THE STORY OF LEVELFIELD
BEYOND THE CLASSROOM: THE ISSUE OF HOMEWORK
‘All – please submit your homework, put it on this desk,’ I say.
We did not have any homework for our students in the first couple of years after the school started. Kids studied only at school, and the results showed that lack of homework was not affecting their learning. In standardized tests, most of our school students ranked among top 15% nationally - and the school itself was ranked among the top-10 schools based on its results.
Still, the parents were not happy. It seemed just the output is not enough - you need to demonstrate ‘input’ too. How would they learn if there is no work to be done at home? How did we learn during our childhood, for god’s sake?
May be you did not learn much at school, I wanted to retort. Do you want your kids to have the same life that you had? Do you want them to stay in a small town, speak only in their mother tongue, read vernacular newspaper and discuss local politics while the modern world passes you by? Do you feel proud of earning 25K per month in a government job where newly minted kids from top-MBA schools are earning ten-times as much at the very beginning of their career? Do you want your kids to stay rooted in age-old thoughts, prejudices and superstitions typical of a small town? Or do you want them to go out of Suri– explore the world, possibly even conquer some parts of it?
But I say nothing. At least these parents were enlightened enough to send their kids to a school which is so obviously different, I reason with myself. I cannot have a school without students. Without students, how can I prove that this is the only method that works? I need their support. I cannot afford to piss them off - at least not too much. I express my thoughts politely, reasonably - while seething from inside. One day people would see the light, I say to myself.
But that does not happen. The questions continue. ‘When will you give them books?’ they ask.
‘I thought something with printed letters inside is called books,’ I say. ‘We have many books at school that they study.’
Then I get the point. I see the light, instead of them. Books are defined as something that you memorize at home. Books are not something you learn from. Books are not something you read for pleasure. So whatever we teach at school cannot be classified as books. After all, if kids are enjoying reading them, how can they be books? Books have to be boring, mind-numbing, full of jargons and definitions.
I do not give in to their demand for such ‘books’. But they are insistent about homework. Now the questions are phrased differently. Our children do not know what to do with so much free time at home. They watch TV, they jump around. Evolution is working backwards – they are transforming into monkeys. Please give them something to do at home.
In the end I give in. I try to find some stuff that they can do at home. Yes - handwriting. That obsolete skill. Parents complain that in our school no writing is practised. They actually mean handwriting. Why not give that as homework and make parents happy?
Only handwriting will not keep kids busy. Come on, one page of handwriting per week? Are you crazy? They will finish it in half an hour. What about the rest of the zillion hours per week?
So we create a math homework booklet, for each class. Again, obsolete, mind-numbing, calculation oriented activities are given as homework. School does not want to inflict rows and rows of multiplication and division sums on the kids. But the parents complain that kids are forgetting basic calculation. They cannot seem to do a three-digit by two-digit multiplication quickly. Other schools are far more advanced. Their students can even do a five-digit by four-digit multiplication.
They can use a calculator, I say. Or an excel sheet. Do you do multiplications every day, I ask the parents. When you really have to do it, do you not use a calculator? Is it not enough that they know how to do it?
Anyway. We create the homework booklet - full of dreadful calculations. Parents are happy. Two pages from those booklets have to be submitted every week.
Today is one such day.
Everybody submits - but not Nikhil.
‘What happened, Nikhil? Where is your homework?’ I ask.
‘I went to a marriage function,’ he says.
‘Your own, or somebody else’s?’’
‘Not my own, obviously.’
‘Then this cannot be allowed as an excuse. I could have excused your homework submission if it were your own marriage.’
‘But the marriage party was in Calcutta, I came back only yesterday evening.’ Nikhil replies.
‘Well, then you should have stayed up late and finished the homework.’
‘I stayed up late, but still it was not finished.’
‘Then you should have woken up early today and finished it.’
‘I woke up at 5:30 today, but then I had to come to the school for the extra class.’
‘Oh, I guess then you really need more than 24 hours a day. You know there are planets where you have more than 24 hour-days? May be you should go to those places. Why did you come to the extra class anyway?’
‘I missed a few classes before the puja vacation, and I need to catch up on the history booklets.’
‘Oh, what’s the status on that? How far has the class progressed on history?’
The class says that they are on to Russian revolution, where Nikhil seems to be still stuck at American Civil War.
‘Which part of American Civil War? Has Lincoln been assassinated yet?’
‘No,’ Nikhil replies.
‘Well, then assassinate him soon. What are you waiting for?’
Everybody laughs. Nikhil remains serious. The prospect of assassinating Lincoln does not cheer him up.