Things That Shouldn’t Exist #2



One man. Two boys. Twelve kids.

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43 Responses

  1. Avatar Chris says:

    My son’s elementary school banned those when he was in 2nd grade. He’d had one in kindergarten and first grade, though. It was particularly good for him in first grade because for some reason, his teacher sent him home with all of his books and notebooks every day (I guess they had no place to keep them there?), so he would have had way too many pounds on his back otherwise. We talked to his teacher, as you suggest here, and she basically said that there was no way around it.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq says:

      I was in elementary school in the 1980s and I had to carry every textbook to and from school everyday. Nearly everybody I met who grew up around the same time has had similar experiences. Where do kids not need to take their books back and forth everyday?Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:

        You should only need to carry a book home on a given day if it is required for that night’s homework. There is no reason to make a 7-year-old lug home an 8-pound math text on a night they don’t have math homework.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        I didn’t have homework in elementary school until 4th grade, and it was minimal until 5th grade. I actually remember my 3rd grade teacher telling us that we would have homework next year, and we were all horrified, even if we didn’t quite know what that meant. I almost never brought books home in elementary school, then.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:

        Homework is becoming more and more pervasive, sometimes at the behest of parents and sometimes at the behest of schools/schooling bodies. It is very concerning. Kindergarteners don’t need homework. They shouldn’t be getting it. It is good for them to carry a backpack so they can transport things back and forth and begin to learn responsibility and independence, but it should be filled with things other than homework.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        I was shocked when I realized that my son was going to have homework every day, without fail, in kindergarten. I actually understand it, to a degree — it not only means that the kids reinforce their learning while they’re at home, but it gets the parents involved. But sometimes we’d do homework for 2 or 3 hours — numbers, colors, letters, reading small passages (which was a painfully slow process for a kid with a pretty pronounced language delay). I wonder how much faster he learned to write the letter “a” because he had to repeat it 20 more times at home.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        I think my elementary school started assigning homework in the first grade. My mother, who was in education, always thought the idea of homework in elementary school was stupid and opposed to it. If I’m remembering, there are more than a few educators that doubt the usefulness of homework.

        Even if homework is useful, it always seemed unfair to expect kids to basically put in a full day of work or more if you include extracurricular activities and than do more work at home. All without pay. If bosses gave out work to be done at home to their employees, for freee, it would be regarded as a massive abuse of power.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:

        Two or three hours? In Kindergarten?!?! That should be criminal.

        I understand the urge for evermore homework, both on the part of educators and parents. But if you look at the research, the returns are simply not worth the time and effort. And, quite often, the costs outweigh the benefits, making the net return negative.Report

      • Avatar Alan Scott says:

        @kazzy , are you unsympathetic to the argument that it’s best to get kids into the habit of doing homework in elementary school so that they’re more likely to do it in higher grades? I’m getting my single-subject credential (math) right now, and am doing observation at the local junior high. It’s astounding how many kids just don’t do any of their homework at all.

        My “Art and Craft of Teaching” professor recommended the following guideline: 10 minutes of homework per day per grade level. This seems pretty me.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:


        That is actually one of the few arguments I am sympathetic towards. Developing good habits, building routine, learning time management skills, fostering responsibility… simple nightly tasks can help accomplish that. But if that is the goal, it shouldn’t be complicated by competing goals. If you are trying to foster those things AND give them torturous math homework for an hour a night, you end up shooting yourself in the foot.

        Kindergarten students can be given a coloring sheet and a folder to transport it back in. Getting the paper loaded into the folder at school, out of the folder at home, completed, back into the folder at home, the folder into the backpack, the backpack to school, and the folder unloaded… that is good practice and a far more complex task than most people realize. But all they see is the coloring sheet and think, “THE CHILD ISN’T LEARNING!!!”

        Ten minutes per night per grade is probably a decent rule of thumb.

        I teach 7th and 8th graders this year. My course — a co-curricular — doesn’t typically assign homework. But I do use an online forum to post questions for them to consider in anticipation for the next class and the occasional short reading. I often see students responding at 9pm. That boggles my mind. And these are bright, well-organized kids. They’re not procrastinating. But they are at school until 4pm, many of them then commute 45-60 minutes home, have dinner with their family, and then sit down for 2-3 hours of homework a night. If they try to squeeze in any down time… well, I get feedback at 9pm… long after I’ve stopped working for the day.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        Kazzy, the time was influenced by his language delay. He had a lot of trouble, particularly with reading and writing, until about 3rd grade (and he was in speech therapy through middle school).Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:

        They weren’t able to differentiate or offer accommodations? Ugh.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        Not on homework, apparently. They were actually really good about working with us to accommodate him in the classroom. Plus he spent so much time with the speech therapist at that school that she was just about his favorite person in the world.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:

        A great SLP is worth her weight in gold.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer says:


        Does that 10 minute suggestion take into account that by middle and high school, kids have different teachers and multiple subjects? It seems to me that there are lots of stories where the teachers seem to think that the ten minute per grade rule applies to their subject alone.

