Before I complain about Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey, I want to say that I love him. I love that right before Hurricane Sandy, when the people in Atlantic City wouldn’t evacuate, he screamed on television: “Get the hell off the beach!” That screamed authenticity to me.

I was so happy when there was a convergence of two of my favorite things: People magazine and Chris Christie. The article is basically Christie’s PR team introducing him to the Iowa voter. But his PR team blew it when they decided that the way to show that he is a good dad is that he does homework with his kids.

The kids don’t want to do the homework, because if they did, they wouldn’t want help. And Christie doesn’t want to do homework, because it doesn’t help him advance his person power. So he is spending time doing stuff with his kids that no one wants to do. And somehow we have convinced ourselves that this is what good parenting is.

It’s messed up. People want to feel useful, even kids, and the act of parent and child doing homework together is damaging to both parties because they know it’s useless because they hate it. But also, its damaging because what the parent is really modeling is, “It’s okay to just go through the motions of being together. And that “Doing something stupid is fine. Pretending it’s not stupid is fine. Pretending it’s emotionally satisfying is fine because we can subvert our real emotional needs to the needs of the education system.”

But look: kids come home from school and they eat and do homework and sleep. When do they do family? Christie is a governor—he doesn’t have a lot of time with the kids, so the time should at least be doing something they like. We back ourselves into a corner so that we have to convince ourselves that a measure of good parenting is if you do homework. It’s sad that parents are so trapped. Even parents as powerful as Chris Christie.

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27 replies
  1. Lauren Michelle
    Lauren Michelle says:

    That’s an interesting idea…and very true. I agree that Christie should be doing something fun with the kids, rather than slowing them down with homework.

  2. gosia
    gosia says:

    I’m curious…. I understand your point on homework, but how do you deal with their music lessons and “encouraging” the kids to practice? Seems to me that my daughter has the same aversion to both…

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I told my kids they could quit school and I told my kids they could quit music. They quit school but not music. I tell them, now, that if they want music lessons, they practice every day. That’s the deal. I am okay if they choose what they do, but I want them to do it with drive and passion if they choose it.


      • Rachel
        Rachel says:

        PS: I am a professional violinist. Former Suzuki kid. I have to call bullsh*t on this. I do not believe you have never required your kids to practice even under the canopy of “freedom to quit.” I think you experience some cognitive dissonance about this particular area of their lives because you see that they have talent, and music has a looooong period of delayed gratification. I think you are making a good call when you require (or–less defensibly–maybe emotionally manipulate) them to practice, but I don’t believe they truly practice every day without being reminded or required to do so. They might play around on their instruments, but every musician knows this is very different from quality practice!

        • Annie
          Annie says:

          I think her point is that if her boys decide to take lessons, then yes, they are *required* to practice. If they don’t want to do music at all, then find something else… and be equally commited to it.

          I wish my parents had done this with me. Not blaming them, I’m a grown woman now. But I was never required to follow through on anything, even my passions. I think it would have done me good.

  3. Jennifer
    Jennifer says:

    First — I don’t believe Christie “does homework” with his kids. I think he’s trying to seem on level with his constituents by stretching the truth. He probably answers a question now and then and figures it qualifies as “doing homework” with them.

    Second — I read an article last night I think Penelope and her devotees will appreciate. it slaps you in the face with reality.

    The gist? Your being a good person in this life means almost nil. You must be of USE to others. I thought of Penelope because it is put in an entertaining (and for some, offensively blunt) way.

    It applies here because there’s little use in practicing something unless it’s getting you closer to being skillful/useful. Homework, as it has been presented in earlier posts–is mostly a gauge for teachers to “prove” the child is learning/practicing. Does it equal becoming skillful? Sometimes yes. Sometimes no.

    Or as the article illustrates: does the homework get you closer (proximal) to being A Closer (one who gets the job done)?

    • mh
      mh says:


      “…does the homework get you closer (proximal) to being A Closer (one who gets the job done)?…”

      Does completing nonsense tasks/worksheets have any meaning at all? Doesn’t completing them make your child dumber and less creative?

      I want my child to assert the value of his own life/time/interests. I don’t have an opinion about whether this puff piece on Chris Christie is true (does the governor really sit down and do homework? We’ll never know.) but Chris Christie does not strike me as a person who deals well with idiocy. (So I would say the probablility is low that the governor is helping with this weeks vocabulary search-a-word.)

      Do your change the oil in your car every 45 miles? Wouldn’t that be wasteful? Do you re-wash the clean laundry? Do you do nonsense tasks as an adult?

      Seriously, apart from homework sent home from their children’s school, do most adults permit their time to be wasted on such absurdity?

