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Interrupt the Pattern of Homework Despair

What is the purpose of homework?

Dear Dr. Fournier:

Last year, both my son’s attitude and execution concerning his homework was a disaster, and I am afraid the pattern will repeat itself this year. For the homework to be neat and well done, I had to sit with him. If I didn’t have the time or energy, he would rush through. Last year, his teacher didn’t ask for his homework everyday, so my son began to gamble on not hav­ing to turn his homework in. When he did turn in his homework, he got low grades and I received notes on his messy papers as if it were my fault.

I do not know how to change the pattern this year. I’ve already tried screaming and punishing and brib­ing. They work for a while, and then we end up right back in the same place.

Eva D.

Fayetteville, AR

Dear Eva,


When parents scream, punish and/or bribe a child in order to change his behavior, and then witness little or no change, it’s easy to jump to the conclusion that the child is not lis­tening and is doing nothing to alleviate the problem.

In many cases, however, the child is actually screaming back at us with silent messages implicit in his actions ­or his inaction as the case may be. When our children’s silent responses are continually repeated, parents need to stop preach­ing their messages long enough to listen to what the child is saying.

For example, both you and your son have offered answers to the basic ques­tion: “What is the purpose of home­work?” Your answer is to learn what school is teaching and to develop and demonstrate responsibility. Your son’s answer is that the purpose of home­work is to play a gambling game where the teacher sets the rules by not requir­ing homework to be turned in every­day.

The result is that your desire for work well done is not a requirement of the goal of homework as your son inter­prets it. Without making judgments about your son’s interpretation and strategy to deal with the reality he has lived, you must work together toward developing a shared agreement about what homework is and how it should be executed regardless of whether the teacher asks for it to be handed in.


Sit with your child and discuss the primary question: “What is the purpose of homework?” Answers could look like this:

  • To learn the assigned work for tomorrow so I’m ready for the new work the teacher will give.

  • To show I am responsible by com­pleting the assignment.

  • To be prepared to hand in only work that I am proud of.

  • To never give anyone the opportu­nity to say I’m irresponsible.

As you write your shared answers, you are developing a self-assessment checklist for your child that meets the goals and expectations you, your son and your family chooses to live by rather than letting school circum­stances be in charge. Every day, sit with your son and have him check off these homework goals as a mission accom­plished. The mission is to share goals, to share accomplishment, according to family values. As your child learns this lesson, he will be less swayed by the ways of an external world that deals with its own needs, which are not nec­essarily those of your family.

By putting these guidelines in writing, you shift the responsibility for learning back to your child as you assume a par­ent’s role of monitoring responsibility. The checklist also gives your son a sense of accomplishment, regardless of whether the homework is turned in the next day. Once you reach an agreement about the goals of homework, you and your son will be speaking - not screaming - the same language.


Have a question about education, education-related issues or your child’s schoolwork or homework? Ask Dr. Fournier and look for her answer in this column. E-mail your question or comment to Dr. Yvonne Fournier at [email protected].


More Stories By Dr. Yvonne Fournier

Dr. Yvonne Fournier is Founder and President of Fournier Learning Strategies. Her column, "Hassle-Free Homework" was published by the Scripps Howard News Service for 20 years. She has been a pharmacist, public health administrator, demographer and entrepreneur. Dr. Fournier, arguably one of the most prolific of educators and child advocates in America today, has followed her own roadmap, calling not just for change or improvement in education but for an entirely new model.

She remains one of the most controversial opponents of the current education system in America.