Everyone who has gone to school has experienced homework and projects. I have. Some homework I appreciated because they strengthened my grasp of lessons learned inside the classroom. Some projects I really enjoyed because they involved discovery–like the one about pouring vinegar in a jar with a chicken bone and finding out how long it took for the acid to strip the bone of calcium.
But some homework and projects, I plowed through. I hated doing them although at the back of my mind I knew they were about practical skills that would be useful later on in life. Like learning sewing stitches. It irked me that only the girls were required to do the project. In fact, when I was in high school, home economics was an all-girl subject. We learned about sewing, embroidery and cooking while the boys were in automotive class.
And there were those projects–subjects, even–that I considered downright trivial, irrational and dumb. Would you believe that when I was in high school there was an elective for girls, cosmetology, where the lessons were about putting on make-up and nail polish? I’m not kidding. It wasn’t the elective I chose but I had classmates who went to cosmetology class and they had homework like finding “models” and practicing the “art” of applying nail polish on them. The models, usually classmates, were presented to the teacher the next day.
Anyway, so I was talking to my daughters a few days ago about homework and they were lamenting the fact that semestral breaks and Christmas vacations don’t mean much these days. They had book reports and projects to finish during the one-week semestral break. Last year, my younger daughter had a book report to write over the Christmas break.
I sympathize. Not only because they are my daughters and I want them to have the chance to enjoy vacations but also because, as a former student, I know that there are times when homework is given for no real reason than to make students work. It’s power play. Teachers can give homework and assign projects, and so they do.
The strange thing is how the tons of homework and projects are justified as preparation for real life. Is that so? The average employee leaves all work behind the moment he exits the office building. If he is made to work during his days off, or during a holiday, there are consequences and the employer has to pay him double. And an employee can’t even be forced to work on non-regular working days except in certain industries specified in the Labor Code. And the reason is simple–everyone deserves some rest and recreation.
Some teachers seem to believe that the measure of a student’s capacity is how much he can give–not in terms of quality but in terms of quantity. That’s silly, really. There is a reason why haute couture is haute couture and RTW is RTW. If you’re a Discovery Channel fan and you’ve seen how cars like BMW are made, you’d think twice before claiming that they’re only expensive because of their brand.
Where’s the logic, really? Give a person five tasks to finish within a limited time and he will have to divide the available time and pour energy and creativity accordingly. The result? He’ll probably finish all of them but just so–just enough to comply with the requirements. But give him one task to perform within the same period and he’s more likely to come up with something exceptional and outstanding. What is in the mind of some teachers? Prepare the young to be efficient parts of an assembly line? Is that really all that education has become?
And there are worse consequences. Last year, there was this school project on making model houses out of illustration boards–a magnificent application of imagination and creativity. My daughter spent many late nights finishing that project–all by herself– along with two or three other projects. When the grades were handed down, she was disappointed. She knew that hers was not the most visually attractive project but she thought it would mean something to the teacher that she made it herself. Some of her classmates submitted far better looking projects, and they got higher grades too. But they didn’t do the projects–their parents did. And they didn’t mind bragging about it–though not to the teacher, of course.
I had a long talk with my daughter about that incident. That project taught her a lot of things. She not only learned to make a house model, and that was the goal of the project, she also learned a valuable lesson about human nature– that some students would go to great lengths to get good grades because that was more important to them than real learning.
But, more than that, it’s a lesson about how the educational system itself misunderstands the very concept of education. That’s what happens when every teacher wants to project the image that he is capable of, and is actually, teaching so many things to his students–pa-impress, kung baga–as evidenced by the never-ending parade of homework and projects. When all the homework and all the projects assigned by all the teachers are all taken together, you have a situation where the homework and projects defeat the very purpose for which they are given. Students do them not for any learning exercise but simply to comply and get passing grades.
Sometimes, education sucks. Big time.