Oh man, when I read Heather Shumaker's essay in Salon Homework is wrecking our kids: The research is clear, let's ban elementary homework, I reached out to her immediately. In her excellent article, Shumaker articulates exactly what I have been grumbling about (and fighting with my ex about) since my kids were in preschool. I wanted to know: Would she be my BFF? Make sweet love to me? Talk to my school/ex/annoying parents who dominate the PTAs and playgrounds and support all the over-parenting pressure that is actually corrupting kids, holding women back professionally and financially, and are generally an irritant to the establishment?
Shumaker, a Minneapolis-based journalist and married mom of two, agreed to be interviewed on this show, and I am so glad she did. This is a homegirl, a sister-in-arms in reasonable parenting that supports kids and families in ways that promote health and reason, and not the homemaker fantasy that dominates school schedules and curriculums, and pressure to spend inordinate and unprecedented hours with our children even though science negates any benefit and personal and macroeconomics suffer at the hands of such practices.
Check out Heather Shumaker's awesome books that should be required reading for every new parent before they are allowed to check out of the hospital:
If you have any question at all about why you should stop micromanaging your kids, let them play freely, dirtily, creatively, check out this awesome info from TheGeniusofPlay.org:
Highlights include ...
- Improved language in kindergarteners
- Higher academic performance overall, including math, problem-solving and – yes, you, Type A parent! – standardized tests
- Better behavior when kids exercise
- Play promotes emotion regulation and empathy
- Play = lower stress
More info on the power of play for kids:
Full interview with essayist, author and journalist Heather Shumaker
Emma: Hey guys. So excited about today's guest. You know, I always love moms who give the world a big F-you, and liberate us to be the best, most empowered moms that we really can be outside of the status quo, which kind of stinks, frankly. And I was so happy to reconnect with a colleague of mine, Heather Shumaker. She is an author. You may know her from one of her books a couple years ago, which is, It's Okay Not To Share. The title says it all. And she has a new book out this month called It's Okay To Go Up The Slide: Renegade Rules For Raising Competent and Creative Kids.
Heather, thank you so much for being you, and thank you so much for joining me today.
Heather: You're welcome. Thanks so much for having me.
Emma: I bumped into an article that you wrote recently. The headline is, Why Kids Should Not Be Doing Homework, and I said, "I am in love. I am parking my heterosexual tendencies aside, and I'm falling in love with Heather Shumaker."
All of your advice, it goes against what we just blindly assume as a culture about how to raise children. And we're going to dig into some of the details about this. But talk to me a little bit about how you started this path, because you've been writing about this, your books and articles. You're a journalist. You come about things from a scientific point of view, not just wild opinions. What's the nucleus of this movement that you're leading?
Heather: I think the origins come, just because I was brought up with some, I guess, pretty radical schools. I thought they were normal schools when I went to them, but the more I look at them in a cultural perspective, I realized they were willing to buck the cultural trends back then, and I, growing up, thought, Well, this is a great way to be alive. This is great, respectful, exciting way to be a kid in school.
And by the time, now, I find myself at this stage of life, with a couple of children and a school system as a nation, that's just terrified and driving education by fear, rather than by joy. And when I see that, and I know there's another option out there, I just want to tell the world.
The importance of progressive preschools
Emma: So you were raised ... Your mom had a pre-school, and it was ... What would we say? Progressive or avant garde. She was running this while you were growing up, right?
Heather: Yeah, she was only one of the teachers. She wasn't the founder or the director, but she taught there 40 years, and she raised me following its philosophy. But you know, words like “progressive” I don't think even cover it, because they gave children boxing gloves and allowed them to punch each other during the school day. And I thought that was normal.
Emma: Right. Well, thank God that you did, otherwise you would not have grown up to realize how messed up the rest of the country and education system is. You have that juxta position. That was such a blessing for all of us. They were boxing?
Heather: You can imagine my surprise when I had my first child, looking around for a pre-school, and I was looking for the wrestling mats, because they did this social partner play, where you could play rough-and-tumble games, you know, puppy play with your friends, because so many children make friends through physical touch and physical play, and we always are saying, "Keep your hands off each other. I don't want to see bodies touching."
Well, bodies need to touch for kids to form friendships, especially for boys. They found that out through research, that boys need to touch each other, and they don't always have all those verbal skills when they're three and four. I mean, my brother used to jump on the backs of kids he liked the best, and strangle them, and that was a form of friendship. Well, not every school and teacher understands this.
