Soul destroying busywork, and how to subvert it (possibly)


On the bus last week, we happened to sit next to a former student of mine who is now pursuing her degree at UCD.  She has a son who is the same age as Z-boy, and she and her mom have been homeshooling him all but 1 year, when he went to 1st grade in Davis. She decided to move back to Sac, though, because she wanted to live in a more diverse area.

So I am reminded yet again of the opportunities and advantages of homeschooling.  And how I may very well be failing Z-boy by not taking him out immediately.

I fought with Z over his language arts homework on Sunday.  It actually wasn’t assigned as homework, it was a task he was supposed to have completed in class, but his teacher sent it home with him because he did not complete his work plan for the week.  I got frustrated.

Apparently, a work plan consists of about 12 activities which are meant to be completed in their two hour-long work sessions in the morning.  Each task is designed to require about 15 to 20 minutes of work, tops.

Zander still isn’t reading efficiently.

He’s a little better, but not by much.

He typically resents having to write.  Except writing the word “poop” which appears on everything. Because, despite the fact that he is 7, it is still hi-larious.  But his social backwardness is another story for another time.

On the other hand, his math homework assignments have been going much better.  But I’ve been much more helpful in terms of guiding his reading of the instructions.

But the language arts homework?  He forgot to bring a book home which contained the story on which the activities he had to complete were based.  The activity was to write out traits of the mom and dad within a Venn diagram.


Ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh.

I don’t hate Venn diagrams – far from it!

But… something about the various “fun” and “stimulating” activities in the language arts book make me want to kill somebody.  They’re boring.  There’s a whole section about silly stories, parsing out “real” vs “fantasy”, and blah blah blah.

Overkill.  Complete and total overkill.  Soul destroying busywork.

There’s nothing like reading a story and then having to complete a bunch of “fun” and “stimulating” and “challenging” questions related to it to make you run, screaming, for the hills.

But hey, it’s good preparation for standardized tests.  Good practice in having creative engagement with text stripped away and replaced by standardized crap.

My homework for this week:  work on ways to subvert, creatively, the goofy language arts text.  Instead of being on the school’s side, I’ll be on his side, co-conspirator.  Engage with the homework, but cleverly, underhandedly, playfully.   Like I used to do when I was in 2nd grade and had to write sentences using spelling words.  There were no limits on how many or how few sentences you had to make, although I think the teacher assumed, as did pretty much every kid, that there was supposed to be a one to one correlation.  But since she didn’t specify, and frankly, since the words were boring anyway, I challenged myself to make the most contorted, ridiculous single sentence from all 10 spelling words.  I felt a bit naughty, but it was fun, and a more interesting task to me than just tossing off 10 boring sentences about 10 boring subjects.

So we’ll try something like that with Z-boy.  He’s not up to figuring this out yet on his own.  Currently, his attempts to subvert the task at hand into something more interesting to him involve writing “poop” wherever he can, and making long tails on letters, or making them extremely angular.  I shall attempt to guide him towards more satisfying and fun techniques.

I’ve tried playing the “good” mom, the “tough” mom, the one who finds true value in the homework tasks.  “This is important”, I say, “this math is really important for you to do, so you can go on to do physics and make rocket ships”.  Well, at least I can pretend that the math busywork has some value to him, but of course the application of basic math facts and arithmetic operations to his interests in electricity is difficult to see at this level, and I can do more to make the connections explicit.

But making a Venn diagram about a story that he has no real interest in, and has probably been written by committee of well-trained monkeys early reading specialists, thus rendering it completely devoid of interesting facts, characters, and language?  uh, I don’t see the value in that.  I see the value in using Venn diagrams to illustrate Boolean operators.  Which, frankly, is much more useful than just parsing out some stupid traits of stupid characters from a stupid story that has no intrinsic value to anyone.

Here they are.  Because I love Boolean logic and Venn diagrams.

I think that I will have him write his own instructions.  We’ll overwrite the given Venn diagram instructions and replace them with our own.  Maybe Electricity vs Rocket Ships?  Or I’ll have him make up his own?  Then we’ll also draw LOGIC GATES!!!!



Your thoughts?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s