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Reflection in the Mirror: Fabricated Images (Part One)

I have a mirror in front of me, but instead of seeing my own reflection, I see what society has made me. I remember 1st grade like it was yesterday. My mother dropped me off at school, right before she left she said: “Jessica have a nice day at school” kissed me and departed. I walked to my classroom, and like atoms me and the other girls joined together, looking for friends to be with the remainder of the school year. I did not know the definition of skin color, and how it marked an individual like a tattoo. I went and sat with the group next to me. A girl approached me and asked,”Why is your hair so nappy? It’s not long like mines.’’ You could only imagine the way I was feeling the rest of the school day. When my mother picked me up, I cried to her, “The other girls at school told me my hair is nappy.” My mother replied, “I want you to go up to them and tell them that you are happy that your hair is nappy.” Going back to my own reflection in the mirror, I see that society’s control over the media gives them the ability to construct an image of “good” and “bad” to hair textures. Deep within me I know that my hair is what makes me different, and it isn’t something that I should be ashamed of. I was in for a surprise to soon discover that this technique that the media use to force self-doubt on my hair, a similar technique of creating self doubt is applied to my skin color as well. For the most part, these “bad” descriptions that society illustrate about African Americans, destroy a part of their self confidence, and soon an individual would start to believe in these fabricated views. I love the skin that I am in. Who would ever think that I would be ranked by skin tone?

It’s a common misconception that the lighter your skin is, the more attractive and “positive” you are. This illusion has not only led the elites to create a system of social stratification, but it starts a trend labeling an individual’s qualities based on the complexion of their skin.  “Colorism”, a term that is mentioned in Alice Walker’s essay “If the Present Looks Like the Past, What Does the Future Look Like” suggests that there is a scale ranking an individual by their skin tone. The lighter your skin is, the more favorable you are. The darker your skin is you are often labeled as being negative. The problem with this is that other African Americans adjusted to this belief that lighter tones of brown is more attractive than darker tones. Causing yet another battle between our people. Once again I face my own reflection, and I don’t see myself fitting into this stratification system of color. The thoughts of running out of my skin to please society’s expectations invades my mind. The inner me interrupts, and reminds me that I am beautiful just the way I am. Though I have this double view myself, I have learned not to let these false images take over me and my perception of myself.

As I grew older, I became more aware of this double view. Although it has it disadvantages it made me stronger. I am able to put myself in other minorities shoes, like the LGBT community for example. From their standpoint they also possess this double conscious view of oneself.  If you don’t stand for something you will fall for anything. My mother taught me that I shouldn’t change myself just because other people influenced me to do so to fit their standards. The next day at school I did go up to the girls that teased me, and I told them “I am happy that my hair is nappy.”

 

Reflection

In my reflection I see what society wants me to be

In my mind I have this craving to be set free

I don’t want my skin color to get the best of me or take over

my soul and produce insecurities

If you don’t understand my life take a minute to learn

That my skin color shouldn’t be a major concern

open your eyes and see all that was created

we are all human c’mon let’s face it.

 

 

(Sources: Langness, David. “Skin and Character: the Colorism Connection” ).

 

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College – the Best Way for Your Future

 

“Those who claim education is a waste of time are missing the bigger picture” (Hrabowski 259). College is extremely important for gaining success, wealth, and power. After a lot of work by community members to give everyone the right to attend college, many people don’t value it. Too many people don’t understand the power and purpose of a good education. Today, many young people only want to be an athlete or a rapper instead of being a teacher, a lawyer, or a business leader. Many people think that a college degree is not the only or the easiest way to be successful in life. Even some people claim college is for suckers because it is expensive and does not always prepare for the world of work. With many difficulties for choosing a good and suitable college education such as school selectivity, field of study and career, and graduation rates, some think a college degree is likely not the best investment for everyone’s future. These difficulties are not challenges, but opportunities for you to try to get what you want and try to become what you need to be for your future. Besides the enormous economic benefit, college is the best way for everyone to prepare for their freedom and power, regardless of one’s background.