That's where the origins of the first book came from, and then the second book, It's Okay To Go Up The Slide, was trying on more ideas from this unorthodox or progressive pre-school, but also from ideas about elementary school.
Emma: The whole thing about touching, I mean, that's such an American, puritanical thing. Don't touch, don't touch, and then of course, they're teenagers, and then shenanigans ensue because they've been told their whole lives never to touch another human being.
Let's dig into some of your rules. You have rules, and I love how you've structured your book, which is by rules. And how many rules are there? There's like 28 or something rules that were coming?
Heather: Something like that.
Emma: 21 rules. Let me just read some of the titles, because we'll dig into couple of them. The titles say it all. I'll work backwards, alright?
Rule number 21, the last one, is relax. Thank you. Thank you for giving me permission to chill out as a mom, because that's not the culture. The culture is I'm supposed to be hyper-vigilant, hyper-involved with my kids, hyper stressed out. I'm supposed to be the suffering mother for my children. You've liberated me.
Rule number 20. Families are not entertainment centers. I was just talking about this. I was at a soccer practice last night with a cool mom, who by the way, is European, so she had a really great, liberated perspective on things. And we're like, "It's not our job to make sure our kids are having fun all the time."
Where did that come from? Why are we expected to be constantly engaged with our kids?
Heather: I don't know. It's also entertainment. It's a form of constant distraction. I think we just don't trust that children have their own ideas inside of their heads and souls, and that's what play is. Or as kids get older, just exploring their own interests. I think we just don't trust that down time is productive. We talk about it, "Oh, we all need down time," but do we do it?
I can't tell you how many times I've been asked to write guest articles for how to entertain the kids in the summer, how to entertain the kids. And I said, "Frankly, I do not entertain my children. That is not something we do as a family. They entertain themselves by coming up with their own ideas, and then we try to unschedule them as much as possible, because school is enough scheduling on its own."
Emma: I totally agree. I always just feel like we're reveling. I'm 39. My kids are six and eight, just to give a little context about the generation that I'm falling in.
Our mothers were the ones who went back into the traditional workforce in mass. This is my philosophy, and I just love to hear you pick it apart. There's all these mothers returning to the workforce en masse, had traditional jobs, corporate jobs, and a lot of kids were latchkey kids. And that didn't really work out so great for a lot of families.
And maybe a lot of people my age were like, "That sucked," and I'm going to rebel against that, and be super involved with my kids, and be really nurturing them, so my kids don't have to be in therapy like I am. They're not going to blame me for all their problems like I blame my parents for all my problems, so I'm going to be hyper-involved and be this perfect parent, and therefore I have to be constantly being engaged and having fun and magic with my children."
That's my philosophy of where this comes from. Am I on target at all?
Why we often parent against how we were raised
Heather: I'm sure you're on target. There's so many reasons. We often parent against how we were raised. I think that's one thing that my books do, is for people who do not like the way they were raised, they don't know what to turn to, and so I'm just offering, "Here, I did like how I was raised, and I'm repeating it with my kids, and my brother's repeating it with his kids."
And in high school, when all our friends were complaining about their parents and how terrible everything was, we had nothing to contribute to the conversation. I would like my kids to have nothing to say in that same conversation when they're teenagers. We do tend to rebel against the things we find were problems. The whole culture right now in this country is driven a lot by fear. Security threats and terrorism alerts, and we're convinced as parents, that our children will be kidnapped. That's why I have a chapter called, "Let Your Kids Talk To Strangers."
Emma: Yeah. I've written about that myself, so let's elaborate on that. Why is it a good idea to talk to strangers?
“Don’t talk to strangers” doesn’t work
Heather: Well, because telling them not to talk to strangers doesn't work, it doesn't keep them safe, and it doesn't teach them the skills that they do need to keep safe.
If you look at the statistics, which most of us cannot do because this is involving our hearts, not our brains, but if we can turn on our brains for a moment, the statistics are so tiny about stranger abductions, because honestly, and this is the sad part, most children are abducted and hurt and harmed and all those bad things by people that the kids already know, our friends, our family, and our acquaintances.
It's not the strangers that are going to be hurting any child, it's the people they know, so learning to set boundaries, learning to trust their uh-oh feelings and their something's wrong, and having a strong relationship of setting limits on bodies, setting limits on family, being able to say no to an adult. Those are all important skills, and those are often ones we do not teach.
