October 29, 2015
Students, Parents & Teachers Are
Turning Away From Homework
By Kathy Boccella
The Philadelphia Inquirer
Ardmore, PA (AP) Amy Clipston had a request that was a new one for her daughter’s first-grade teacher.
Many parents had marched in to demand that their children, even those who couldn’t tie their shoes yet, get more homework. Clipston was the first to request the opposite—that her daughter opt out of homework altogether.
``I felt my child was doing quite fine in school,’’ said Clipston, a chemist with three children, noting that her daughter’s schoolday in the highly competitive Lower Merion School District was 61/2 hours, with a 20-minute recess. ``I felt 10 to 20 minutes of homework a night was not accomplishing anything.’’
Her request, which the teacher approved, represented one small step for a movement slowly gaining momentum in schools in the Pennsylvania suburbs, New Jersey, and around the country: questioning, scaling back, or, in a handful of schools, even eliminating the nightly homework ritual once thought as all-American as junior proms and cafeteria food fights.
For decades, homework’s value has been hotly debated.
But now a growing legion of critics say the notion that America can close the learning gap with China or India by stuffing kids’ backpacks with math worksheets as early as kindergarten is backfiring - creating a nation of stressed-out, sleep-deprived children, despite scant scientific evidence they are actually learning more from the reams of homework.
Some school administrators are starting to listen. Radnor School District has unveiled a policy stating that homework shouldn’t ``interfere with the student’s health and wellbeing.’’
Several New Jersey districts, including Princeton Public Schools and the West Windsor-Plainsboro School District, are experimenting with banning take-home assignments on designated nights or weekends and school vacations.
An elementary school in Gaithersburg, Md., has banned homework altogether in favor of 30 minutes of nightly reading. And under the radar screen, parents such as Clipston—she says there are others in Lower Merion—are quietly opting their kids out of the daily grind.
That is all music to the ears of Vicki Abeles, who triggered widespread debate on test and homework pressure with her 2010 documentary, Race to Nowhere, and is back with another film and book, Beyond Measure, to look at schools that are breaking the mold. She said educators should be seeking work-life balance for students just as some high-tech companies are doing for employees.
``A lot has been written about adults having real time off from the workday, and that it improves creativity and productivity,’’ Abeles said. ``We’re doing the exact opposite with kids. It’s insanity.’’
The anecdotal complaints from parents and teachers about the harmful impact of students emailing completed assignments at 3 a.m. or kids spending sunny weekend days inside on a laptop are increasingly supported by scientific research. The 2013 American Psychological Association survey, for example, found that 45 percent of U.S. schoolchildren were stressed-out by school - and homework was the leading cause.
Many schools try to stick to 10 minutes for each grade level, but some, particularly private ones, load on a lot more. For example, St. Joseph School in Downingtown has a policy of starting with 30 minutes for first and second grade up to 120 minutes for seventh and eighth grade.
``The kids are overwhelmed,’’ said Tom Di Giulio, a Latin teacher at Cedarbrook Middle School in Cheltenham. ``It’s too much. I’m getting work sent in to me at 12 o’clock at night,’’ sometimes 1 and 3 a.m.
Zach Masterman, 15, a sophomore at Lower Merion’s Harriton, knows what Di Giulio is talking about. After putting in a full day of school, after-school activities, and choir practice, he comes home and dives into three hours of homework nightly. ``I’m really busy,’’ he said. ``I have a ton of things to do.’’
While high schoolers are expected to hit the books every night, Stephanie Brant, the Gaithersburg principal, said she was surprised when she initially got pushback from some parents when she eliminated homework.
They were worried, she said, that their kids wouldn’t be prepared for middle school. But now, not only have other schools in her district jettisoned the worksheets, a middle-school principal also thanked her for sending him devoted readers.
``We demand so much of our students during the day,’’ said Brant. ``You can often be doing homework that is rote—addition or whatever—and the second you do one wrong problem, you’re doing 25 wrong.’’
But conventions are hard to break. Cathy Hall, assistant head of school at elite Episcopal Academy, said teachers there are keenly aware of the ``homework dilemma’’ and are being ``intentional’’ in what they assign students. Yet at a school that boasts of its Ivy League admissions, time spent on homework is ultimately a personal decision, she said.