Fortunately, college is a good option for everyone regardless of one’s background. No matter if you are smart or not. In his article “Hidden Intellectualism”, Gerald Graff explains why he thinks college is for everyone. First because of hating books, when he was young, Graff thinks he was not smart and able to study in college, but by reading the sport magazines, he recognized his hidden intellectualism and sports was a foundation for his later intellectual studies in critical reading and analytical writing in college. Both smart students and weaker students are equally important to being a foundation for academic life. College education helped Graff explore a type of analysis and this taught him how to argue, to explain the other’s views, and to generalize what people think in the endless analysis of sports teams and sports games. Now he can see the parallels between the sports and academic worlds (267- 69). Graff suggests that “street smarts” can often be intellectual and those who are only street smart have the abilities to shine academically. Everyone is able to go to college, explore their abilities, and learn useful things for their future. There are many advisors willing to spend countless hours advising prospective students. In “College Prepare People for Life” Freeman Hrabowski writes, “Higher education must continue to partner with school systems to prepare more students for college” (261). In other words, if you don’t know what major is suitable for your ability or for your future jobs, you can come and talk to the college advisors. This means there is no excuse for someone not to come to college. It is important to remember that college is always an open door for both smart and weaker students to come and get the amount of substantial opportunities.

Although the cost of American higher education is not cheap, college education is relevant for not only high-income students, but also low-income students. One strength of the American higher education system is the diversity of missions among the 4,700 colleges and universities.  Hrabowski advises, “Students should estimate the net costs, looking carefully at expenses and anticipated grants and loans” (260). He emphasizes that students should not pledge to study subjects that are not suitable and a waste of time and money. They have to decide where to go to learn and which career to do. Students can find institutions—public and private, two-year and four-year—for just about any educational plan and budget. Besides, government at all levels has come close to supporting colleges to decrease the cost of college. Also, low-income students can apply to selective schools that they are qualified to attend—and they can be eligible for generous financial aid. Financial aid, scholarships, grants, and loans are always available to help more students attend college. Consequently, college is the best place for everyone, regardless of one’s background.

In addition, getting a college degree is the smartest way to invest in your future finances. In a difficult economy, in most fields, employers tend to hire and pay more money to people who have at least a college degree. So, college graduates have more chances than high school graduates to earn money. Even though there are some differences among majors, it is still easier to get jobs with higher expected salaries and good benefits to greatly improve your financial prospects if you have graduated from college. In addition, the imbalance of earnings between college and high school graduates will increase year after year. According to the Hamilton Project in “Should Everyone Go to College” written by Stephanie Owen and Isabel Sawhill reports, “23 to 25 year olds with bachelor’s degree make $12,000 more than high school graduates but by age 50, the gap has grown to $46,500″ (211). In 25 years, the gap between the earning of college graduates and high school graduates will be $34,500. If you keep working, it will increase more. Which one do you want: to work with a high school diploma or to continue studying and getting a college degree? In addition, Michelle Obama—First Lady of the United States—also emphasizes in “Bowie State University Commencement Speech” that college graduates or higher can earn nearly three times more than high school dropouts to encourage young people to continue their education after high school. It is unlikely that college graduates are unemployed. Making more money helps people with a college degree be happier and live longer than those without (291). All aspects of life are better with a college degree. Earning and having money for a better future is everyone’s dream. A college degree will help your dreams come true.

Moreover, by improving your skills, college education will open more high-paying jobs opportunities to enter the competitive economy. This is the best way to prepare for your future finances. Now, it is easier to get good jobs with a liberal arts degree because, according to Sanford J. Ungar in his article “The New Liberal Arts”, our nation’s employers are looking for workers to be critical and flexible, and to be able to solve problems professionally and independently. These skills are taught in liberal art education in colleges (228). In other words, people with liberal arts degrees have critical thinking and analytical reasoning skills and have more opportunities for high-paying jobs than those without. Also, Hrabowski mentions the requirement of a college degree, “College graduates are much more likely to be employed than those with only a high school diploma and earn substantially higher salaries” (260). In a globally competitive economy, people who have at least a college degree will be the winners in finding good and high salary jobs. In contrast, for high school graduates, getting jobs is harder and harder, especially high-paying jobs. Spending your time, your money, and your efforts for better finances is worthwhile and necessary.