Emma: I've written about this in the past in the context of teaching our children intuition, nurturing the intuition that they already have. And the angle that I come at things from is often to your point, what are the actual risks? But if you're constantly telling your kids that the world is a scary, dangerous place, that's inaccurate. So it's going against their intuition, which tells them when people are scary and when people are not scary, because you're telling them that everybody's scary, and that's false, bad information.
Whereas, if we go from a place of, "Okay, we trust people until we have a reason not to trust them," that's in line with life. That's in line with how things generally are.
The importance of teaching your kids to use logic, intuition and reasoning
Heather: Right, and we trust them to a point. So for example, you can teach your kids, "You know, it's fine to talk to a stranger, but don't get in a car, even if they give you candy. Don't roll off with them."
Emma: Right, sure, yes.
Heather: That's a reasonable thing, but you can say it without fear-mongering. You can say it just the way you teach them about fire safety, "If our house catches on fire, it probably won't, but if it does, you go outside, and you don't take your toys. You just go."
That's just presented in a calm information package. We should do the same thing with the stranger. You just don't go with him.
Emma: Right. I have to think ... I'm just thinking a little bit about in my little, tiny microcosm. I live in New York City, a totally urban environment, and usually after school when the weather's at all decent, we go to a playground park right across the street from us. And there's this whole line of the old folks in the neighborhood that sit there on the benches. Some of them are in wheelchairs. Some of them have their little dogs. And over the years, they have become like my kids' great aunts and uncles, because they were strangers, and they reached out.
There's this one guy, Rolando, I always have a little fight with him because he always wants to buy my kids a cookie right before dinner at the bakery. But he was a stranger and now he's almost part of our family and it's the same thing. Our web of community and, therefore, safety has grown because we've been open to strangers.
Heather: There's more people looking out for your kids now and the thing is, too, that kids don't understand what a stranger is. Because they see you talking to someone and then they think "well, that's okay." Or they think a stranger isn't a stranger once they tell you their name. It's very confusing to kids.
Let's say a new babysitter comes in your house. Well, she's a stranger or he's a stranger but mom's gonna walk out the door and leave you with them. There's a lot of mixed messages and I think your point about helping to nurture their built in sense of intuition is most important. That's what's called street smarts so giving kids an opportunity to interact with wide varieties of people and having them get in tune with that, they've discovered, is much better for keeping kids safe.
Exposing kids to the news
Emma: I love that. So, let's see.
Natural disasters and dealing with that. My kids, I think they're gonna grow up and want burned into their childhood memories is waking up to hearing NPR on because that's what I've done before they were born. I listen to NPR first thing in the morning while I make them breakfast. Often they are listening better than I am because my head is going through a bazillion things I have to do that day and I can't believe the questions they ask me.
My daughter when she was four, I think, she was very concerned about girls in Afghanistan and then she was very interested in same sex marriage because the marriage laws of New York. So, natural disasters, current affairs, it's there in their lives. That's appalling to most parents.
Heather: If this makes you feel any better I grew up having NPR on during breakfast also and some children will, sort of, tune it out. I was the one that concentrated more on my cheerios but I did hear about all sorts of things and kids take in more by radar than we think they do so even the parents who don't have NPR on, they're getting things from their peers on the bus or the school bus has a radio on or somebody at recess tells them something. Kids see things. They hear things. They walk by and a television is playing so more stuff gets into their little radar than you think. Even if you think you're protecting them so it's better always to check in once in a while and say 'Is there anything that you're thinking about? About some news that you have questions about?" Or if they have a question remember this; If she's old enough to ask, she's old enough to get an honest answer.
Emma: Say that one more time, please.
Heather: If the child is old enough to ask, she's old enough to get an honest answer.
Emma: Right. Because what does it tell children when you say "oh, I'll tell you when you're older." What does that say to them?
Heather: Sometimes kids will say something very loudly in the middle of the grocery checkout line and it could be about sex, it could be about the news, it could be about any sort of big difficult topic and it's perfectly fine to say "That's a really important question. We'll talk about it when we get back home." Or wherever you're going because you don't necessarily want to dive into it right that moment.
Emma: That's different right there. That's social skills and social appropriateness but we're talking about when, like you said, they're old enough to ask you whether it's about sex, maybe it's about family relationships. If they're listening to NPR they talk about rape on NPR. That's a question that came up. Thankfully a dear friend of ours happened to be over and she helped me navigate when my daughter was asking about rape because she heard about that. She was seven years old at the time. Thankfully my friend and I unspokenly agreed that she deserved an honest answer.