And in Lower Merion, opting out of homework—even with a teacher’s blessing—is ``a violation of policy,’’ said spokesman Doug Young. ``Homework is part of the school experience.’’
It doesn’t have to be, say some critics.
Alfie Kohn, who wrote The Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad Thing a decade ago, said that numerous studies fail to find any link to improved learning.
``There’s really dubious academic benefit to homework at any age, especially in younger kids,’’ Kohn argued.
What’s more, he and Abeles argue, too much homework can cause considerable harm, raising levels of frustration, anxiety, and family tension while robbing time for imaginative play and outdoor exercise, and,most importantly, crushing the potential to get excited about learning.
More parents are asking the same questions. ``Many feel homework has kind of taken over, especially at the high school level,’’ said Cheryl Masterman, Zach’s mother. ``I just had a situation with my fifth grader the other night, and he was up really late and totally freaking out and melting down.’’
Abeles said it’s the stress on kids that concerns her the most. She said she was inspired to launch Race to Nowhere after school pressures were blamed for the suicide of a 13-year-old California girl.
Abeles noted that she opted her son out of homework in elementary and middle school, and now he’s doing well with his high school assignments.
``How many hours a day can they be spending on academics?’’ Abeles asked. ``They need to develop in other ways. They need time with families and friends. They need time to do nothing.’’
Dentist & Historian Sets Goal: Find Or Recreate
All US National Parks Posters From 1930’s WPA
By Adan Hurlburt
Black Hills Pioneer
Spearfish, SD (AP) He calls himself the ``Ranger of the Lost Art.’’ Like Indiana Jones, the adventurous archaeologist who partially inspired the moniker, 69-year-old Doug Leen, of Kupreanof, Alaska, has an all-consuming passion for recovering lost history for the public.
For the next 14 months the veteran national park ranger, dentist, and amateur historian will travel the country on a mission to stir up interest in an 80-year-old public art project designed to promote America’s National Parks as part of the park system’s 2016 centennial celebration.
He carries with him five rare national park posters that might have been lost to history if it weren’t for him. And he’s on a mission to recover two pieces of the original poster set that retain long-lost status.
The story starts in post-Great Depression America.
Franklin D. Roosevelt established The Works Progress Administration, or WPA, in 1935 as part of the New Deal. In a largely successful effort to curtail unemployment the WPA put more than 8 million American citizens to work on government projects from 1935 to 1943. This included the construction of more than 115,000 buildings, some 78,000 bridges, and roughly 650,000 miles of roads.
But the WPA took on much more than construction. About 7 percent of the administration’s budget went to art initiatives, like the Federal Writer’s Project, the Federal Theatre Project, the Federal Music Project, and the Federal Art Project.
One could argue the silk-screened posters of the Federal Art Project defined American pop art in the 20th century, producing more than 2 million posters from 35,000 unique designs in an eight-year period. WPA posters promoted everything from national health initiatives to public art performances to travel.
It was the travel posters that stuck in the American collective consciousness across time, especially an iconic series promoting U.S. National Parks. Posters from this campaign remain instantly recognizable to this day thanks largely to none other than the Ranger of the Lost Art.
WPA national park posters weren’t always treated so reverently. In fact, they were very nearly forgotten completely. But one day in 1973 a young ranger at Grand Teton National Park noticed a worn poster in an old barn during the park’s annual cleanup. Rather than toss it in the burn pile he asked his boss if he could keep it.
Young Doug Leen had no idea how deeply that old poster would change the course of his life, he had no idea he was single-handedly saving a piece of American history from fading into obscurity, he just thought it would look pretty cool on his wall.
Ranger Doug Leen
The old Grand Teton poster remained tacked to Leen’s wall through the end of his seven-year career as a National Park Ranger, through his years at dental school, and into his tenure in private dental practice in Seattle—20 years all told.
``I’d look at this thing and think, `you know, Doug, there’s a story here. This poster’s going to make you a million dollars someday, there’s something behind this,’ facetiously,’’ Leen told the Black Hills Pioneer (http://bit.ly/1MbmJUK ).
