***disclaimer: this post is long. It took me a long time to write. I feel very passionate about this topic. If you are my friend or you respect what I have to say please read the whole thing. If you can’t finish it promise you will come back to it. Thanks! ***
I oftentimes find myself at odds with following the crowd just “cause”. In some ways I’m very passive and nonchalant. I let things roll off my shoulders, not many things bother me. I am a go with the flow person, a good time Charlie, an optimist, I find complainers exhausting and annoying. But every so often I will get stuck on a topic that just bothers me to the core and I have to go on my own crusade. Raising kids on the North Shore of Long Island is REALLY. FREAKEN. HARD. I mean like REALLLLLLY. 😩😩😫😫😖😖 If you have ever tried to explain what it’s like to someone not from around here, let alone another state they literally just. don’t. get. it. Explaining it is useless because they think we’re crazy, people like to be very judgemental and to be honest it’s very annoying to defend. Unless you have ever lived here it’s hard to explain the culture in a away that makes you sound like your normal person. I’ve said it before, sometimes I feel like the North Shore is like its own planet. It can just be a lot. A lot in every sense of the word. It is an uber competitive society and everything can get very overwhelming very fast. However, there are positives about living here on the North Shore that you can’t deny. I really do love living here and I wouldn’t live anywhere else. We have NYC at our fingertips, amazing restaurants, shopping, beaches, beautiful neighborhoods, highly acclaimed school districts…the list goes on and on. Well maybe there’s a few other places, that are just like Long Island with better weather 🏝… Anyway I digress…
The first time I felt that uncomfortable feeling was when Hailey was 2 👧🏻 and I was informed that everyone does a 2s program, in essence my 2 year was starting school. 📚 Ummmm ooookkk. 🤔🙄 I thought that was very unnatural and bizarre but I didn’t know what else to do. As a first time mom what did I know? Everyone I knew and I mean everyone signed their kids up for the 2s and off we went. We had a great year and Hailey was in class with her best friends. It was only 3 days a week so at least I had Tuesday’s and Thursday’s with her. It was also only 2.5 hours a day, but once you factor in lunch and a nap…it WAS your day. When she started she was 2 and a half. Fast forward to Dylan and she started a few weeks after she turned 2. This was even CRAZIER TO ME! Some of the kids in her class were babies! Pacifiers and diapers and didn’t even talk yet! Seriously wtf! But we did a 3 day a week 2s program again. It was “fine-ish”. Now here we are 6 years later and the 3 day a week program is the least popular everyone does 5 day and since Shane is the absolute oldest in the grade I begrudgingly signed him up. What is the point of my story? Lol…the point is I kind of just followed the education path like a soldier, even though it was uncomfortable to me. Even though at times it gave me a pit in my stomach. Same thing with camp. This is how education goes in my neighborhood so I just kind of did what I was told. (However, I have zero guilt in pulling my kids out of nursery for the slightest reason? So I do the Alethea spin on things. Kids wanna go to the zoo no problem. Kids wanna stay home and play with their toys fine with me. Haven’t seen a friend from another town with same age kid, I’ll put my kid out of school for the visit. Want to go on vacation, c ya later 2s program).
Anyway I digress again. Now here I am with 2 daughters in elementary school and I just follow along as a dutiful parent. I force my kids to do homework and find myself policing them and we fight all the time. This past December I took my girls out of school, gasp, for a whole extra week in addition to their 1 week off to go on a huge family vacation to Hawaii. People were like OMG aren’t you nervous for them to miss a week. Nope. I had so many incredulous comments thrown at me. Didn’t faze me. So off we went and had an amazing trip. We got back and Hailey comes home from school with the thickest folder and it was labelled “To-Do- Missed classwork and homework”. 😳😳😳😳😳 Here we were flying high from our amazing trip and that was certainly an “eeeeeeeend sceeeeene”. We happened to have a play date with an old friend, we shall call her “1st favorite neighbor” and I was complaining about “the folder”. She very simply said to me “Alethea. Just don’t do it.” I was like wait what? 😮 How does that even work? She said “write the teacher a note and say thank you very much but unfortunately Hailey will not be doing this”. I was all 😱😱😳😳…🤔🤔🤔🤔…😖😖😖 She really stumped me. I never really thought about it. Do I have really have a say? Could I really ever do that? What would happen to us? Will she be behind forever? What could an elementary teacher reeeeeeally do to my child? Meanwhile, I lacked those balls of steel 🌕🌕❌, and it took Hailey 8 days to make up all the work in addition to her regular 90 min a night of hmwk. I was furious, exhausted and we were still very jet lagged that following week.