Heather: It needs to be age appropriate but what you'd say to a 15 year old is different than what you would say to a six year old but if they're thinking about it they deserve to know what they can take in. Sometimes, to gage what level that their comprehension is or what their particular questions are you can say "Well, what do you want to know about it?" Or "What do you know about it?" Or "Have I answered your questions?" Just to make sure that, if they bring up a big topic, don't go on and on. Answer it and they're probably ready to talk about the dog next door next.
Emma: Yeah. That's right. That is something I've learned as a mom is it doesn't take that much to satisfy them. Kids know when you're full of BS. They know when you're dodging them and then they don't let it go but if you give them an honest answer, even if it’s an abbreviated version, that usually satisfies them at least temporarily.
Heather: You're on the right track with this.
Emma: So I'm with you on most of what you're saying here. There's a few points that we could have a dispute but I know you know Lenora Skenazy. She's been a guest on the show. I've known her for years and I am just so grateful for your work. I am so grateful because you are publicly voicing, which some parents, I suggest more should be thinking and doing.
Dealing with judgement from other parents
Here's my problem. It's that you're suggesting I parent in a way that I already parent so you and I are a mind meld but my challenge is the social pressure. When I leave my kids at that playground across the street from my apartment in New York City and it's not a rich neighborhood. It's middle class, very diverse. I leave my kids there for a long time by themselves sometimes because I want to. Because I don't want to be at the playground.
I go home, I work, I go run my errands and the other parents have those stink eyes. I would love to say that I don't care. Sometimes I care. Sometimes I feel isolated and lonely and defensive all the time because I'm the only parent that is parenting like you suggest.
Those of us that just feel like we don't have it in us that day to stand up and be the parents we know we need to be. Give me a word of encouragement or something.
Heather: There's many right ways to raise a child. Families have cultures and every family will have its own cultural differences. I'm not talking about race and ethnic background. Just a philosophy background. Some days we don't have the courage to get involved in those judging eyes but if you trust your children and you trust the environment you're leaving them in and you know that they know what to do if there's a problem then, on the whole, they will be fine. There's very small risks that you have to judge for yourself.
It's a hard thing and everybody will make a different decision than you will but I think we need to respect family decisions more and we need to look out for each other the way you described. You're kids aren't quite alone when you leave them. All of the old folks that are their friends that have watched them grow up are there.
Emma: I'm gonna challenge that a little bit, this whole notion, in the mommy blogging world it's 'Let's not judge each other' and 'breastfeeding is just as good as bottle feeding'. No it's not. It's not just as good. There is science that suggests what is better.
Why homework is not good for kids
I want to go into homework because I feel like homework is a huge important issue but it's also indicative of a bigger cultural economic trends and pressures that we're facing. Here's an example. I got into it with a mom at the bus stop about homework. Our school gives homework and for kindergartners. It's insane. I have systematically just not done the homework so another mom was at the bus stop was a little on the fence. She wasn't sure how she felt about homework. I told her about the research about I know about homework which I'm hoping you can elaborate on but the snapshot is it's bad for little kids. There's no value in it whatsoever. It's bad for families. It keeps kids away from exercise, it keeps kids away from sleep. Both of which they're lacking in our culture.
So, I'm going off about this because it's a major hair up my ass. So the mom on the fence, I was very pleased and I have to say proud, over these months she's like "You know what? I had a talk with my husband and I stopped pressuring my kid to do homework because of some of the stuff you were sharing with me." She hasn't gone full throttle like I have but she's dipping her toe on the other side. There's some importance of being the renegade and it's a revolution we're leader here, Heather.
But the other mom is like "No. I like homework. It's good for family. I like being involved with my kids. I like it." And I'm like "Yeah, that's fine but that's your hobby then. That's your hobby so why should we be setting policy against your hobby?" This isn't just about our hearts. There is science here and we're talking about our future as a country what is good for our communities and our country. So I'm rejecting this notion that we should all just be like "Yeah. Your decision is just fine and my decision is fine and we're all just friends." Because I don't that's always going to be effective.
