I found this quote in the New York Times Education section last week about elite schools easing up on homework: “There’s very little evidence that doing homework makes kids smarter,” said Adam Gopnik, an author and parent of two Dalton students. “Even if it did, there are values other than achievement. For example, let’s be curious.”
I love that line, Let's be Curious.
I have the privilege of going into many different classrooms for my work. One thing that always strikes me is that in Kindergarten, the students are expected to sit still, in chairs, for hours a day. Let's be curious - Yes! Only a few months ago these same children spent their days on the floors of whatever they called home, grandma's, a daycare, playing with cars, with small people dolls, with blocks and they were being curious. They were creating imaginative stories that would be fuel for the stories they are now beginning to learn to put on paper. When my son comes home from school the first thing he likes to do is lay on the carpet under the table and play with his action figures or homemade Lego men.
Let's be curious. What would suit their needs right now? What will drive them to be curious about their worlds? How can we make sure that curiosity doesn't die when they get to fifth grade? How can we harness the energy of their curious natures to change the world?
There is a story I used to hear about a teacher who walks into a room of kindergarteners and asks, "Please draw me a picture of a dog driving a fire truck in Alaska." The kindergarteners get busy making big fire trucks that are purple and black with dogs in windows and on top and snow and they go nuts for the fun novelty of the task. When the teacher asks the same question in the second grade, they say, "What? Dogs don't drive fire trucks. How big do you want the fire truck? What color should it be? Which part of Alaska?" We've taken the curious nature out of our children by setting expectations that are not aligned with their natural inclination to Be Curious.
I heard Mo Willems say, "Childhood Sucks." "The furniture is too big," he said, "Imagine walking into a room where everything is supersized. You can't get up in the chair. Your feet don't touch the ground! You have to raise your hand to take care of basic functions." We have a set of unrealistic expectations for our kids that they behave like adults sometimes. We need to make room for curious exploration in our classrooms, not stringent rules that don't make room for children's imaginations or real lives.
If we had more opportunities for students to be curious in school maybe we could challenge students in real ways, not by assigning them 40 math problems and 40 spelling words. I'd love to ask those kindergarteners what they would do about the environment or world hunger. I bet they'd have some insightful answers.
I do see some value in homework. Perseverance is a real life skill. I want my kids to learn to pursue real passions, go after what they want and set the world on fire. That takes some dedication. It takes persistence, it takes focus. But if their hearts aren't in it, is it really worth it?
And what other values are we teaching our children from the earliest age: Achievement, success, beating out the other guy no matter what? Our society is so focused on glamour, wealth, fame, popularity, that we forget to teach children how to be who they really are, recognizing all their inherent strengths and their natural curiosity.