From childhood on I was taught to be polite. I was consistently reminded to use the best most respectful title when speaking of folks or addressing individuals. For example garbage men should be called "sanitational engineers." I should never call an adult by their first name (even if it WAS their given name). I learned in Sunday school that the Israelites held so much honor and respect for God they would not speak the name YHWH (Yahweh), but instead use Adonai. One teacher along the way even had we catecumins learn all the variance names of God based on attributes. I have grown up knowing that language, from addressing folks to naming entities, matters. One realm in which I had NOT considered this though was the nomenclature of HOMEWORK. During #AsiaEd slow chat this week we have been considering discussing, and debating homework. When the question was volleyed to me as to what alternative name teachers could use for homework I struggled. "Learning extensions?" (Kinda sounded like an alternative hairstyle) "Development opportunities?" (Am I teaching or persuading my students to purchase land assets?) I finally decided I would ask the experts--my students!
In the final few moments of fifth period today I enlisted the help of my seventh and eighth graders. "Ladies and Gentlemen, I need your help with a real world problem." I explained the Twitter conundrum. I then asked them as an exit pass to send me an email with their ideas as to what homework should be, and what teachers should call it. I requested tweet reinforcement. What I received, while too long to tweet, was captured candor, wit, and more food for thought. I had to capture it correctly and that demanded a post. My wonderment and joy with this group never ceases to amaze me. As I read and re-read their thoughts certain literary quotes sprang to mind as categorical matches.
"'Tis but thy name that is my enemy; Thou art thyself thou...O! Be some some other name? That which we call a rose by any other name smell as sweet?"
Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet Act II, Scene II line 42 & 46-48
Juliet is in turmoil. Why must Romeo bear the surname abhorred by her family? What IS a name anyway? Call her man something else! He is still HIM! Some of my students had Juliet mindsets. Let us think deeply (or lightly) as we consider what is IN a name. Homework is homework. These students felt the flower of homework, while remaining true to what it IS, could be called differently like perhaps:
"Home study because study sounds better than work."
"Autonomy, because it is a student's responsibility to study his/herself."
"Homework should consist of a 'learning extension' which means by my definition means that homework should be a series of fun activities that develop our brains. I think it should be like an extended lesson that you did in class. So, yay, more fun time in school! There should be a limit to how long it should take. Like work 30 mins on it and if you don't finish it just show how much you did in that time limit."
Another literary quote category students fell into was stating that there is a power or persuasion (maybe even a connotation) inherent in what we call homework. How teachers package and promote the homework counts.
"Names have power." -Rick Riordan, The Lightening Thief
"I think homework should be called something different because homework is just depressing. You say homework and the whole class groans. Honestly I don't think homework should exist, because at home you have more distractions. I think we should call homework 'extra work' because it is extra from the classroom and extra work sounds better and more exciting in my opinion."
"A specially written set of challenging questions for each and everybody."
Still other students were more inclined towards Dumbledore's beliefs in their thinking about homework. Address the phenomenon directly. Not naming it head on will only evoke terror and perpetuate fear.
"Call him Voldemort, Harry. Always use the proper name for things. Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself."
-J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
"It is homework. That is what it should be called."
"Work at home."
"Homework shouldn't exist--doodey." (Not to be confused with duty).
"I don't think changing the name of homework will change anything. It is pretty self explanatory. It is work you do at home."
"I think we should call homework 'painful experience.'
"I would rename homework 'no-game-time-tonight-for-you-kids-I-am-evil-also-sleep-late-and-don't-grow-tall-work.'"
"I think it should still be called 'homework,' or else teachers will be plain out lying to us poor, poor students. I thought we agreed not to do that Mrs. Winterstein."
Lastly the students who implored teachers to not hide behind higher purposes when assigning homework.
If we, as teachers, stay true to the intent and "higher calling" of the homework imperative all is well, but don't pretend homework is for student betterment if it is mere busywork.
"There is no crueler tyranny than that which is perpetuated under he shield of law and in the name of justice."
-Charles de Montesquieu
"I personally think that homework should be related to the matter and change us to evolve in our knowledge and wisdom by the time we get through with it. Homework should teach us something fun in a concise way. I will call homework 'Excruciatingly Tiring, Long Work of Humanity.'"
"I think homework should consist of the least amount of work possible that still can help me get at least marginally smarter. I think you should call it: Basically Everything You Learned At School-Home Edition (Torture Expansion Pack included)."
It is easy to see why despite the fact I am NOT a morning person, waking every day to set out on the continued learning journey with these students is a joy. So what did I take away? The continued dialogue is essential. Not just dialogue teacher to teacher, but most importantly teacher to student. Additionally one may use the moniker "sanitational engineer," but at the end of the day that individual is still hauling the refuse. It is what it is...however the saying also goes that, "One man's trash is another man's treasure." Therefore I will do my best to ensure my students are learning engineers hauling treasure in their backpacks as opposed to the alternative.
Afterword: While I impress upon my students to cite accurately I have omitted names attributed to specific quotes in order to honor each student's honesty while protecting their privacy. All quotes were as thoroughly represented as possible, and derived from my grade seven and eight social scientists to whom I am incredibly thankful.