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First of all, this node is Americentric. I don’t know what the politics and policies of homework is for noders from other lands but since I can only speak for myself, here goes.

I’ve been watching the news an awful lot these days and in-between the debate over Operation Iraqi Freedom (yeah, that’s what it’s officially called) and whether to “stay the course” or “cut and run”, the recent anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and whether the Feds or the local officials are to blame for that whole mess and the upcoming mid-term elections about whether the Democrats will regain the House and the Senate, another interesting item caught my eye.

For most of us who are parents (and students), the end of August and the beginning of September mark the death knell of summer. Gone are the lazy days of doing pretty much nothing and long nights doing pretty much of the same. The time has now come to get your ass in gear and get to K-Mart or Target or Kohl’s and get those precious back to school supplies and maybe some of the new fall fashions.

For you parents with older kids and for you older kids yourselves, you pretty much know the routine. You know what’s expected of you. After all, you’ve done in the past and its been no big deal. It always helps when you’ve been there before.

But for some of you out there this will be the year when little Johnny or little Susie is leaving the comforts of home for the first time and branching out into a brave new world. It’s there that their teachers are charged with molding them into the fine upstanding citizens that we all want and hope them to be.

The first couple of days are usually a piece of cake. After the initial introductions are made the kids get the lay of the land, the they seem to be at ease with both the pace and the environment and all is right with the world.

And then the fun begins…

In these days of the No Child Left Behind Act both schools and teachers alike are struggling to get more kids to pass standardized tests. After all, it’s in their best interest to do so. The schools get their funding and the teachers keep their jobs and everybody gets a pat on the back and goes home with a smile on their face.

But is it best for the child?

Or for that matter, what about the parents?

According to the reports that I’ve seen, kids as young as kindergarten and first grade are bringing upwards of three and fours hours of homework home a night. Besides basic math and reading, they’re actually being assigned “projects” that require “project plan”s and have to be scoped out. This usually eats into dinner time and may even wind up going late into the evening as Mom and Dad try their best to make sure Junior keeps pace with his or her peers.

Some parents are now claiming enough is enough and that given the fact that many of these kids come from households that are either led by a single parent or require that both spouses work, there just isn’t enough time in the day for them to help their kids with the nightly routine. This leads to failure and later to low self-esteem issues. There’s also some debate being stirred about limiting a kids natural curiosity by having them just memorize facts instead of asking questions.

Other parents claim that too much of a good thing is never enough and the study habits that their kids are developing now will eventually prepare them for life in the real world when they get older.

Teachers seem to be caught in the middle of the whole debate. Some claim that they’re under pressure from the parents themselves to ensure that their little Johnny or Susie doesn’t fall behind their peers in terms of academia. After all, these are the “formative years” when habits, whether they be good or bad, are being built and there are those standardized tests and school funding to think about.

So, how much is enough?

Nobody knows. The so-called experts are as always, divided. From my own personal experience, I’ve seen kids who I thought were idiots’ blossom into geniuses. I’ve seen the so-called class clown get elected to the local school board and I’ve seen the Mensa types fall victim to crime, drugs and alcohol. Nobody can seem to agree on the where or the when or the why. It just happened.

As for me, I guess I’m either really biased or just really damn lucky. In her first six years of grade school, Anna rarely has more than a half an hour or so of studying to do a night and even that seems rare. She’s done just fine when it comes to testing and as far as the future goes, right now it couldn’t be brighter. She seems to have a good balance of sports, an appreciation for the arts and sciences and a decent enough home life at both her moms and at my place to carry her through.

On another personal note, in retrospect, I swear to God sometimes I think I learned more about life by playing in the schoolyard than I ever did in the classroom.

Just something to bear in mind for all you go-getters out there.