The Color of Paradise

One day when Nicky Peele was around 13 years old, school was out and summer was just about to begin, but about a month before school was out, final exams and testing were going on. You see, Nicky was in the eighth grade. Nicky, Robert, and Patrick were all best friends, and they had already made plans way before school was out or summer had begun. Every one of the eight graders were talking about working a summer job, and earning some money to buy things and start their “independence.” The whole eighth grade class was at that age where they all were 13 about to turn 14, although some were already 14. Everyone talked about getting a summer job after school, and just the thought had led up to a waiting game; this was going to be a very long nine months of attending school, waiting, and wondering.

Summer was pretty much in full season, and school was about to come to an end.  Of course we couldn’t forget about graduation, it was on every eighth grader’s mind. Although it had been an exhausting school year, it had started to become an even more exhausting summer. The days were getting even hotter, and the school year was coming to an end. What had started in September and escalated all the way to June was finally approaching along with graduation, finals, summer jobs, and independence (freedom); everyone was on very high alert trying to juggle everything all at once.

Nicky, Patrick, and Robert, who knew that this was just a few weeks away were determined to reach this moment, and not to let anything stop them from achieving their dream of a summer job. Nicky told the rest of his friends that he knew that he was going to pass the final exams, and they all had talked about it.  Two weeks before graduation everyone in the eighth grade took the final exams for  reading and math; it was a long exhausting two hour test, and the teacher collected them after the time was up. She said in a confident voice, “I hope that everyone put their best effort into it.” The bell rang. It was a Friday before the weekend so everyone rushed from their desks, and quickly ran out of the room, down the hall, and out of the school.

This was the beginning of the summer and everyone that Nicky, Robert, and Patrick knew couldn’t wait for Monday to get here to find out who passed and who didn’t. No one was thinking about scores after the test.  They were only thinking about wanting to play, swim, or hang out with each other.  All they wanted to do was graduate and start earning some money to help themselves, and their struggling families out. Everyone just wanted to work and pass the finals to make it all possible.

Monday morning had arrived and the stress of waiting to hear the test results was just about to be over, at least they thought. They all had to prepare to hear the final results from the teacher, but they didn’t expect the unexpected- that not all of them passed or failed. Talking during the weekend, Nicky had told his two best friends, Robert, and Patrick that he just knew he had passed, and had even bragged about working at a summer job, as if he had already gotten his passing grades.

But during that Monday morning, once they all went to class and the teacher had arrived and entered the class room, she  told everyone “good morning class,” and everyone said good morning in return;  that was when some of my classmates began to bite their nails, look nervous, and  wait impatiently to hear the test results. But this day the teacher took her time about reading the grades out to the class. Everyone knew that she was always a good teacher, but this time she took two long hours before she got around to telling the class who had passed and who failed.

The students became even more impatient, and this day had already started out all wrong compared to other days.  Nicky looked over to Robert and Patrick, who were in the row behind him, and whispered “what in the hell is wrong with her?” They looked just as amazed as Nicky did. It was as if the teacher was deliberately stalling for time, but that day I guess she didn’t know how to tell them the truth or break their hearts, because some of them were going to be in for a rude awakening once she read the grades. Nicky and his friends didn’t expect the worst.

Time went by so slow that day, and it was going on ten o’clock; the class was getting even more upset, uncomfortable, and impatient. The teacher finally pulled out the test results at nine forty five, and the wait to hear the scores that everyone anticipated the whole weekend was finally here. The teacher placed two stacks of papers on the desk. One on the right side of her, and the other one on the left side of her.

No one in the class knew why she did that. Maybe one was for the people who failed, and the other was for the people who had passed. Either way, they were out in plain sight for the students to see, and that was a sign of relief for everyone. As the students all straightened up in their desks and chairs like little perfect soldiers, it got very quiet in the classroom. Nicky looked over to Patrick and Robert with a grin on his face, and said” here we go fellas,” but no one was laughing or grinning in return.