Heather: No. That's a strong voice. I think that when I'm trying to write these books one thing that I find is that people who, the adults I'm talking about, have a learning continuum and sometimes they have not yet realized what you have realized and you just gave examples of two different parents who reacted different ways. Some of those people will change their minds every time but it can take them time and not just with homework. Toy weapons is another big one. They will not have toy weapons in their house but after a number of years and a number of children who have led them to see that this okay play, they tend to change their minds.
So I feel like we cannot force them to come to these changes faster than they can but that we can continually plant seeds. Yes, I do believe that this is hurting our kids as a nation and everything else but it's very hard to change somebody's mind on the spot unless they're already receptive.
Using your voice to initiate change
Emma: I agree because I do have a strong voice and I'm not as diplomatic as you are. I was going off. Our kids are little, we go to a charter school so they happen to be in school a whole extra hour a day than the regular public schools in our city and I'm like "They don't need more." I'm rattling off all this science because that's all I do all day is write about these issues so I am the authority. You should be listening to me and I said "It's not helping our kids. We're not getting ahead in the global race for skilled workers. It's not helping that agenda." And she goes "Oh, I thought it was." I'm like "No."
And we are all guilty of that. I know I am. I hold many assumptions that are based on false assumptions. So I very much appreciate that. It's a process.
But let’s go back to the homework thing. So the article that connected us when I reached out to you because I was so grateful to read it. For parents that assume more is more. That more homework is better for our kids. What's your response?
Heather: The benefits of homework are highly age dependent. I think you summed it up very nicely. It's not good for little kids and little kids goes through elementary school. Even nine year olds and ten year olds. They're still pretty little. Now, by the time you get to high school it can have academic benefits and somewhere in there, I think, somewhere in middle school is a good time for some practice homework but those kids have a lot going on and it's a pretty tender in-between time where they have a lot of hormones and social pressures and they can only take so much.
So having that middle school time be a time to make some mistakes and learn how to do time management is plenty of time to practice for getting serious in high school. And the science is saying that it's highly age-dependent and if you don't have more than two hours of homework in high school there's a tiny bit of benefit. Middle school and for elementary kids there's zero corelation between time spent on homework and academic achievement in elementary school but at the same time the elementary kindergarten kids without negative attitude towards learning, school, and homework.
I'm very lucky I've got kids who do well in school. One is off the charts so, you know, what's funny is she's in second grade now so I completely ignored homework the first couple of years and her teachers ignored that I ignored it because she was doing really awesome. My son is more average and it's a totally different story But he's fine. He's doing great but I get this discussion with other moms that love homework so I'm like "Whatever. Some people love homework. Some people love hunting. I guess that's great too." But it's the kid that is struggling in school. You tell me what's the science here. The kid who struggles he's the one who should have less homework right? Because school is already negative for him so there's no safe haven for him. So he's fighting with his teachers at school, he's already ashamed. Then he goes home and he's fighting with his parents about school and he's ashamed there. And the kid who's off the charts is supposed to be pressured to do even better? That's messed up. When is enough? When are our children enough?
Heather: Jumping into the high school level there is so many high rates of these kids who are cutting themselves and anxiety and depression and they're saying "You only care about my grades. Not me." And this is getting younger and younger. Kids is elementary are having higher rates of depression and anxiety. I think you put your finger on something people are scared to talk about which is that the kids who are maybe struggling a bit in school both with learning to read and behavior all those sorts of things together. Those are the ones who need more time when they're out of school to be valued and pursue their own interests.
I have one who is the troublemaker at school because he needs to move his body. He has a great need for recess and they only have one recess. He needs to move his body so he gets in trouble. So he gets home he needs nurturing and support for his emotional well-being. He needs the family to be the safe place not a nagging place and unfortunately what happens in a lot of families is that the kids have trouble in school, or at least they have to go to school, and they come home then they have this nagging relationship with the parents because it's "Sit down and do your homework." And so many kids are in tears and the parents, sort of, are in tears too because they know their child just needs to go to bed or go outside and play and they feel they have to uphold this sacred authority of school and homework and what the teacher says.
Emma: You really nailed it and this is a point of conflict with my ex-husband because he reveres authority and I have spent my whole life bucking it and we're divorced. But it actually came up in a family therapy session and his therapist, she's wonderful, she's like "What's a practical solution?" Which is why I love her. We don't talk about our messed up childhoods. We talk about practical solutions. I said "All parents are up in arms about the homework but no one says anything." And she's like "Well, maybe you can, Emma, organize some of the parents and collectively come together to the school administrators." And I said "I don't know that that would be effective because our school in Queens, New York is extremely ethnically diverse. There's a huge number of immigrant families in the school. So first generation English speakers. There's just a reverence for the school where there's just not a culture of challenging the authority." Again, I'm pretty bold as a person and as a parent but this week is parent teacher conferences.