        A 6th grade with social studies, math, science, english, and maybe a foreign language will have 5 hours of homework a night on top of a school day for a 12-13 hour day depending.Report

      • Avatar Alan Scott says:

        @newdealer : of course the rule applies to total homework, not homework by subject. But that’s just a guideline given by my teacher, not a state law or anything. Were i teaching a single-subject math class for 6th graders, I’d assign 15 minutes worth of homework.

        In the “Hero” corner: A 7th grade math teacher I was observing actually told her students to stop after they’d been working on a tricky assignment for more than twenty minutes, and they’d get full credit as long as the parents verified that they’d put in the time.

        In the “Villain” corner: I was talking to a friend of mine with a daughter in 8th grade. She said her daughter is assigned 30-45 minutes of homework a day… just for her PE class.

        I suspect the difference is that our hero is a parent and our villain is not.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:


        We run into that issue a lot. We say, “No more than two hours (!!!) of homework for 7th/8th/9th grade per night.” Each teacher then assigns one hour and thinks, “It’s only one hour.” But it adds up to four across all the classes. We’ve had to put up giant test calendars in the hallway so students don’t end up with multiple tests on the same day… which still happens from time-to-time.

        One of the big issues is I don’t think teachers always have a realistic idea of how long an assignment takes. I was and still am a slow reader. If you gave me a standard-sized novel with standard text, I read slower than a page per minute. So a 20 minute chapter can take me 30 minutes to read. If a teacher doesn’t know this, how can they know if they’re giving me too much homework or not?Report

    • Avatar Kazzy says:

      Kindergarteners shouldn’t even HAVE notebooks. Ugh.

      If your hand is forced, obviously you gotta do best by your child. Far too often, I see parents getting them because they are “cool” and the parents are completely oblivious to or simply uncaring of the effect it has on others.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        I honestly don’t remember why we got him one. Probably because we thought it was cool. Actually, probably because he thought it was fun.Report

      • Avatar Vikram Bath says:

        Maybe in addition to the school materials lists they give to parents, there should be a things-not-to-buy list along with a couple sentences as to why not.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:

        My students don’t really require materials save for a backpack and a rest mat, and even there I give parents pretty clear instructions on what are and are not appropriate (with a number of different factors contributing to “appropriateness”).

        When I taught in schools where kids brought in lunch, I spoke with parents about the sorts of lunch boxes/bags and food storage containers they should be looking for. I couldn’t demand compliance, but I tried to make clear that the super-cool lunchbox that the kid couldn’t open or close on his own, thereby making him dependent on the teacher, was a bad idea.

        If I sent home a more substantive list, I would certainly do what you suggest. A lot of teachers don’t feel confident enough or empowered to say as much to parents. We don’t have absolute authority (and private schools function very differently than public schools), but teachers should feel comfortable saying, “This item detracts from our ability to meet your child’s goals with no discernible advantage offered. As such, it is not permitted.”

        Of course, when the teachers are the source of the problem, another tack is required.Report

    • Avatar NewDealer says:

      When I was in elementary school (suburban New York in the mid-80s) we used to sit at desks starting in the 1st grade.

      A few years ago I ran into a woman who taught elementary school in California and she told me that desks had largely been eliminated until the fourth or fifth grade. I can’t remember but there might have been tables or not.

      I wonder if the same thing is true in New York.

      I also recall reading that homework levels rise and fall with levels of adult society about whether the United States has a competitive edge. Right now there is a lot of economic anxiety in the United States. Hence the rise of homework. I remember seeing a story in the Atlantic about a Hong Kong pre-school that posted the numbers from the major stock exchanges. This causes anxiety. “Wow we are playing with blocks and kids in Hong Kong are learning about the Dow Jones and the Nikei.”Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:


        I can’t speak to public schools, but private schools tend to have a big divide on the desk versus no desk thing. Manhattan schools are largely divided into the uptown and downtown varietals. Uptown schools tend to be your more traditional prep schools, many with histories stretching back 100+ years. Downtown schools tend to be progressive, 40-70 years in age. It is not a hard-and-fast rule, but that tends to be how insiders discuss it. Uptown schools… they’re all about desks and rows. Downtown schools? You might never see a desk.

