No More Homework!

How many days of school are left? Come on, everybody has a calendar somewhere where they are “x”ing the days out and counting down till school is out. As Alice Cooper sang, “School’s out for summer!”

There are many reasons why you may be counting down. Maybe, you are tired of carpool. Maybe, your child has had a challenging school year. Maybe, you are sick of preparing lunch for your finicky child.

Do you want to know my reason? Homework!

Courtesy of Google.com

Courtesy of Google.com

I graduated high school over 20 years ago. I have an undergraduate degree and three master’s degrees (creative writing, literature, and education). My chosen profession is a high school English teacher. Therefore, it is safe to say that I have and continue to spend much of my life in a school setting. You can rightfully conclude that I appreciate education and the education process.

My professional opinion is that a reasonable amount of homework should be part of the education process. Quality homework (not busy work) reinforces what was taught in class. When a teacher reviews the class’ homework, he or she can get an understanding just how much the students have learned. Homework allows the child to work independently (parents can and should guide as needed and not do it themselves), giving him/her a sense of confidence that they can accomplish work themselves. Lastly, students learn about responsibility and time management.

Yet, I CAN’T WAIT to be done with homework. I know I just noted valid pedagogical reasons why homework is important and practical. However, my children — kindergarten and 3rd grade — get it nearly every night. Our schedule revolves around it. Now, on those rare days when there is no homework, our whole schedule and outlook changes. We make s’mores, write poetry, and listen to classical music. Well, not quite, but it is a much appreciated bonus and leaves the household calmed. All these years later, and I’m still thrilled when the teacher says, “No homework tonight, class!”

Generally, my children do their homework well and with little fighting. Unfortunately, there are those times when the process doesn’t go that smoothly. Voices can get raised, tears shed, mutterings uttered underneath breath, and that’s just me. Can you relate? In fact, this friction caused by homework between parents and children is very common. It is especially so in families who are serious about and concerned for their children’s education. Because the homework challenge is so common, there is a trend toward hiring people who’s sole job is to help kids with homework! http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/08/nyregion/08homework.html?_r=0

Of course when the school year is over, parents are left to entertain their children, juggling work schedules, especially on those days between the end of school and the beginning of camp. Yet, I’ll take this challenge. Why? Because it means no more homework.

Now, how many days till school the end of school?

Teach Me Colors, Crayola Crayons

 

box of 64 crayonscourtesy of google.com

box of 64 crayons
courtesy of google.com

box of 8 crayons – courtesy of google.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are two types of students in this world. Those who attended art class with the pack of 8 Crayola crayons and those who attended with the 64-crayon set complete with its own sharpener. I am the youngest of four boys, and my parents were on a tight budget. So, guess which pack of crayons I had.

Me and my 8-pack limped into art class every year. This handicap was probably surmountable for someone who possessed some artistic skills. Not me. Any artistic skills I have go towards writing, thank you very much.

One time my teacher said, “Draw a winter scene.” I borrowed someone’s white crayon, drew the whole page white, and proudly showed the teacher my creation. When she asked, I told her it was a blizzard. She was not as proud of my creativity (okay, I was being a wise ass – hey this skill did not just occur – I have honed it since birth.) and insisted I go back and try harder. I hrrmphed and did as instructed.

Not only am I artistically challenged, I am very poor at color identification. After all, I was only taught eight colors. Now unlike you 64-pack people who probably know that sepia is in the brown family (I just looked it up on Crayola website, I know only blue, brown, yellow, orange, purple, red, black, and green. Don’t ask me about different shades, gradations, and the fancy names that go along with them.

Now, while I am clearly a bit bitter over my knowledge deficiency of colors, I have managed to live a decent life. But don’t think it is irrelevant.

I have a friend, JS, who is color blind, and can’t distinguish red from green. Someone you want to drive with, eh. Somehow, he does work it out, but getting dressed can be a challenge. He stocked up on khaki pants figuring that any shirt matches khaki. The only time he gets in trouble is when he decides he wants to wear his black pants. Then, he needs help. And even if he makes a mistake, it is understandable.

But what about me (wow – that sounds so selfish)? A while back, I told you about my desire to be stylish even if I don’t love shopping. My drive to be stylish has few requirements. However, color recognition is certainly one of them.

While I am not color blind, telling the difference between navy and black is nearly impossible for me. The other day I held took a polo shirt out of my closet and held it up to the light. I put it next to my pants. I asked my six-year-old, but he was busy watching Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. I decided the heck with it, assumed it was navy, and went on with my evening. The next day I started doubting and when I got to work, I asked a colleague. She confirmed, “No, that is definitely black.”

Crap, I screwed up again. I’d like to blame it on me being in a rush to lay my clothes out. I have actually gone to work with two different black shoes before and not noticed till I felt a bit off balance.

I blame my 8-pack of Crayola Crayons. My whole life might be more colorful if I had the pack of 64. Well at least, I could match my clothes and talk about different color shades. Oh well, I suppose I’m feeling blue.

