Parental Homework, Cheaters and Memoirs

Parents' homework is to raise children who can "sit still for short periods of time, listen to what other people say and refrain from hitting as a first line of argument," writes Miss Manners.

If they want to help with their children's homework, parents should confine themselves to "curtailing other activities so there is plenty of time for the child to get the work done, discussing ideas, explaining principles and insisting that the child go back and check or redo it." Yet many parents shirk their own homework to spend time rewriting their children's essays and solving their children's math problems.

I've wondered about parents who complain that they must spend hours each night helping their children do homework. I don't remember ever helping my daughter, except with that damn science project. And I wasn't much help. Here's a tip: Use styrofoam, not clay.

For all the complaining about excessive homework, most high school students don't work very hard. A survey of college freshmen found only a third said they studied for six or more hours a week as high school seniors; 45 percent said they got A's.

Suing for an A+

A would-be valedictorian in Memphis, Mich., is suing for an A+. Brian Delekta was credited with an A, the highest possible work experience grade, for serving as a paralegal in his mother's law office. His high school gives credit for A+ grades in regular classes, and his mother says he deserves as much for the work he did for her.

Just imagine the lawsuits if valedictorian status relies on grades given by students' moms and dads.

Report Cards for Parents

Is Katelyn sent to school with dirty clothes and a runny nose? Does Mom show up at parent-teacher conferences and return forms promptly? A Lebanon, Pa., school board is considering parent report cards. I have a feeling this will create more problems than it solves, assuming the school board goes ahead with the idea.

Parents often don't know what their child's teacher wants them to be doing, because they've never been told explicitly. How many hours of sleep does a first grader need? Under what circumstances should a not-very-sick child be kept home? What should and shouldn't parents do to help their kids with homework? There are parents who need to be told how to read aloud to children -- and what to do if no adult in the family can read.

Yes, a lot of parents would flunk if they were graded by their children's teachers. (Just think of Mom and Dad's self-esteem!) They need "direct instruction" in how to help their children succeed in school.

Cheater Prospers

Two students in a class for future teachers of English as a second language submitted identical essays. Both were using a "private tutor," who mistakenly sent them the same essay. Gloria Sampson, an education professor at Simon Fraser University in Canada, flunked both. But a university panel reversed her.

One of the students appealed, claiming the original essay was hers. The tutor supported her, though neither produced a copy of the student-written paper. Sampson said it's not OK to hire a tutor to rewrite, edit, or even proofread an English paper, which is supposed to demonstrate the student's writing ability and English proficiency.

"I expect that students know the English language when they're in a course which trains teachers of the English language," she said.

Sampson is refusing to comply with a panel's order to raise the F of the student who appealed, saying it violates her professional ethics to give a passing grade to a student who submitted someone else's work.

TV Before Reading

A third-grade teacher received an official reprimand when the principal caught students reading instead of watching television.

High Scores on the Cheap

Standard & Poors looked at high-scoring, low-spending school districts in Michigan, and found three factors:

Teachers were highly trained and very focused on their goals.

The community had high expectations for schools and students.

District leaders had very clear goals and continually measured whether schools and students were meeting those goals.

Key words: focused, goals, expectations, measured.

A Teacher's Memoir

Joseph Epstein looks back on his years teaching literature and writing at Northwestern in a delightful Commentary piece.

I asked a friend who had been teaching for a decade or so if he had any advice. "Yeah," he said, "never let 'em go outside. When the weather gets warm, they'll want to hold class on the lawn, as in those sappy photographs in the brochures. Don't let 'em do it." In 30 years of teaching, I followed this sound advice to the letter.

Epstein taught undergraduate courses on Henry James, Joseph Conrad, and Willa Cather, plus a writing class.

I was able to teach what I wanted because, with the rise of literary theory -- deconstruction, the new historicism, feminism, queer theory, and the rest -- nobody else seemed interested.

In 30 years, only one student evaluation was useful: "He jiggles his keys."

Epstein took his keys and change out of his pocket before lecturing.

By contrast, here's a piece on an Australian university's degree in Sexual Arts for would-be strippers, lap dancers and pole-dancers. I think it's a joke. Pretty sure. But not entirely sure.

I found the link on Number 2 Pencil, which also features a story on a business class that requires students to crawl on the floor, make collages and generally, as N2P points out, pay private college tuition to redo kindergarten.

Joanne Jacobs used to have a paying job as a Knight-Ridder columnist and San Jose Mercury News editorial writer. Now she blogs for tips at while writing a book, Start-Up High, about a San Jose charter school. She's never gotten a dime from Enron.

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