Furthermore, college is a good return on investment for your future finances. Comparing the average upfront costs of four years of college and the sum of earnings over a career, Owen and Sawhill call investing in college is a tremendous return. They are right. $102,000 of tuition plus opportunity costs for four years is a small number compared with $570,000—the sum of earnings for someone with a bachelor’s degree (211). It means you can save $468,000. This good profit is the best reason that you should go to college now. Some people choose to work after high school because they want to earn money to support themselves and their families. When they just focus on earning money immediately, they don’t know that they are losing money in the long run they could get with a college degree. Thus, people should understand that investing in your finances means going to college.

Additionally, the best way to get freedom from oppression and power is a college education. Getting freedom was African Americans’ dream in the past. Hrabowski says, “When we focus so heavily on monetary inputs and outputs, we ignore the question of what it truly means to be educated, such as contributing to the public good” (260). Having education means people can get more money, but it is not enough. Education helps the public good because educated people will be better citizens. For example, crime rates are reduced and political participation rate is higher when we have more education (Owen and Sawhill 210). These things help you fight oppression and get freedom. College education makes freedom possible. African Americans’ freedom is one of the examples of college education causing freedom from oppression. According to Obama, in many parts of this country it was not legal for black people to get an education. Knowing education is a way to receive freedom, African Americans decided to get what they needed to succeed in this country. Even though there were many challenges, past generations tried their best to study to get excellent college degrees. Getting education means getting freedom. Also, it means now they have more chances to read books, share their informed opinions, and take their rightful place as full citizens in this country (288-90). A high education helps them fulfill their knowledge and improve their skills, so they find more freedom to voice their opinions, set their own rules, and create their own things. Therefore, freedom from oppression is one important reason for everyone to attend college and get a degree.

Furthermore, gaining a college degree means gaining more power. It means civil rights and political empowerment. For example, this was known by Dr. King, who argued against segregation, and was a leader of the civil right movement (Obama 290). This was also known by Walter Sondheim, who had received a strong grounding in the liberal-arts and ability to think broadly after graduating from college. He became the most admired civic leader in Maryland. He was an active leader in desegregation (Hrabowski 262). Also, President Barack Obama is a graduate of Columbia University and Harvard Law School. College helped him to improve his knowledge and meet other influential people. A college degree also helped him gain the respect of others and become a successful and powerful president of the U.S. Hence, college education not only gives you more knowledge and skills, but also helps you get the freedom and power that you need to succeed in life.

All of this suggests that it is absolutely right to tell young people, regardless of background, that going to college—any college—is the best decision they can make for their finances, for getting freedom, and for power. If you choose wisely and attend a school with generous financial aid and high expected earnings, and if you don’t just enroll, but graduate, you can greatly improve your lifetime prospects. The global economy is becoming increasingly more competitive, and in order to give yourself the best chance for high-paying jobs, for earning and saving more money, and for getting more power and freedom, you need to understand the importance of college education. A college degree is not the only way, but it is one of the best ways to prepare for your future.

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Dragonfly In the Sky

There is nothing more one should adhere to or admire than a world of curiosity. My curiosity for the Patoor Village in Sudan brought a happy change into my life. Many days in the village, the boys were always wondering where this big dragonfly shape in the sky with such magnificent vivid smoke would come from. While we would look after the cattle, some among us would go back to our parents and ask about this mysterious machine in the sky, and most came back with short answers like “American,” with no further explanation. It was almost like a fairy tale to us; I guess maybe that was the start of our curiosity.

On 21 August 1987, the country of Sudan had declared war on herself, which had an effect over our settlement in the main areas of the South. All the villagers had come under attack by the Muslim armies at that time, which had stirred everyone to run off for their lives. This event has never left me since that is the day in which I had separated from my parents. I, along with others from my village, took a three-month journey to find refuge along the border of Ethiopia passing over the desert (or Sahara of Ager) within the southern region of Sudan. After crossing over to the other side of the border, the sounds of guns began to quell, and that is when we started a new life in the diasporas of the villages, since we all came from different places within Sudan and also had different ethnic languages. The villagers inhabited a refugee camp called Panyindo in that area of the border, while others went and occupied other places, such as Itang and Dimo camps.