A Real Hero

Today, I took my senior class on a trip. Students think it they are the only ones who are happy to get out of school for a day. How wrong they are! Taking students on a trip – many of whom do not leave their neighborhoods with any regularity other than coming to school – is so fulfilling.

Seeing the students outside of school can be like meeting him or her for the first time. We are away from the pressures and challenges of the classroom. For the day, there are no worries about commas or essays. We can have conversation and exchanges that are less formal and about topics that we are mutually interested in. It is a bonding opportunity and one I enjoy greatly.

Anyway, my students and I went to Manhattan and we saw the movie 42. I hope many of you have or plan on seeing the movie. The movie, which details Jackie Robinson’s entry into Major League Baseball, is definitely worth your time. Now, you know I love baseball (http://larrydbernstein.com/roy-halladay-please-come-back/& http://larrydbernstein.com/sports-depression/) but that is not why the movie is worthy. One can learn about history and the bravery and courage displayed both by Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey. There is no doubt that Jackie Robinson’s entry in professional baseball affected American history greatly.

Movie poster picture courtesy of Google.com

Movie poster picture courtesy of Google.com

The majority of my students who attended the movie with me are African American (some trace their routes to the Caribbean). Many are sports fanatics, and they would be happy to drop English class and replace it with sports talk. As we exited the theatre, I asked some of these same students how much of the Jackie Robinson story they knew before watching the movie. My small sampling surprised me – they knew next to nothing about him.

Part of the reason I justified taking the students to see a movie, other than the fact that they are seniors and I wanted them to have a fun day, is that we are reading Othello. You can make text-to-world connections between Jackie Robinson and Othello. Both are of African descent. Both have some excellent skill, yet both are not well received by society. Now of course, Othello ends tragically as he is manipulated by Iago and commits a terrible murder. Jackie Robinson, on the other hand, overcomes the taunting, threats, etc. and is ultimately viewed as a tremendous hero.

Jackie Robinson photo. Courtesy of Google.com

Jackie Robinson photo. Courtesy of Google.com

When we return to the classroom, I will know some of my students a little better. I will also return to the subject of Jackie Robinson and try to help the students understand a little more about this great hero. Othello, commas, and essays can wait a day.

Small Town

Well I was born in a small town And I live in a small town Prob’ly die in a small town Oh, those small – communities. John Mellencamp “Small Town”

A cool song. I was born and raised in Philadelphia. As an adult, I moved to New York – Brooklyn to be exact. I lived in Brooklyn for more than 4 years. From there, I lived in Manhattan for the same amount of time. I then spent a little over two years in the Bronx.
Besides being a bit of vagabond, you’ll note there is no small town in my past. So, unless you count my time at my college (State College, PA – the main campus of Pennsylvania State University), I am as big city as you can get. Well, that is until my family, and I made our way out to the suburbs of North Jersey nearly six years ago.

THE MOVE

I couldn’t take it at first – the suburbs, that is. I don’t like mowing the lawn (http://larrydbernstein.com/sort-of-green/), and I like noise, and thrive on activity. Yet, I’ve adjusted. There is peace and quiet and space. I love the space. So even though a part of me will always miss the city – Manhattan in particular – I am okay here in the burbs.
There is a sense of community in a small town. When I think of small towns, I think of familiarity. When I lived in the various boroughs of New York City, I was in high rises (some were higher than others), and I would see the same people coming in and out of the building. Yet, I knew very few if any of them. We shared hallways but not lives.
It’s not like that here in the suburbs. Now, it’s not like I know everyone, and we get together for brunch once a month on a rotating basis. Still, you can’t help but see people around whether it’s at the bagel store, the dry cleaner, the bank, or the town pool. At one point in my life, I probably would not have cared about this or even found it suffocating. Now, there is something about it that I find nice, decent, and comforting. It’s as if because of our proximity, we are bound together on some level.

OUR TOWN ACTIVITIES

Our town does some nice things to foster this sense of community. There is a Memorial Day Parade. The fire engines, police cars, EMTs, local servicemen, and high school march. You can watch the whole parade in less than an hour. There is nothing cool about it. But we’ve gone multiple times and enjoy it every time. We get to see and appreciate those who support our community.
Yesterday we attended a carnival at the local public school. The carnival was simple – none of the rides is about to make its way to Six Flags. We were there only a short while, but the boys had a lot of fun. They went on some rides, ate some popcorn, and drank some Coca Cola. We saw past and present classmates of SJ (who attends the school). Also, my wife volunteered to work at one of the booths. The tickets and snacks were pricey. But we didn’t complain. After all, the purpose of the carnival was to raise money for our local schools.

My wife hard at work at the booth and dealing with two clowns.

My wife hard at work at the booth and dealing with two clowns.

SJ & BR - two swingers

SJ & BR – two swingers

The boys and I enjoying the fair.

The boys and I enjoying the fair.

This big city guy is content. “It’s good enough for me.”