        There isn’t necessarily a right or wrong way… it is all about the educational outcomes they are seeking. My current school is far more traditional. But we recently hired a Montessori-trained teacher for 3rd grade. She was shocked to find desks in her room and created a bit of a kerfuffle when she pushed for tables. She’s got the desk for now, but I think arranged them into little learning pods.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        The Redstone schools started with the desks in kindergarten, though there was much floortime. As you advanced in the grades, the floortime decreased and desktime increased. There was also tabletime, where they weren’t at a desk but were still sitting at a table. This was for collaborative exercised.

        It varied from school to school. some of them had more classroom space than others. The more classroom space there was that wasn’t taken up by desks, the less time they spent at their desks.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:

        @will-truman makes a good point about how the issue is less desk vs tables vs something else and more how the learning space is organized and utilized. I have tables in my room, but the only time children are required to sit at them is during lunch. We do table activities and table work and often times they will opt to sit (either because the prefer to or just because they’ve come to think they’re supposed to), but I don’t require it. And if they prefer to stand or work on the floor, so be it. Most of the time, they are up and moving around the room… blocks, dramatic play, the painting easel, etc.

        I’ve been in high school classrooms with desks but the teacher said them up in a circle and it felt more like being at a really big round table, which was great for discussion. On the flip side, I’ve had college courses in those big auditorium style rooms which function well for lectures and slide presentations.

        So, again, it is not so much one is good and the other is bad as much as it is they promote different learning environments and outcomes. Individual desks tend to offer the most flexibility in terms of arrangement, but aren’t always conducive to working on a larger scale.Report

      • Avatar Vikram Bath says:

        Any schools out there using cubicles?

        Start ’em early, I say.Report

  2. Avatar rexknobus says:

    I don’t want to hijack the thread or anything, but I have a question. I am a non-parent/distant uncle kind of guy. What do those little people have in those (comparatively) massive backpacks. I have carried smaller bags for five days camping in the Grand Canyon. I have to assume that the backpacks are not terribly heavy because some of those little folks are…well…little. What’s in there? Thanks. Now back to our regularly scheduled discussion.Report

  3. Avatar J@m3z Aitch says:

    Young children, developmentally, struggle to understand a world outside of their immediate body. Asking them to safely and responsibly trail something that is big and bulky 3 feet behind them is basically an impossible task. They are constantly whacking into people and things as they move through the hallways.

    In other words, adults in airports revert to a pre-K developmental stage?Report

  4. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    The are excellent suitcases for short trips, especially those that include plane rides. They’ll carry a few days worth of clothing and some small toys, and the children can wheel them around themselves.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy says:

      This divergent utilization gives me pause. If they are good for children’s luggage, them market them as children’s luggage, place the zippers in the appropriate place for such, and keep them the hell out of my hallways.Report

    • “The are excellent suitcases for short trips, especially those that include plane rides. They’ll carry a few days worth of clothing, some small toys and the children.”


  5. Avatar dhex says:

    man that’s depressing as hell. kindergarteners doing homework. cats and dogs living together. etc.

    i even get all sad ass when i see the wee one and his 3 and 4 year old schoolmates calling each other “friends” (as in everyone leaves by hugging everyone else and calling out “goodbye friends!”) and knowing that in a few short years the meat grinder of social interaction will begin.

    i need a drink.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy says:

      Depressed at “friends” because of the touchy-feely language or depressed at the oncoming buzzsaw? Because, if it is the latter, I can tell you horror stories of three-year-old buzzsaws.Report

      • Avatar dhex says:

        the oncoming buzzsaw. he’s in a program now that is an outgrowth of a school that was largely intended to help special need students (he’s “normal”), so he gets a tremendous amount of individualized attention (and an OT does evals for every student, whether they have issues or not) and all of the parents are very invested. the kids are all very helpful and friendly to each other, even the ones who have fairly severe communication/etc issues. (i saw that as an upside to the program, perhaps in the mistaken belief that it would help foster greater empathy and understanding for the differences of others)

        i sometimes wonder if it’s too idealized, but on the other hand the cost is amazingly low (coming from nyc, mind you) and he has really thrived. at some point in the next year we’ll be buying a house in a public school district that has a great rep in the state, but it’s not going to be the same kind of environment. but on the other hand i don’t think i can justify sending him to a school where he might have 15-20 classmates in 1st grade, etc.Report

  6. Avatar Michael Cain says:

    I have been enormously frustrated over the last decade because, when I put my professional technology analyst hat on, we are that close to having affordable block-of-plastic e-book readers that could be loaded with whatever textbooks the student needs for the next semester/year. Rugged enough to take the beating that kids are going to hand out; inexpensive enough that we can afford for the schools to replace the ones the kids manage to break.Report

  7. Avatar Patrick says:

    I just want to say that I second everything in this post.Report