The resettlement in these provisional places were not easy, since the government of Ethiopia was not willing to help us further than allowing us to camp on this small side of the land. However, at least they were generous to spare our lives from these vicious forces who wanted to kill off anything male and enslave anything female. After three months of tough survival in the camp, I.R.C.C., which stands for the “International Red Cross Committee,” came on the scene. I guess they were coming to check on us and to witness the famished conditions that we were in. It was eight o’clock in the morning of August 1987 when these legions were landing in our camp. Though I was wretched with hunger, I still had to stand up with my emaciated body and venture over to this flying dragonfly-shaped object the I.R.C.C. had arrived in.

Even with the strife, the curiosity for the dragonfly shape had continued to reside in my mind. It was like a dream come true, that the anisoptera that we used to talk about while looking after cattle in our village had finally come near me; I was vigorously willing to learn about it all. So, I asked the officer who was about to welcome this group, “What is this flying object in the shape of dragonfly?” The officer answered, with quick emotion, because he was in a hurry to go to the open field before this object was about to touch the ground: “It is an airplane that delivers white people.” I thought, “What does the officer mean by airplane and white people?” I was confused, but still waited to let everything calm down before I could ponder what he meant. Ten minutes later, the dragonfly finally hit the ground with a thunderstorm sound. I thought, “Wow!” And, in a few seconds, six white workers came out of this wonderful object, and the whole crowd were running after them because this was the first time most of our peers had seen white people in our lifetimes. Moreover, the different languages the I.R.C.C. agents were using created more curiosity in everyone’s minds on that day.

Later that evening, there was much distrust among the villagers in the camp. All were talking about how our complexions were different from the agents’. All we had known from the time we were born was the swarthy skin around us. Some among us were very much concerned about where they had come from and what kind of language they spoke; all of this formed the rising cloud-puzzle that day in the camp. This also indicated the negative impact in the minds of the oppressed who were kept behind bars for so many years. The Muslim government of the Northern Sudan thought they would keep the genocide of the Sudanese as a secret that would never be detected around the world.

We were unsure if the I.R.C.C. was part of this secret. However, the day we began to build trust with the I.R.C.C. was after they returned on the third day with medicine and blankets to be distributed among new arrivals in the camp. While some villagers were inoculated for a variety of diseases, most commonly malaria, many others European agencies and U.S. agencies were able to swarm into the camp to observe and secure the rugged environment that we were in. A few months later, we were given food rations by these agencies—American corn, bread, sardines—the European Union and USAID were dominant among the rest in helping bettering our condition.

Before we were able to relocate to a new camp, the Ethiopian government declared war on itself, and we were coerced back to Sudan, which created a very dangerous atmosphere for us. We were held at gunpoint while dodging bullets from both military forces on the Gilo River between the Sudan and Ethiopian borders; thousands of us were drowned or shot by the bullets. We were 27,000 young boys in number when we were in the refugee camp, but due to the incident on the Gilo River, there were only 16,000 left of us, which was the biggest loss over the course of our flight: We were trekking and finding refuge again until we reached the Kenyan border in 1992.

The curiosity again continued. After spending nine years in the Kakuma camp in Kenya, we were told that we will be resettled permanently in the United States of America. The process of resettlement began in 1999 and by the end of 2001, we were able to fly to the States with the famous name of the Lost Boys and Girls of Sudan, which was the symbol or status to remind the world about what had happened to us in the Sudan. I couldn’t believe the day I flew to Chicago. I could not believe that one day I would fly inside of what we used to called “the dragonfly”; within the dragonfly was an amusing modern steel carpeted chair and a television screen, which navigated the flight route. Never before had I ever gazed upon a television screen; I was hypnotized. We were told by the pilot that the flight was going to take off and to put our seatbelts on before leaving Kenyatta International Airport; in a few minutes, we found ourselves up above the sky. I was so happy and also nervous about the height at the same time. Everything began to disappear right below the ground. I felt like those birds of the sky; eighteen hours later, I finally reached my destination. It was such jubilant feeling using airplane for the first time, which I still recall every time my mind retracts back to the past.

If it wasn’t for my curiosity and my memories of Patoor Village, I could not have found out about “America” or endured all kinds of hardship in the refugee camp until my lucky day came and brought me to America. I had become the member of American society as it is today. So it is very important for an individual to consider curiosity with good memories as true courage in order to deal with difficult circumstances, no matter what the cost. One should seriously be inquisitive in order to be successful with whatever goal one intends to achieve.]

