The XX Factor

What About Homework Help in the Hood?

I used to curse car seats to the high heavens. Thank Jeebus my 7- and 9-year-olds have long been able to manage that themselves, but, oh, how I cursed them (seats, not kids) before they could – derriere poking out into the freezing snow, rain, or boiling sun, no doubt causing eclipses for all those attempting to drive past. Squirming infants and/or toddlers deciding that strap-in was the perfect moment to start squalling and either jack knife or go invertebrate and limp. Good lord, how I hated car seats!

Now, my hatred for those contraptions (especially while both needed my help) pales in comparison with the soul-destroying perdition that is homework. TIMES TWO!!! It’s exhausting and frustrating as hell: How many times should anyone need to be told to carry the goddamn 10! That’s why, KJ, your post on  homework really speaks to me.

I have the worst of both worlds: My prissy daughter loveslovesloves any and all rituals; sister’s got all her lessons nailed but won’t let me skip a damn thing. She even insists on doing extra work as often as I weaken. My son, on the other hand, hateshateshates it; eventually, I’ll have to call in the Marines to get it done.

All this to say a couple of things: I’m ambivalent about nonparental homework helpers (because I’m an American parent and any childrearing shortcuts must be of the devil) but I’m trending toward supporting paid help, especially for single and dual-career parents. It just eats up so much of the precious time when everyone’s home from work, school, and extracurriculars. And did I mention it’s frustrating and exhausting? Of course, this is purely academic for most of us when, according to your post, we’re talking in the ‘hood of $100/hour.

Another reason I trend this way is that I know it won’t be long before I’ll be over my head in science and math. Already, we’re talking vertices, prisms, molecules, gases, etc. I just don’t remember that stuff and was, in any event, math- and science-phobic (see: pre-Oprah, Brunhilda-like teachers of same). Both my kids are smart as whips, and I want them to go as far as they can in all subject areas; that can’t happen with me in charge of the science and math past – I’m guessing – eighth grade. Maybe sooner, because I’ve got my eye on a math-science magnet middle school. I rock the “fuzzy” subjects like English, Composition, and Social Studies but I’m going to be hyperventilating when the formulas start appearing in my son’s Iron Man notebook. My nebulous plan has sorta been to hit the lottery and find a nerdy high-schooler or college kid to shepherd them through the slide-rule stuff, but here’s my real point: What about the parents of elementary-aged school kids who are  already incapable of helping their kids learn? If they don’t nail subject-verb agreement and long division now, they won’t be able to write winning college essays and divvy up their spring break bar tabs later. And all a poor, poorly educated parent can do is worry.

While we often discuss the problematics of urban (and rural) education, rarely do we discuss the parents’ own limitations, however serious and involved they are in their children’s education. We deride the ones who let their kids watch HBO till 2 a.m. and never show up for school conferences, but we just throw charter schools and church-basement-run tutoring schemes at the ones tuned into their kids’ futures. Imagine being only marginally literate, and likely math illiterate, and sitting down with my second-grader’s “vertices” assignment or my fourth-grader’s page-long composition one. After a long day driving a city bus or slicing meat at Wal-Mart. With a B.A., M.A., and J.D., I know enough about the 13 Colonies that I had to censor my PC self while helping my son with his project last week; I can’t help wondering how many inner-city parents will be encountering them for the first time. Perhaps that’s why the ones we deride tune out of their kids’ classwork so assiduously.

Who tutors their kids once the parents are in over their heads, how many of them have $100 per hour to pay homework helpers and how much must it suck to have your kid toiling away til 8 p.m. at a charter school, or having to find a way to get your kid(s) to Mt. Olive Missionary Baptist’s Education Ministry for tutoring in your iffy neighborhood?

In my line of work, I get quite few letters from inmates. The ones who write me, to a one, claim to be taking their rehabilitation seriously and speak with determination of their plans for their children’s moral and intellectual futures. In 14 years, I have yet to receive a functionally literate one.