My son, who just started first grade, received his first homework assignment last night. This was day five.
The first part of the homework assignment consisted of a handwriting worksheet for practicing writing the letter "a." Based on a completed worksheet he had brought home, I surmised that he had already been instructed how to write the letter "a" in class, so this homework assignment was just additional practice. This is what homework should be about.
But then we get to the second part of the homework assignment. He was to "read for twenty minutes." He does know how to read because we've been teaching him at home. Many kids in his class, however, do not yet know how to read because -- wait for it -- the school has not yet begun teaching them how to read.
Talk about that first step being a doozy. The first step assumes you already know how to read.
So, for most kids, this homework assignment represented 20 minutes worth of wasted time. (Unless, of course, you are working under the mistaken belief that kids just pick-up reading "naturally" by being around books.)
How many nights of being forced to "read" before you've been taught how to read do you think it takes before a kid decides he doesn't want to read any more? How many days in class being humiliated in front of your peers do you think it takes before kids shut down when it turns out they aren't picking-up reading naturally?
And, thus, we take our first step down the road to disengagement from school and loss of motivation.
Just remember it's the kids' fault. Their parents' too. Their bad environment too. It's not the school's fault though. It's never the school's fault.
Update: My bad. He was only supposed to read for ten minutes.