This is coming up and I scheduled a meeting with the principle. I like the guy a lot but I have to say I'm a little bit intimidated about going in there and putting my foot down about this. So give me some pointers. Give parents out there some pointers and it's not just your school or your teacher. I'm bucking a national philosophy, a national paradigm. I tell the teachers "I get it. I get it's school policy that the kids have to do homework. I get that it's not your individual decision." And it's not even the principle because they're buying into a mega meta philosophy so it's just me against the world and it's intimidating.
Being a united family unit
Heather: It is and with you acknowledging that obviously you have a lot of outspokenness as part of your personality. You live by bucking the system and yet, despite that, it's still terribly scary. It was scary for me too and I wrote the book to help what I could. There's three sections devoted to homework. Three chapters. And I have sample scripts of what one can say when you have these meetings. I started with the child's teachers. I also talked to the principle but I found the teachers were the ones that it was the right level, in our case, to talk to and I was so sure that this was not what my children needed, daily spelling and math and logging on to the computer and all these things. I was so sure based on my knowledge of child development.
The fact that I was raised without homework in elementary school I went to an academic high school and did fine. I've lived through it and I knew what young kids needed but I also had, in my case, support of my husband who has none of this child development background. But he does remember distinctly being a boy and as a boy he remembers that the most important thing was to whack trees with sticks and blow things up and set things on fire and so he thought it was all ridiculous. This was not based on research. This was based on "well, kids should be out doing whatever they do."
So we were united as a family and we were just sure and so I told the teachers "We will not be participating in homework. I understand that's something that you do with the class and this is how we are going to support you in the classroom by getting my kid to bed early so he's refreshed and ready to go." And by all these other things and I also make a point to volunteer in the classroom or do what I can to support them because it's important to support how you can and we couldn't support them by participating in homework culture. But we could support in other ways.
Emma: It being very politically savvy. I appreciate all those tips but then there's the other part about it too which is the kids. So another beef I have with this whole process is when the kids are five and six and seven and maybe eight they don't have the self-motivation to finish the homework on their own. It's the parents. It's a parent homework grade it's not a kid's homework grade so it's like I'm being judged whether or not I'm following the rules for commandeering my child into an hour of hell every evening.
But now my daughter is in second grade and she is a little bit more self motivated and she just wants to excel. She wants to do a good job. She wants to participate and she doesn't want to be socially shamed by being that one weird kid with the hyper aggressive mom. So part of me just wants to blow the whole system up single-handedly but I have children to consider too.
Heather: I wouldn't stop a child who wants to do homework and your daughters personality may be that she actually wants to do it. Some kids do. There's a boy on my street who his school does not give homework this year, he has a different school, and he requests homework so he and his mother concoct some homework because he likes to do it. There are some kids who like to do it but make sure you ask the question 'What happens if you don't do it?' Because sometimes children say they want to do their homework because they're afraid of the punishments or rewards that they will or won't get.
Emma: This is going off on another tangent but this school system, I'm not the first to say, "We've got a great school." And they're very tech savvy. The skills kids are learning today are likely to be opted irrelevant by the time they enter the workforce and we can't predict what those skills will be because technology is changing so quickly. So the reality is that I don't really care that much. I don't really care so much that they're excelling because, like you said, you went to this total weirdo school and then have done very well. You're on my show for crying out loud. How much better can it get than that?
Heather: That is a pinnacle statement. We have now defined it.
Emma: The same could be said for me. I was not the greatest student. I went to a state school and I can't imagine that a great rigorous academic background would have propelled me to any other levels of success. Who knows? But I am just so cynical about the whole system.
So to what you have written that I've read it's really about your family. The schools can't come in and tell you how to run your family and that's the bottom line so take control of that.
