Let me start by saying that, even before the previous school year had ended, I’ve been advocating for schools to focus on quality, not quantity, this school year. Knowing full well the amount of economic, emotional and social pressures families are facing these days, schools should have made the effort to identify those lessons for each year level that are absolutely necessary, focused on those, and made everything else elective.* Not only does this sharpened focus benefit the learners and their parents, it lessens the load for teachers and the school as well. Everybody benefits. I’ve seen a teacher post on Facebook about how she had so many papers to check because she assigned 2 activities per day for each subject and she was handling x number of students per y number of classes. Um, hi, whose bright idea was it to assign 2 activities per day per subject?! How does overtaxing students help them learn in the context of this pandemic? Schools have a clear responsibility to be deliberate, strategic and empathetic here.
And this actually leads me right to no. 1 in this list of reasons why it’s a terrible idea for parents to be doing their children’s schoolwork.
1. When you do your child’s schoolwork, you’re indirectly encouraging schools to give out more work than a child can handle by themselves.
Think about it: if your child is able to submit all their requirements, even when the workload is too much, the school would then be perfectly justified in saying, “Well, if Child A can do it, so can B to Z.”
Except that Child A didn’t do it, did he — you did. And now Child B would have to find a way, somehow, to accomplish the same thing. Ditto for Child C. But what happens to Child D, who is ordinarily diligent and would have been able to handle regular schoolwork, but whose single mom needs to work her minimum wage job because they wouldn’t have anything to eat otherwise? How does he cope with schoolwork that, if everyone’s being honest, takes both a child and an adult to get done?
By passing off your work as your child’s, you’re setting unreasonably high standards for the other children in your kid’s class. Including, ultimately, your own.
So how about, first of all, letting your child do it all by himself to see if they can handle it or if it really is too much? And if it is, if no child could be reasonably expected to accomplish it all, then why not talk to your school about it? How about sitting down with your child’s adviser and asking if, and why, all that work is really necessary? A school that really cared about children would welcome these kinds of discussions.
But normalizing unreasonable workloads benefits no one: not the school, not your child, not you.
Which leads us to number two.
2. You’re burning yourself out.
“Well, actually,” you might say, “it’s easier for me to do my child’s schoolwork myself than to guide her while she’s doing it.”
There’s a word for that phenomenon: parenting!
It’s a bit like chores: it’s always going to be easier and less time-consuming to do the laundry yourself than to teach your child how to do it. But if you never make the effort to guide your child through the process of learning — and to accept that, yes, the first few
hundred clothes will not be immaculate and that, yes, some of your whites will inevitably come out pink — you will always be doing the laundry yourself.
Isn’t that what millennials are unfairly generalized and always getting flak for? That they’re useless around the house and always playing computer games? And yet, when you think about it, who raised them up that way? Who took the easy way out when they were kids?
So, yes, it might take less energy to do it yourself now, but you will be paying for it later.
Conversely, it might take more effort now to get your kids used to doing things by themselves. It might initially drive you crazy — believe me, I know, we did this in the last few months of the last school year, and even when we restarted this school year, it took some time to get into the groove. It’s difficult! No one is saying it isn’t. But as we get our kids to exercise more and more that Self-Sufficiency Muscle, they will need our help less and less. And that means less stress for us in the long run!
3. You’re teaching them to be dishonest.
This is going to be an unpopular opinion but it needs to be said.
There’s more to education than math and science and language. It’s also important for our kids to develop the right values and attitudes. After all, don’t we complain when other people cheat us or mislead us? Don’t we hate corruption and laziness in our government leaders?
And yet, when we do our kids’ schoolwork for them and have them pass it off as their own work, what are we teaching them?
That dishonesty is only bad if other people do it — but if we’re doing it, it’s okay?
That when the going gets tough, we are somehow justified in taking moral liberties?
That — when backed to a corner — it’s okay for our kids to lie to us?
I mean, I get it, you know. I get how tiring this all is.
While 2020 has steamrollered just about everyone, it’s hard to think of a group of persons whose lives have been upended more by this pandemic than parents. Parenting is hard enough, as it is; but add to that the additional pressures brought on by the COVID-19 crisis, and it can all just be terribly overwhelming.
But as parents we are the stewards not only of this moment in our kids’ lives. This pandemic won’t last us forever — and then we will have to live with the consequences of all our actions. In the not too distant future, our kids will be in charge of government and business and society. How they run it tomorrow — whether they will be part of the problem or part of the solution — will depend in no small part on how we run our lives and theirs today. And so it’s always worth keeping this question in the back of our minds: as we make our day-to-day choices, what, exactly, are we teaching our kids?