Very shortly after I stumbled on an article from Vicki Abeles on Facebook that literally CHANGED MY VIEWS of education and parenting. After I read the article I felt like I was sucker punched. I was out of breath. I felt myself nodding and agreeing with everything I read and I kept highlighting paragraphs at a time, copying them into my notes section on my phone when I find things I like that I read and I want to save. After awhile I gave up because the WHOLE article needed to be copied pasted and saved. I felt so sad after I read the article.😢😥😭 I thought to myself “Who is going to save our children? We are literally making our kids SICK! 😷😷😰😰How can I do this to my most prized possessions”. I know your thinking I sound very dramatic, but after you read this article I just KNOW you will see that much of it holds true. If you only read ONE article I ever post please just read this one. 🙏🏽🙏🏽🙏🏽🙏🏽
Tutors starting in 1st grade? I mean…this is nuts! Sports tutors starting at 4 years old. Yup that happens too…After school activities SEVERAL TIMES a week including weekends. (Actually that doesn’t bother me and yes my girls are in plenty-because I believe there’s more to life then school and I like that they enjoy and succeed in what they do and get a chance to dabble in all areas of interest). However I do see how being busy all the time becomes a lot of pressure on these little kids, who then become bigger kids and then become teenagers. My friends with older kids say to me all the time “juuuuuust wait” and “you won’t even believe how much work they get” and “the pressures are insane”. This is really freaking me out people!!! Anyway, after reading this article I decided to become more informed on what is “making our kids sick”. I started watching less Bravo and E, my dvr started filling up, and I started finding article after article about education reform, and the anti homework movement, and the opting out of testing movement. Whether you agree or not on these topics, the only thing I can say is- have you ever really stopped to think about it? Do you really know anything about these topics? Did you ever think that maybe life doesn’t have to be this way? Have you ever done any research and read any of these new studies? I never did. Ignorance was bliss… I just went along on this topic because generation after generation that’s what parents do. The teachers and administration are our bosses and we do what they ask. But maybe not. I haven’t posted any anti homework articles on the blog yet, but I will, I have to find the time to sort thru all of them and give you the good ones. In a nutshell “There is no evidence that any amount of homework improves the academic performance of elementary students.” It is neutral at best and harmful at worst!!! Woooooah. This is really a shocking revelation to me because as far back as we know kids have toiled away endlessly doing homework like good little students. All for what??? NOTHING???? But we will
cover this topic another time…
But I leave you with a few bullet points from the article but PLEASE read it in its entirety! Ps- the author went on to making a very widely viewed and highly acclaimed documentary called the Race to Nowhere, which I haven’t watched yet but am dying to watch. One more thing, I am completely open to hearing all sides of the story and look forward to any insight people have to share. There is no one right answer how to raise children…and PPS- I know some of you will retort with “no one is forcing you to do all this craziness Alethea. You can make different choices for your family. You don’t have to do a million activities etc…” Well that is just an annoying response and that’s missing my point…I’m focusing on school life and homework life and mental and physical health and questioning the status quo.
The title of the article is:
We’re destroying our kids — for nothing: Too much homework, too many tests, too much needless pressure
The article starts off “My own awakening to the toxicity of the achievement race came the way it does to many parents: via years of trying to keep up with it.”
(here is another article by the inspirational Vicki Abeles) ⬇️⬇️⬇️
-Slowly, though, I began to notice that our lives were less and less our own…
They rarely simply went out to play with kids in the neighborhood; everyone else was enslaved to a schedule, too. I could scarcely remember the last time I’d seen my kids play, tinker, daydream, relax, invent a game, write or read for pleasure, or do anything that wasn’t assigned to them by someone. They were so busy being little professionals that they had almost no time just to be children. Likewise, Doug and I were left with no time just to be the parents we wanted to be. We were too busy being chauffeurs, homework wardens, and musical taskmasters.