  4. Lynne
    Lynne says:

    Penelope, speaking as both a parent and as an elementary teacher of many years, I have to totally disagree with you here. Parents helping children with homework should be fun and enjoyable. It is part of family time. The article said he did homework with his child, but it said NOTHING about him hating it! I have to agree with you that there are some teachers who seem to assign homework just as busy work. But any decent teacher will not assign more homework than necessary to reinforce what is already learned in school. Homework is also about teaching responsibility. It is normal to have math and spelling homework each night. Sometimes there needs to be science or reading homework, too. A teacher needs to ask herself if the homework is really supporting a learning goal, and should be able to explain which goal and why to any parent who asks. But to say that children should have NO homework is ridiculous. With things like lunch, recess, walking between periods, bathroom times, music, art, and gym classes, I can assure you there are not enough hours in the day to cover the curriculum at school without giving homework. These parents who THINK there is time to do 20 math problems in class after the lesson is presented don’t realize that we are spending the majority of the time in math class going over homework problems from the previous day, helping children to learn from their mistakes. If a child comes without his homework done, we cannot see his work (of course they must show work) and we cannot see how to help them. Do you really think there is time in a day to teach all the children their weekly spelling words? Of course they are introduced and worked on in class, but the work of learning them well has to be done at home. Most children these days are weak in reading and writing skills. I always spent my classroom time in science explaining and demonstrating vocabulary, and helping the children READ the sections, then gave them worksheets to fill out at home about that day’s reading (which should be no problem after they had help in class DOING the reading). If we spent the class time READING, we don’t have time to do the writing. IF someone came and eliminated all homework (which is mostly practice work to sufficiently acquire a SKILL, such as subtraction), NOT “proof for the teacher that time was spent at home”, then that would mean that far LESS would be covered in a curriculum each year; in fact, it would be reduced by 1/3 to 1/2. It is up to both the teacher and the parent to make learning FUN and INTERESTING. I say that the parents who don’t enjoy supporting or helping children with homework are just too stressed and busy with two jobs (when I was young in the 1960s, most mothers were at home and helping their kids after school, but that is not today’s reality); OR they don’t like learning themselves, and are communicating the same bad attitudes toward it to their child. ANY type of learning can be made fun. Haven’t you noticed that you can take the most interesting subject, but if the teacher (or parent helping) hates it, then the child will hate it. Conversely, you can take the most boring subject (maybe English Grammar??) and if you have a teacher (or parent) who loves the subject, then the student loves it also.

    • Annie
      Annie says:

      “With things like lunch, recess, walking between periods, bathroom times, music, art, and gym classes, I can assure you there are not enough hours in the day to cover the curriculum at school without giving homework… Do you really think there is time in a day to teach all the children their weekly spelling words?”

      Eeeeexactly. Too much damn time spent teaching things that can be taught in far less time one on one. And too much time teaching things not all kids want or need to learn.

      Do you really think kids should spend 7 hours a day institutionalized, and then another 1-3 hours in the evening doing more work? Does this sound humane?

    • mh
      mh says:

      Oooh boy, Lynne. Can of worms?

      The way school thinks they own some portion of the family’s evening for homework is *just one* of the problems with compulsory school.

      Thanks for commenting. It’s nice to hear from a real live teacher.

    • sk
      sk says:

      I’m not a homeschooler, so perhaps I can respond with the homeschoolers’ perspective without their attachment to it.
      You are exactly right: there isn’t enough time in the school day to learn spelling words and do math problems. But doesn’t that simple sentence really outline the whole problem? Kids are in school seven+ hours a day, or 35-40 hours a week. 35 hours a week isn’t enough time to teach/learn a 3rd grade curriculum? Really? I have two graduate degrees, and I rarely spent 35-40 hours a week on them (its a dirty little secret that most of us know but don’t want to admit: college isn’t that hard).

      If you can’t get it done in 35 hours a week, you are doing it wrong (and I mean you ‘the system’: not you personally). You’ve identified what the system does wrong: bathroom, moving between classes, lunch, recess, etc etc. In other word, the logistical minutiae of school.

      What if you change your perspective: I know I have these kids 35 hours a week: in those 35 hours, they will first: learn their spelling words for the day and do the appropriate math exercises, and only after that, spend time in recess/art/sports/whatever. If you are assigning 1-2 hours of homework a night, perhaps instead the most important 1-2 hours of the school day would be what you were assigning as homework. Only after that has been scheduled/accomplished, with the rest of the other stuff take place (and you have 5 hours, every day, in which to do it). If you don’t get art and sports accomplished, well, then parents can do it (if they wish) when they would have been doing math exercises.

      Although I don’t homeschool, I consider this a powerful argument, even if I don’t know the response or answer to it.


      • mh
        mh says:


        great comment, but the problem is that the “system” — the traditional school system — is too big, too federalized, too common-cored, too John-Deweyed to allow teachers discretion in how/what they teach.

        There is basically no way to reform schools to get better results for students.

        ESEA was passed in 1965 to REFORM SCHOOLS!
        NCLB was passed in 2001 to REFORM SCHOOLS!

        Right? Kids who started kindergarten in 2001 — when No Child Left Behind was passed — are graduating from high school this year. Have the NCLB reforms been:

        A) implemented and
        B) shown to be Just The Thing To Educate Every Little Child Into A Humane And Responsible Citizen?

        Sadly, no.

        ESEA was passed in 1965. That’s three generations ago. Can we honestly say that the experience in public schools of low-income minority children IS EQUAL TO the experience in public schools of the children of the wealthy white elite? No way, you say?

        After 3 generations and a trillion dollars, the problem is not gone?