4. Your kids are missing out on this opportunity to build character, resilience, grit, and a solid work ethic.
We talk a lot about EQ being just as important as IQ. Well, this is the time to prove it — to prove that when we say attitude is as important as grades, we aren’t just spouting platitudes but really, truly mean it.
This pandemic has proven to be a real test of character for all of us: in the way we take care of each other, in the way we limit our own enjoyments for the sake of the vulnerable among us.
It’s proving to be a real watershed moment for our kids too. How they respond to the challenges of these times will shape their character for years to come. Do they fold in the face of difficulties? Do they give up when things don’t go their way? Do they wait for perfect conditions to pursue their dreams?
We’ve all heard about the kid — or in some stories, the man — who was watching a butterfly in the process of emerging from its chrysalis. Taking pity on the struggling creature, he tried to help it by cutting the chrysalis open. But what happened next was devastating: the creature ended up being unable to fly.
“What the man – out of kindness and his eagerness to help – had failed to understand was that the tight cocoon and the efforts that the butterfly had to make in order to squeeze out of that tiny hole were Nature’s way of training the butterfly and of strengthening its wings.” (Paolo Coelho blog)
Let’s say our kids struggle. Let’s say they do a 20-item exercise and they only get 10 right.
Is it the end of the world?
Is that what we’re telling them? That failure of any kind is unacceptable?
Because if it is, I’d hate to think what would happen to those kids if they get bullied, or they get their heart broken, or their college of first choice doesn’t admit them. I’d hate to think what would happen when they apply for 10 jobs and get accepted to zero, or their marriage fails, or they realize, inevitably, that their life isn’t going to turn out exactly the way they wanted it.
Isn’t it better to teach them from a young age how to fail, and pick themselves up, and try again?
I love that quote — meant for adults but just as meaningful for kids — “Don’t be afraid to start over. This time you’re not starting from scratch; you’re starting from experience.”
What we’re going through right now…this is life education for our kids.
If there is a silver lining to this crisis, it’s that we, our children included, can emerge from it stronger and more capable than we were before — if we put in the effort.
5. The point of education is for the child to learn.
As parents, we would do anything for our kids. We would walk on burning coals. We would wrestle with an orangutan. We would kiss a hairy spider — well, maybe not that.
But there are things we can’t do for them even if we wanted to.
We can’t carve out a part of our brain and put it in theirs and make them magically proficient in algebra or capitalization or proving the congruence of triangles.
Learning isn’t about ticking boxes and submitting requirements. It isn’t about grades even. It is the process of a person’s brain cells forming connections with each other, strengthening those links and making them quicker, so that when a situation comes up that requires that particular bit of knowledge, the brain will automatically know what to do.
Moreover, education isn’t just about learning things. It’s also about learning how to learn. It’s about the child getting used to the process of acquiring, storing, and using information so that when, as adults, they are confronted with something they don’t know, they will know how to deal with it. In fact, just as importantly, it’s about recognizing in the first place that there is something they don’t know — because so many people go through life not being able to distinguish facts from assumptions!
This is the gift of education. These are the mental muscles that are being built up, exercised, and strengthened in the process of learning so that the child is adequately prepared for the future as a competent, self-sufficient adult. If the child’s brain hasn’t done the work, if his neurons haven’t linked up, if he doesn’t know what he doesn’t know, the grades in his report card could all be 99 and they would still be completely useless.
Because the goal of education isn’t grades.
The goal of education isn’t a clearance slip saying you’ve passed all the requirements and returned all the beakers.
The goal of education is to learn.
Enrolling children to school and doing their work for them is like signing them up for a marathon and driving them to the finish line.
Just. Completely. Pointless.
(Sorry, just #realtalk.)
Have faith in your kids.
More importantly, teach them to have faith in themselves.
Let them do the work.
* My exact words (not important to read but just in case you’re interested):
“I hope we take this as an opportunity to shift focus to QUALITY, not quantity. Let’s already set the expectation that this will not be an ordinary school year; we should not expect to be able to cover as much as we ordinarily would.
“Instead, maybe we can make just the very essential lessons mandatory and have everything else be electives. By essential, I mean things that our kids will continue to remember and use when they are adults. All those other lessons are nice, they round us out as humans, but maybe at a time like this, it won’t hurt to look at our curriculum through the lens of necessity and ask ourselves, ‘Do our children really need to learn this RIGHT NOW?’ Identify those skills they absolutely must learn before they can move up, and let everything else be something they can take up when time and other resources allow.
“With so many parents exhausted and frankly out of their depth — I know I am — this could help us help our kids better.”