New Column on Anash.org: Renowned chinuch expert Rabbi Michoel Gourarie of Sydney, Australia addresses readers’ questions on all things chinuch.
My daughter just entered 7th grade. Before the year has even taken off, she is already drowning under numerous tests: Chumash, Halacha and lehavdil Math, Science and spelling. Besides preparing for tests, she has daily homework in almost all subjects.
Not only is our daughter finding this very difficult, we as parents are struggling. We need to help her prepare for her tests and aid her with homework. This is besides the time and energy we put into helping our other children with their homework and tests and juggling life’s responsibilities.
Is this the way school is meant to be? Is there another way?
Rabbi Gourarie’s responds:
I understand this problem both as an educator and as a parent. A number of years ago, my daughter who had just entered seventh grade received piles of homework that took her hours to complete. Being a compliant student she completed every task but the frustration, stress, and resentment were obvious.
I called the principal to respectfully share the problem with her, but she answered that homework is a really important component of the educational journey. In addition, she said the students seemed to be responding well.
I replied with the following points:
- In my opinion, the school, in this case, was ‘winning the battle and losing the war’. Compliance is not a sign of success. My daughter was completing the task but beginning to hate the subject.
- In recent times, even in the secular world many schools are questioning the value of excessive homework and are beginning to change school policy.
- There are alternatives to mainstream homework. With creativity and modification, homework in moderation can become an effective educational tool.
The gemara states that a student should learn “Bemokom Shelibo Chofetz’ – in the area that his heart desires (Avoda Aara 19a). Without analyzing the exact practical application of that statement, one thing is clear: success in learning needs to include an element of geshmak and desire, not just kabolas ol.
Nowadays this is so much more important. The Rebbe has pointed out so many times that we live in a world where the home environment is not as strong as in times of old. Yiddishe values, yiras shamayim, hashkafa etc. are no longer absorbed from the walls in the home.
The role of a teacher is no longer simply to impart information. The Mechanech must instill a love of learning, proper hashkafa and yiras shamayim. One clear path towards that goal is to ensure that the learning is not just deep, rigorous and on a high level (which are, of course, all-important); it is imperative that learning also be a positive experience.
When a teacher gives homework or a school sets policy, a simple question must be asked: What is the goal and educational benefit of this homework experience?
The benefits of hours of repetitive writing exercises and assignments are questionable. What is almost certain is that it creates boredom and resentment towards the subject and learning in general. Furthermore, it often diminishes much needed ‘downtime’ and family bonding which younger students crave and need.
If the school or teacher feels the need to encourage revision and independent learning at the very least they should:
- Give much smaller tasks
- Make them enjoyable and attractive to the learner so that they want to do it.
Homework can be an opportunity for students to explore “Libo chofetz” in areas they enjoy without the restrictions of the classroom curriculum. There are many ways this can be done. It is beyond the scope of the article to go into specifics, though I am always happy to discuss this with any educator.
In conclusion, I understand your problem well. You cannot and should not undermine the school to your child. But I would suggest that you, together with other parents, respectfully meet with the teacher and/ or school administration and plead with them to explore more effective strategies.
Hatzlacha and lots of nachas!
Rabbi Michoel Gourarie is the founder and director of BINA, an educational institution for adults in Australia. Having served for many years as a teacher and principal, he is now a sought after chinuch consultant and teacher trainer. To send a chinuch question to Rabbi Gourarie, email firstname.lastname@example.org.