In 1993, Leen finally found a sliver of context in which to place his antique Grand Teton poster when he stumbled across a book; ``Posters for the People: Art of the WPA,’’ by Christopher DeNoon. The Teton poster wasn’t in the book, nor were any others in the National Park Series, but the style was strikingly similar.
Around that same time Leen received a call from an old friend at Grand Teton National Park looking for an idea for a poster to commemorate moving the park’s Jenny Lake Museum later that year.
``I said, `do I have an idea? I’ve got the poster, and here it is,’’’ Leen recalled.
This is where the odyssey began. Leen worked to reproduce his beloved Teton poster in his first attempt at any artwork of that sort. The park sold 600 of those reproduction prints.
``At that point I thought, `you know, I could do this for the whole park system,’’’ Leen said. ``I only had one (original), but I thought I could make them up for all the parks in this style.’’
The newly minted resurrection artist decided to start with Yellowstone. But he wanted to make sure the park didn’t have its own historic WPA poster like Grand Teton’s before he started from scratch.
Leen called Tom DuRant at the National Park Service Archives in Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia, to inquire on other WPA park posters. Through some strange coincidence, DuRant had just returned from a search for National Park posters at the request of Grand Canyon National Park, who had an old poster on hand that they wanted to know more about. That poster became the second known surviving original in the WPA park series. Questions on its provenance led to DuRant’s discovery of black and white negatives of 13 different WPA park designs.
``That discovery was the Holy Grail. From there the poster momentum grew,’’ Leen said. ``The passion all spread from that one poster, and once that story started to unfold . it is like Indiana Jones, you’re looking for this lost art.
``Of course, the `Ranger of the Lost Art’ is my parody. That name was born in a phone booth when I called the Grand Canyon up because they were going to republish their poster. As I told the Interior Department, I stepped into the phone booth as a mild-mannered bespectacled dentist and I stepped out as Ranger Doug, Ranger of the Lost Art. I came up with that in the phone booth, and I’ve never looked back.’’
The discovery of the black and white negatives set Leen off on two quests he continues to this day.
The initial quest to reproduce each poster from the negatives set him on a quest to discover remaining original prints. Without full color original prints for reference Leen and his artists—Mike DuPille first, then Brian Maebius—had to guess at what colors to use.
First Leen called each of the remaining 11 parks that he knew had theoretically received WPA posters: Yellowstone (two designs), Yosemite, Wind Cave, Great Smoky Mountains, Glacier, Fort Marion, Mount Rainier, Zion, Lassen Volcanic, and Petrified Forest. Word spread quickly from there, and people began contacting him with their discoveries.
Posters turned up in the dark corners of attics, behind cobwebs in crawl spaces, beneath piles of material in antique shops, and more. Some of the oddest discoveries occurred within the park system itself.
Thirteen copies of a WPA poster for New Mexico’s Bandelier National Monument were discovered in the park superintendent’s office where they’d been in use as file drawer dividers for some 50 years. That poster was totally unknown before the discovery, as Harpers Ferry had no negative of it.
Leen said WPA artists likely produced about 50 prints of each design. That means a total of about 700 park prints were produced in total. So far, 42 original prints—12 of the 13 black and white negative designs and the Bandelier design—have been recovered, or roughly 6 percent. Original prints of the Wind Cave National Monument and Great Smoky Mountain National Park designs are still missing.
Leen asks everyone he meets to look in their attics, to keep their eyes peeled at garage sales and antique shops, and of course to contact him when the prints emerge. He’d like to buy them, share them with the nation on the road, and donate them back to the National Park Service along with all the other originals in his possession.
``I want this stuff back in the public domain, that’s my goal,’’ Leen said. ``And to do that I’ve got to flush out the two that are still missing. It’s something I’ve got to do—it just burns harder every day. ``
For more information on WPA National Park Posters, Doug Leen’s reproduction posters, and his new park prints done in WPA style, visit www.rangerdoug.com . His staff can be reached by calling (888)WPA-POSTERS (888-972-7678).
Information from: Black Hills Pioneer, http://www.bhpioneer.com