The teacher began reading the grades and scores out, and it didn’t surprise the class that she did it in alphabetical order which was normal. She told everyone their grades out loud; some passed and others didn’t do so well.  Up next was Nicky’s grade because of his last name. She said “well, Mr. Peele, you did well in your reading and writing, and you scored very high on these tests.” Nicky was so delighted to hear that, and the weight that he had endured the whole damn year had finally come to an end. A few seconds before hearing the devastating news he was just sitting over at his desk blushing, and smiling, as if he had won a medal or an award.

The teacher said,” but, unfortunately Mr. Peele, you didn’t score well enough on your math test, so you missed it by six points.” Immediately, Nicky’s face had started turning blood shot red, and what was supposed to be a joyful moment of success, and the expectation of working a summer job went down the drain.  The tears came streaming down his face, and Nicky replied,  “six points!?” The teacher replied “yes, six points, Mr. Peele. I’m sorry to inform you that you will have to go to summer school.”  Nicky shouted out, “Summer school!!? This was supposed to be one of the greatest moments in my life,” he replied. The tears, frustration, and anger built up at that moment; he couldn’t believe it, “summer school,” he sighed.

“Oh my God, can I take that math test over?” he asked.  “I wish that I could allow you and those who didn’t do so well in other areas to take it over, but I can’t.  It’s school policy, and the guidelines,” she said.  The teacher continued to tell the rest of the classroom their grades, but when she called Robert, and Patrick’s name, they were shocked to find out that they too had to go to summer school. It seemed as if half the class had to attend summer school.

The feeling of going to summer school didn’t sit well with them for the rest of that day. The group of friends felt as if they wanted a do over, but here in the world Nicky asked, “do they give do overs?“ One of his classmates replied, “Yes, summer school.” Nicky had to go home and tell his mother and the rest of the family the bad news.  He dreaded even entering the house that he shared with his family and siblings.

All that crossed his mind was what was mother going to say to him once he told her the bad news, and how was his brothers, and sisters going to treat him. He walked in with the imprints from dried up tears on his face. His grandmother was sitting in the kitchen waiting for his mother to return from the grocery store. Grandmother asked Nicky in her calming voice,  “baby, what’s wrong?” Nicky told her about his plans for a summer job, his grades, and how going to summer school destroyed those dreams, how everything just felt like it was ruined and over with for him. Grandmother opened her arms so that she could embrace him because that is what most grandmothers do  and just as he walked over to her, Mother had arrived. She immediately began to shout at Nicky, saying “so you failed, and have to go to summer school, and you have the nerve to ask for a do over, as if you were entitled to have one or something.”

Mother also told grandmother thanks for watching the house while she was gone, and that she could leave so that she could finish talking to Nicky, but Nicky knew that was just a front- she wanted to continue belittling and criticizing him about not passing. Grandmother had gathered up her belongings in less than five minutes and left out.  Nicky’s mother told him to bring his ass over to the living room where she was, and she repeated, “a do over?”

“I don’t believe you, maybe you should have studied more, focused on your classes, went to see your tutor more, or invested more time in preparing for this exam instead of trying to be a class clown, and hanging out with your goofball friends!”  Mother didn’t make Nicky feel any better about the bad news, but only made the situation worse.  Nicky continued crying even more as he went to his room. You could hear mother his shouting as loud as she could “you’re a dumbass!” Nicky just walked away.

After the school had its graduation and the festivities were over,  the rest of the eighth graders congratulated each other including Nicky, Robert, and Patrick. Nicky realized that the camera that they had at the graduation only had one more picture left to take. He looked over at both of his grandparents who were there, and he decided to take the last picture with the both of them together.  He never had both of his grandmothers around him at the same time, so Nicky asked a friend to take the picture.  Once he saw the both of them together with him, Nicky realized that summer school wasn’t going to be that bad. He told himself that it was only for a couple of weeks, but having a picture with the both of his grandmothers at that moment in time made him realize nothing else mattered, and that this was “the color of paradise.”




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.