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Why Is It Important to Celebrate Black History Month?

What is the best gift you have ever received in your life? As Americans, we may say money, new car, house, and other material things. That used to be my answer, until I realized that the best gifts in life for me are those things that could not be replaced. The best gifts for me are memories that I cannot only rewind, but also cherish. Take a seat, and relax because I want to share a memory of mines with you.

I was ten years old; I remember crossing the street on the South Side of Chicago to my grandmother’s house. I enjoyed spending time with my grandmother because she made the best cornbread and macaroni and cheese. When I arrived at my grandmother’s house, she asked me about the lessons I was taught in school. I told her I didn’t learn anything because I wanted to eat instead of share what I learned. She told me that she was going to fix me a peanut butter and jelly sandwich instead of the usual cornbread and mac and cheese. I thought she was joking, until she pulled out the loaf of bread and a bag of potato chips. My grandmother was a former history teacher, and made sure I was aware of the evolving culture of African Americans. She told me when I crossed the streets to her house,  the traffic light, discovered by Garret Augustus Morgan, allowed me to safely cross the streets. I learned that peanuts were discovered by George Washington Carver, and the potato chips were invented by George Crum. Charles Drew was the inventor of the blood transfusion, which saved people’s lives. The elevator, door knob, refrigerator, fire extinguisher, and even the mail box are creations of African American inventors. I sat there in shock because I didn’t know who these people were. Some of the items I use every day were discovered by African Americans. She calmly explained to me that these were African American inventors I should have learned about because, without them, I wouldn’t have the privilege to enjoy their inventions.

Black history month is important because it reminds everyone of how far African American culture has come, and that the work is continuous. Now as an adult, I understood the lesson my grandmother taught me. It is very important to remember black history month because the African American inventors, scientists, physicians, activists, and leaders opened doors not only for African Americans, but also for other minorities to have an equal chance in achieving our goals. Black history month allows us to celebrate with knowledge, engage the community, inform the youth and reflect on the past. The lesson that my grandmother taught me was to understand the struggle and sacrifice that blacks endured to achieve equal rights and tolerance in society. Without activists such as Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Whitney Young, Harriet Tubman, and Fredrick Douglass, African Americans would not be free, able to vote, achieve the best education, and have an equal chance of getting a job. Our African American ancestors planted the seeds, and now we are the root and stem, waiting to blossom to leave a legacy for the next generation. Black history month is important because it represents a culture that builds bridges. Each accomplishment is a bridge that other blacks can cross to contribute to a better America and a better world.

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Working Hard or Hardly Working

Twenty-four hours are in a day. Eight of those are spent sleeping, one to two hours are spent getting ready in the morning, and another eight are spent with the parents at work and the children at school.  The commute from school/work to home, on average, takes one hour.  So now we have five hours to spare, right?  Great! That’s plenty of time to spend with family; anything more than that may be unbearable!  I have so many ideas for family time, but wait, I forgot about dinner.  One hour to cook, half an hour at the table, half an hour cleaning up, now we have three hours of family time, I think that’s still enough.  Until I open my daughter’s folder and come across the three homework assignments she has due tomorrow morning.  Goodbye family time.

The truth is, too much homework interferes with family time.  We spend so much time on everything every day except family; this is unavoidable due to, well, life.  We as parents can’t pay the bills if we don’t work, and children must go to school in order to learn.  As I’ve demonstrated, that takes up most of the day.  The time we spend at home should be quality family time, learning from one another and enjoying being at home.  This is why homework should be no longer than ten minutes per grade level.  In an article titled “Do Our Kids Have Too Much Homework?” the author references a statement made by Harris Cooper, professor of Psychology and Director of the Education Program at Duke University, stating that he points out this “10- Minute Rule” formulated by the National PTA and the National Education Association, which suggests that homework should be ten minutes for first grade, twenty minutes for second, and so on and so forth (Wilde).  So why does my kindergartener have one-two hours of homework per day?!