Families, not schools, are in charge of raising their kids
Heather: It's the bottom line. You put your finger on it because home is home and you are in charge of your home. The family is in charge of how you're raising your kids. Unless there are cases of severe neglect or abuse and you get your children taken away from you, you are in charge of your family and the school cannot tell you what to do on your home hours. When you get to more serious levels of academics like high school and college, yes, you need to complete assignments to be able to pass on the next grade but when you're five and six and eight and ten you need to be doing your best when you're at school and when you're at home the parent needs to decide how those hours should be spent and maybe it's on school for one family, maybe it's visiting family members across the street. Maybe it's learning how to cook dinner. Maybe it's going to bed early. Maybe it's letting them play. Whatever your values are that's how they need to be spending their time when it's not school.
You're somewhat lucky because you live in New York because one of the public schools, PS116 I believe, in New York city their principle banned homework for her elementary school because she did the research and said "We're going to do reading for pleasure instead." And you mentioned a diverse neighborhood. Well, hers is a largely immigrant and lower income community and they were revering school in many ways as you described but this is something that she solved. She gave that leadership and that's happened in New York so it's possible that people at your school may be more nervous about any other system, but they've got someone just around the corner who could talk to them and share her experience and give them some confidence because they're scared, too.
Why adults in our society fear school administrations and peer pressure
Emma: What's interesting that happened at that school was that there was an uproar among the parents because they're like "We're afraid that our children are going to fall behind if they're not doing all this extra work."
Heather: Right, and they found that the scores stayed about the same.
Emma: Right. I have had many conversations on Facebook about this and I've heard just anecdotally friends saying, for example, over a long break that a school or teacher will give homework and they hear from the teacher that the parents in that class are up in arms about it. My blood pressure can't handle it.
But it's part of a larger culture.
Heather: The adults in our society are scared so they make the principles, the school system, the parents everybody's feeling like we're getting left behind. We need to just accelerate everything. In fact, in the early childhood world which is pre-school and kindergarten and daycare providers they have a lot of these quality programs per state where they have to get training to make sure that it's a quality program. Most of these programs have the word 'accelerated' in their title as if acceleration is going to improve life.
Acceleration is something that's causing adults a great deal of stress, having life go faster and faster, and we hardly notice that we're imposing that on our kids but the end of life is death so we don't really want to rush to get there.
Sleep deprivation in parents and children
Emma: Yeah. I just interviewed Arianna Huffington about her new book about sleep which really is speaking to this very thing. We are so sleep deprived, including our kids, because we have this culture that suggests that more is more except when it comes to sleep and play. More work is more. The longer you work you should be bragging about the hours that you work and that's what's going to impress your boss or client and that's what's going to get you ahead in the world and that's just not the case. We need more of a balance and I feel like those parents that believe that, that they're the ones bragging about working 80 hour weeks, those are the same parents that are irritated that the school says "No homework for two weeks." Because they believe that more is more when statistically and scientifically that's not true.
Heather: Right and I'm so glad that Arianna wrote that book because a lot of people have talked about sleep but I think her message will get out a little bit more. Kids are highly sleep deprived and we know that homework is not proven to have any academic impact at the elementary level but sleep is and my youngest sleeps eleven to thirteen hours a night. He's in second grade and he's eight and a half and he needs that amount of sleep to be able to function well.
Emma: I believe it. My kids, too.
Heather: And if you look at the National Sleep Foundation and what they recommend for children it's amazing how almost every American child is chronically sleep-deprived and that in itself is highly stressful. They cannot learn at their optimal level and they can't keep an emotional balance and as parents, if we do nothing else, that's what we need to do is help them develop emotional security and competency with all their big emotions because that's what trips us up throughout life is that we can't handle our emotions or the people's around us. And that's what gets us to lose jobs and have trouble with spouses and raise their own kids. So gaining that solid grounding and emotional balance and that only can come when you have a good sleep foundation to start with.
Emma: Beautiful. Heather Shumaker, It's Okay To Go Up The Slide on Amazon, at your bookstore. All I can say is thank you because we need you times one thousand. It's a revolution. You're really revolutionizing parenting, our family culture, and our own work ethics, and our own attitudes about our own life and wellbeing. It's such important work that you're doing and I'm so grateful that we connected.
Heather: Well, thank you and keep up the revolution.
Emma: Heather Shumaker, Thank you.
Emma Johnson is a veteran money journalist, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour, Oprah.com, U.S. News, Parenting, USA Today and others. Her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was named to the New York Post's ‘Must Read” list.
Emma regularly comments on issues of modern families, gender equality, divorce, sex and motherhood for outlets like CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine and The Doctors. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and a “Most Eligible New Yorker” by New York Observer.
A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Read more about Emma here.