-So many parents have told me that the madness snuck up on them the same way. You want your children to learn deeply, so you push them to study. You want to give them opportunities to develop their interests—perhaps better opportunities than you had as a child—so you enroll them in whatever sports and art lessons you can afford. You think you’re doing the right thing. And then, before you realize it, your life feels like it’s spun out of control.
-“Children and families do not exist in a vacuum,” Arizona State University psychologist Suniya Luthar would later tell me. “We exist in communities. Children exist in schools. There is a school culture, a community culture, in which there is this reverberating message: More is always better. Do more. Accomplish more. Achieve more. The schools and communities in turn exist in American culture, which again espouses the same message, the American dream. The more you can do, the better off you are. In fact, if you don’t do more, you’re going to be left behind.”
-We often ate meals in the car as we zoomed from one practice or recital to another. And always awaiting my kids when we returned was more homework. It seemed that anything a child did—every hobby, every interest, every lesson—had to be done at a near-professional level of commitment. Coaches and instructors expected no less. There was no room to dabble or just explore.
– I thought: This is nuts. Every parent who arrives at this realization immediately runs into a new set of vexing questions. Do we quit the sports and arts that our children seem to enjoy? Allow them to skip their homework? Abandon the tutoring that seems, at least in part, supportive of their confidence and progress? Pull them out of school? Each of these possibilities seems at first extreme. On top of the practical dilemmas, we confront deeper questions about the culture we are a part of. How in the world did we reach a place where school and enrichment activities, of all things, could literally be making our children sick? And how many other kids are struggling, too?
-And for what purpose, all this pressure? The presumed holy grail of a K-12 education in the United States is hardly a love for learning or an authentically engaged citizen. It is, against all odds, a “yes” message from one of a handful of expensive, brand-name universities that only a fraction of each year’s three million high school graduates will be invited to attend. (And, it should be said, even that treasured invitation itself comes with no guarantee of lifelong happiness.) Whipped into a panic by hypercompetitive admissions practices and by hype, kids, parents, and educators pursuing that holy grail sacrifice terribly important things: time, money, health, happiness, and childhood itself. Without our even realizing it, our driving goal has become all about preparing for the college application, not preparing for the college experience or life beyond. Performing, not learning. Amassing credentials, not growing. Not even really living.
– “Success” equates to attending the most prestigious college and then netting the big house and the high-paying job. Winning the education race, we’re told, is the way to get there. Rather than building their resilience, such a high-stakes education drives our children to chronic insecurity. Fear. Anxiety. Disconnection. Loneliness. Record rates of depression. And, as they get older, binge drinking, eating disorders, cutting, and even suicide. The clear message they hear from their environments is to produce, produce, produce at all costs, even if it means cheating, taking drugs, or working through the night to keep up.
(Honestly how do you argue this???)
-In order to develop optimally, the brain needs just the right amount of challenge: enough to stimulate neuronal growth, but not so much as to overwhelm it. Our educational system today tends to “miss the sweet spot,” he says, because “it confuses the quantity of work with the quality of the challenge.”
In summary, I believe we owe it to our kids to question what is status quo and protect them from the system. Just because this is the way our school system has worked for decades doesn’t mean it’s “right” or it should “continue” this way. In our modern day, as time passes we learn more, we know more, we have more available studies and research, we become more sophisticated and knowledgable on topics. While many may disagree and prefer to stick with the old way of thinking, and are ok with the pressures and demands of current Education (shoutout to my debate team girls 👩🏻👩🏼😤 love u ❤️even though u make my blood boil) many people are jumping on the bandwagon of newer thinking and newer philosophies (shoutout to Jericho schools- they seem to be on the right path…👏🏽) At the end of the day, it is all about the love for my family,😍 it’s about making memories, about raising happy and healthy kids, and about preserving my children’s childhoods because it is such a fleeting time of their lives and they deserve to live it⏳⌛️⏳⌛️⏳⌛️👭👬 we need to change the educational climate where we raise our kids in. Times change. We help change them. 💪🏽💪🏽💪🏽💪🏽
PS- I ended up buying Vicki Abeles’ amazing book and I highly recommend it if you need more compelling arguments on what is happening to our children. Here is an excerpt from the NY Times book review:
This is the full article and book review:
Thank you for reading if you made it this far!!!👏🏽👏🏽👏🏽