just about every night. Instead of wasting my breath, I should just record my end of it.

What homework do you have? I'll ask the boy.

"All I have is math," he'll say.

What about your other subjects? I say. What about English and science and whatever else they offer in seventh grade in the public schools these days?

"The teacher didn't give us any homework," the boy will say.

Then he goes up to his room, closes the door and does about 19 minutes of math homework, after which he comes out and asks: "Where's the remote?"

Anyway, this news story took me back to an ugly little book called The End of Homework that came out a few years ago, written by a couple of loons named Etta Kralovec and John Buell.

We should get rid of homework, the book said.

Get rid of homework and the family will be strengthened, the book said, because then families will spend more time together and bond and their lives will be beautiful and blah, blah, blah.

Man, what a crock that was.

They made it sound like this was the 18th century, and that if only kids didn't have so much math and science to do after school, the whole family would be sitting around the kitchen table together quilting or churning butter or dipping candles or whatever they did back then.

The reality, of course, is that if you give kids less homework, the little brats will spend even more time watching TV or playing Nintendo or messaging their friends on the computer.

This is an absolute fact of life.

You think your kids are going to say: "Mom, Dad, no homework. How about we all go for a nice, long walk?"

Oh, are you dreaming.

Anyway, my kids thought The End of Homework was the greatest book they had ever heard of.

I had two in school back then - the other was off in college, where he definitely wasn't doing any homework. Every time I reached him on his cell phone, he was in the gym or at a party or something, and I began to think it was easier to just flush money down the toilet than to pay those college bills.

But the two at home, they were real pips.

They would go around the house talking about The End of Homework like it was something Louis Pasteur or Jonas Salk had written.

"Kralovec and Buell are geniuses," they'd say. "They really know their stuff. They might be the two greatest researchers the world has ever known."

So one day I sat them down and told them that in Japan, each school-age kid does four hours of homework each night.

They study so hard, I said, that sometimes little beads of blood form on their brow and their moms and dads will come into their rooms and wipe the blood with these special antiseptic sponges, so it doesn't get in their eyes.

But as soon as the blood is wiped away, the parents bark: "Now get back to that algebra!" and head for the door.

I didn't know if this was true or not - the part about the four hours of homework daily, I mean, not about the blood on the forehead.

But even if it isn't true, the Japanese are doing something right with their students, I told my kids.

Because in a study published two years ago by an outfit called the National Center for Education Statistics, 15-year-old students from 27 countries were rated on their proficiency in math, science and reading.

And the Japanese students ranked No. 1 in math.

That is absolutely true. And the South Korean students ranked No. 1 in science. And the Finnish students ranked No. 1 in reading.

How did the American students rank?

Hah, you don't want to know.

The American kids ranked 18th in math, 15th in reading, and 14th in science.

They'd probably rank No. 1 in finding the remote, though.

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