“So,” I’ll ask a long lost friend, “how have you been?” although, if I were a cooler person, I’d say ‘Whassuuuuuup!’ because apparently really cool people are supposed to sound like sneezing donkeys. And here’s what this typically mid-thirties, mid-career person will often reply: “Oh god, I have so much schoolwork to finish before our board exams.”
Now long, long ago, on my home planet far, far away, adults who had completed school and college simply stopped doing homework, just like that, so it always takes me a minute or two of spinning around in circles with my tongue lolling before I’m ready to ask a trenchant follow-up question like: “Did you say homework?”, though if I were cooler I’d say “Whaaaaaaa?!” because if you’re going to be cool you’d better be choking on a hairball.
As a person who has perfected the art of not having children and is therefore in a position of wonderful objectivity, I’d say: Get a grip, people, let the little blighters do their own work. Is it because you really don’t have enough problems in your thinning portfolio and thickening arteries, in your marriage and at work, that you’re dying to lie awake at night worrying about how to convert Celsius to Fahrenheit?
But no, today’s parents seem dead keen on doing homework, fretting over math problems and spending hours Photoshopping the cover of the history project, sometimes while the student in question is off relaxing over a few drinks with his or her friends. They bite their nails during their kids’ exams, wishing they could do for them, probably because they studied much harder.
I was beginning to think this parent-child joint homework thing a uniquely Indian trait, when a recent article in The New Yorker opened my eyes. The land of the free and the home of the brave, for your information, is ‘overparenting’ its children in order to—get this—compete with little kids in India and China. How’s that for an outsourcing opportunity? We could be writing college applications for millions of American kids and saving them the three to forty thousand dollars they’d pay IvyWise to do so in the US.
Anyway, I’m here to tell you that doing your children’s homework for them is overkill. My mother just let us be, so much so that I learned early on to forge her signature on the homework calendar that we had to have signed at the end of every day or week, so that I wouldn’t wake her when I left for school in the morning—and I’m doing all right, barring the bank balance and the nightmares.
She was a big fan of John Holt, the famous educator who believed that schools do more to impede than foster learning and the real stuff takes place at home; she earnestly read his books, allowed us to read our own and watch many B-grade movies, never had a clue what I was studying (or not), at wherever it was I went every morning, and sensibly settled down to writing her own book, which allowed us the freedom to grow in the way most natural to us.
That’s a total exaggeration, of course. She and my father attended every PTA meeting they had to, and they dragged my siblings and me off to every museum, gallery, theatre and volcano-top in sight. None of us failed a thing, and all of us became truly odd people. We’ve had our ups and downs, of course—but today she can look at her children in their various life situations and move her lips in a silent prayer of thanks. At least that’s what I thought it was, until I sidled up close one day and heard her muttering, “Damn that John Holt.”