        What kind of parent is willing to wait 3 generations for the problems in their kids’ public schools to get sorted out?

        Parents are just walking away.

        • sk
          sk says:

          Of course. I was making a ‘philosophical’ argument-not a pragmatic argument. I realize no public school would change in the way I describe. Rather, conceptually: if math problems and spelling words (or whatever) are the most important 2 hours of the day at school, it seems obvious that a 7 hour school day that doesn’t prioritize or even cover those two things isn’t doing it right. Hence, the self-evident benefit of home schooling (or private school that allows this focus on what is most important).


    • Karl Bielefeldt
      Karl Bielefeldt says:

      Your comment boils down to, “I have to send the boring work home, so we have time to do the interesting work at school.”

      One of the reasons we homeschool now is because we hated helping my son with his homework. If you think that most parents dislike homework because they dislike learning, or are too stressed and busy, then our decision to homeschool makes no sense. In fact, our reason is fairly common among public school defectors, although not usually the primary reason.

      You are laboring under the delusion that it’s possible for a parent to make a homework assignment fun for any child, if they just try hard enough. It’s not, especially after a hyperactive boy was forced to sit still and quietly for most of the day until it made him cry. It’s at this point when you expect him to do the most boring work of the day?!

      My son was so stressed out at this point that he would cry for two hours about having to do a 15-minute spelling word practice. He was starting to fall behind. We thought he hated writing. We considered the possibility of dyslexia or a learning disorder. At any rate, we thought he could benefit from more individual attention, so we pulled him out to start homeschooling.

      I thought he would require a cooling off period of a few weeks to get over his issues with writing. We planned to not make him do any writing for a while, so we could reintroduce it with a more positive spin. Imagine my surprise when the very next day he requested to do some writing about ninjas. I agreed. In a year, he went from falling behind to approximately a grade level and a half ahead. The only difference was he wrote about things he enjoyed.

      In retrospect, the best thing we could have done for him to help him do well in school would have been to let him run around and play to burn off some energy instead of making him do homework. Consider that the next time one of your ADHD students refuses to work.

  5. Rachel
    Rachel says:

    “The kids don’t want to do the homework, because if they did, they wouldn’t want help.”

    This is dumb. My middle child is an avid knitter, and she always chooses patterns that are too hard for her. So she asks for my help, and we both slave away at decoding the patterns, and we both experience it as a mixture of fun/not fun. But the end game makes it worth it for both of us. My oldest child loves to write fiction, and she has attempted several times to complete a full length novel. However, she gets derailed for all the same reasons anyone gets derailed–she gets distracted by easier time-wasters, starts to hate what she wrote, gets another idea, etc. So she asked me if I would put her on a daily writing plan and hold her to it–if I would make it “part of school.” (We have homeschooled from birth, and our oldest is 12). Basically, she asked me for accountability so that she could get where she wants to go. She knows the journey is not always fun or enjoyable, and there are many reasons to quit on a good goal that are not legit.

    Haven’t you ever engaged an accountability partner or a mentor or signed up for NaNoWriMo? Some kids (and grown-ups understand that something good often waits for them on the other side of something boring/hard.

    • mh
      mh says:

      Yes, I suspect my youngest of picking out 2,000 piece puzzles for this exact reason.

      Sort of, “Pay Attention to Meeeeeeeeee!”

      Best of all is when we can’t have the table back until the blasted puzzle is completed. Luckily, the brothers are willing to chip in their time and work on the puzzles.

  6. Heather Sanders
    Heather Sanders says:

    I don’t ever remember my parents helping me with my homework and I grew up in public school. So, when the kids ask me to help them with their work I laugh and tell them, “My parents never helped me with my homework!” To which they reply, “Umm…ALL our work is homework!” Touche!

  7. Dawn
    Dawn says:

    Your explanation of public schools is one of the reasons our children do not attend. The nine to ten hours of school and homework a day is ridiculous. On our longest days we are still finished before the afternoon buses come down our street. Today’s children do not get enough exercise no do they get enough sleep. I have quite a few friends who’s children attend school, go to day care and then have an activities( sports and or dance) . By the time they eat, shower and get homework done its sometimes 11 at night. Where exactly do you schedule family

  8. Natasha
    Natasha says:

    Perhaps the goal was to convince Iowans that he is not a great parent but instead he’s a guy just like you.

  9. Nita
    Nita says:

    Oh my gosh this is so different than my thought process on the matter. My kids would be in school all day, then come home with tons of homework. I’d sit beside them and help them. What’s wrong with that? In my mind, absolutely nothing. In addition, I’d find the deficiencies and would be able to help my kid identify them. Now that I homeschool, my kids do have a bit of homework. They do it somewhat independently, but I still check it with them and discuss it. Homework is something a kid needs to know about if they expect to go to college where they will be hit by tons of homework. Also, they have it even if they go into the military. Getting help shouldnt’ be a bad thing.

  10. Tammy
    Tammy says:

    I have to agree about not doing homework with kids. I will take them to the library, drive them to extra help and provide any resources they need. I will also check their work when it is complete to offer suggestions and possible corrections. But they need to work on their homework independently to learn and grow.

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