Judith Newman, writing in The New York Times, and drawing on research, offers an admonition for parents too involved in helping with homework:
Sociologists at the University of Texas at Austin and Duke University assessed the effect of more than 60 kinds of parental involvement on academic achievement. Read it and weep, helicopter parents: Across age, race, gender and socioeconomic status, most help had neither a positive or negative effect, and many kinds drove down a kid’s test scores and grades. One of the biggest culprits? Homework help.
Why is this help so counter-productive?
For one thing, most of us aren’t teachers; knowing a subject is not the same as being able to impart that knowledge to others, as anyone who’s ever found herself screaming, “Just take my word for it!” to a mystified 7-year-old knows. Second, when we don’t understand, we’re embarrassed. This may be particularly true of successful, competitive professionals. How many of us feel good telling our children, “I make enough money to buy a summer home in Tuscany, but please don’t ask me to explain Common Core math.”
“I think of myself as an intelligent, functioning adult,” says the writer Julie Klam, who has a daughter who just finished fifth grade. “But my God. Do you know what a ‘math lattice’ is? No, you do not. The way basic math is taught now, it’s not like A plus B equals C. It’s more like A plus B, and then you run out for oranges, and then you take the subway. My daughter’s recent assignment was like a buffet of confusion.”
Further complicating the homework is the increasing fashion for making it “creative” — which often renders it unnecessarily complicated, at least for the age and dexterity of many younger children. “I used to be very involved in my kids’ homework until my second grader came back with an assignment to recreate New York City’s waterways using a baking sheet, mounds of paper towels, tin foil and rivers of water poured from a pitcher,” says Marjorie Ingall, a Manhattan public school mother. “First of all, I don’t care about New York’s waterways as long as the water that comes out of the tap does not catch fire. But that aside — this is an assignment for me, not for an 8-year-old. There was just so much crying at my house.”
What, then, are (helicopter) parents to do? Read on to find out.