In another article on kids and homework, the author suggests that the playtime being taken away from children, even during school hours, is a terrible threat to their academic success.  Linda Jacobson writes, “Test preparation in kindergarten, homework requirements, busy out-of-school schedules, and reduced recess periods are leaving young children without time to engage in what author and early-childhood expert Vivian Gussin Paley calls “the theater of the young”- that make-believe world in which children act out stories.  In essence, our children are already being robbed of this imaginative play time at school, and taking on more work.  When considering this dilemma, doesn’t it seem even more unnecessary to send our little ones home with extra assignments?

Imagination is the key factor in thriving academically.  It is during these imaginative play periods that children can learn from their peers and grow as individuals; exercising their imagination is the only way to do this.  Have you ever really learned a life lesson via chalk board or a homework handout?  My daughter’s lessons learned on how to treat others have either been a result of witnessing myself or a peer treating someone kindly, or having a dispute with a peer and realizing that she handled it wrong and treated them badly.  These things cannot be taught on a piece of paper, nor can they be demonstrated when all of our home life is taken up by mountains of practice sheets.

Eventually, when we replace this important play time with a heavy homework load, we can cause an even heavier load of stress and anxiety on all family members.  This stress and anxiety are caused by the pressure to finish quickly, yet do your best, even though you’ve been doing this all day at school.  The clock hand seems to move faster when we are doing two hours-worth of homework.  Making sure your child stays focused and does their best is not easy when you’re juggling dinner, other siblings’ issues, and have one hundred other tasks to finish before bedtime.  And these things are not just taking your attention, they are also distracting your child’s attention away from the work in front of them.  It’s difficult to stay focused when there is so much going on around you.

Now I know there are a lot of parents thinking about how “cray-cray” this may sound, but no homework is better than homework!  The concerns on abolishing homework, or minimizing it to a mere ten minutes a day per grade level, are clear.  I get it, I really do.  We’ve all heard the phrase “practice makes perfect.”  Not only have we heard it, but anyone who has ever passed a test or mastered a certain skill, has also lived it.  Still, we have to take a look at the bigger picture.  Our children are in the classroom practicing for eight hours a day!  That’s a significantly long time to have to focus on and absorb as much material as possible.  If you ask me, to be sent home with the expectation of completing two hours or so of even more work, is what’s really crazy.  So what are we to do?  Who can solve this irritating and ever so challenging battle between academic success and functional family values?  Perhaps, we the parents should give it a shot.

Parents need to take more initiative to make learning at home more interactive and encourage creativity.  You hear a lot of parents constantly placing blame on the school systems when their kid(s) are failing.  Why don’t we question what is going on at home?  Are we stimulating our children enough?  Are we creating a safe, play friendly environment?  Are we providing this “theater of the young” that Paley says is vital to our children’s growth and development?  Most of the time, we’re not.  Children’s behavior and academic achievement do reflect some, if not all, of what is going on at home.  So if there is already a lack of creative play at school, and now at home, we’re certainly minimalizing our children’s chance of academic success.

Furthermore, studies do not show that these mounds of homework are helping our children’s performance in the classroom or on tests and exams.  In another study that Cooper cites by P.R. Wildman, he writes, “Wildman even went a step further, stating that “whenever homework crowds out social experience, outdoor recreation, and creative activities, and whenever is usurps time devoted to sleep, it is not meeting the basic needs of children and adolescents” (qtd. in Cooper 85).  He then talks about the biases of homework studies and how the results are so conveniently swayed (Cooper 85-86).  As a result of these biased homework studies proving that more is better, children are being set up for failure on a daily basis.  More expectations every year, plus the lack of positive reinforcement when these expectations are met and an abundance of negative reinforcement when they are not met; these things are all equally to blame for educational failure.

At the end of the day, we all want the same thing, for our children to learn.  We want them to have big dreams and aspirations and go farther in life than we ever imagined, but we don’t need to take up a majority of their childhood with pieces of paper to ensure this ever so sought after future for them.  We just need to be there and make sure that we are setting the best example possible and creating the best environments possible.  You want some reassurance that your child will go far in life?  Then be a part of their life with games and social interactions, and just plain old family down time, away from all the noise of society’s high expectations, not through endless nights of forced focus to only have resulted in the opposite of your child’s best work. To the parents who strongly disagree, I have only one closing statement, if you truly believe that more homework is better and this is the only way that your child(ren) will thrive academically, then BE the homework.