One of the issues currently percolating at faculty meetings and the LA/SS lunch table is homework. Specifically, why our students have no motivation to do any, and how much responsibility we as teachers should take in that problem.
One (albeit small) group of teachers have given up on homework entirely and never assign anything to be done out of class. One large group (most of the faculty) have greatly reduced the amount of homework they give. And one smallish group, mostly consisting of AP and Honors teachers, have not reduced the homework load at all.
Of course, tied to all of this is the result of not doing your homework - a high failure rate among our students. As many as 25% of our kids have failed at least one class. As much as 50% of the freshman class has failed at least one semester already....an astounding feat since the semester ends next week. So we argue. What to do? Eliminate homework and thereby bow to the demands of 1200 15-year-olds? Eliminate homework and hopefully lower the failure rate of the school (which of course is one of the only things looked at by the Powers That Be)? Keep homework in order to maintain the reality of what a high school education should mean to a university or college applicant?
But the question is far more complex than merely the surface suggests. Our principal emailed everyone a copy of an article from the Washington Post that was published at the end of November. It poses a question about poverty and whether or not that should be a factor that is considered when making decisions about rigor, homework, and grading policies. The article is here if you would like to read it, it really is quite interesting.
This is especially pertinent for us, as our "clientele" routinely change addresses, phone numbers, and over half of them are on free or reduced lunch systems. Almost the same number qualify for free breakfast programs, meaning that during the school year, the majority of their nutrition comes from the cafeteria every day. I have had more than one student that has lived for an extended period of time in a shelter and more than one that lived in their car.
Which brings me back to homework. It is not reasonable of me to expect a student struggling to find enough to eat every day to be concerned about homework, nor would I expect them to be. On the other hand, I know that getting a high school education is the first step in a process of getting to a place where living in your car will never happen again. I know that many men and women who grew up without basic necessities have become successful, hardworking members of society who were able to give their children more than they themselves ever had. But I would guess that those people probably also were highly driven and motivated individuals who made decisions that allowed them to succeed - such as graduating from high school.
So is that the difference? Is success based on motivation? If it is, how do I motivate my students? I have nothing to offer them that they might want. Their role models are high school dropouts who hang around the liquor store and drug dealers who make more in a month than I do in a year. They get respect for carrying guns and committing crimes. How can I encourage respect from students who do not respect themselves? And again, how do I motivate them to do something that no one in their lives has any respect for?