In my misspent youth, I was a champ at avoiding homework. Mom, I did it in study hall, honest. No, I didn’t do it at all. I hated homework because I didn’t need to do any homework in grade school through high school in order to learn the material. But nobody told me what I needed to know about homework. It’s not just about learning the subject matter, it’s also about learning how to work. And, since I hardly ever did homework, by the time I got to an Ivy League University (which will remain far above Cayuga’s waters) everyone was smart, all the courses I took were hard, I couldn’t coast and I was lost. I did know that downtown was down the hill, but otherwise, lost.
Homework: Do it.
But first, did you have vocabulary workbooks in high school? I did and I hated them. I have an extensive vocabulary, but I was interested in getting an even bigger one, so whenever we had vocabulary homework, I actually did open the workbook and look at it. If I recall correctly, the senior vocabulary book was a lovely, pale shade of blue. I often had mixed feelings after looking at the homework, because I usually knew all twenty words for the week so I didn’t learn any new words (bad), but I didn’t do the homework either (good). If there was a word I didn’t know, I would look it up and copy the definition into the book, but I wouldn’t write the other 19 definitions, and I always planned to ad lib the sentence I was required to write. And I hardly ever fell back on the old standby, “The teacher asked us to spell complementary.”
Homework: That’s how I did it, if I did it.
My English teacher had a pretty good idea what I was doing and when she caught me at it, she would deduct points from the weekly vocabulary quiz. She got up to deducting 20 points, but 80 is still a passing grade, so I was cool with it. And then, shortly after the beginning of our senior year, Janet transferred into our school from Dallas TX. She came in on vocabulary lesson day , so Mrs. Teacher had Janet look on with me until she could get a workbook of her own. I opened the book to the correct, blank, page. I don’t remember the word she asked me to go over, but I picked up the book and read the correct definition from the blank page. Then, I read the sentence I had not written down on the adjacent blank page. Both the definition and the sentence were correct, but both pages were blank and Janet found that funny. She laughed.
So, Mrs. Teacher came over to see what Janet was laughing at–my blank book. Another 20 points down the drain. I told Janet that as long as she got me in trouble, she might as well go to the school dance with me that Friday night, and she did. I’d like to say it was the beginning of a beautiful relationship, but it wasn’t. Nobody’s fault, we just didn’t click. But, that’s not the reason I now advocate for homework.
To reiterate, I got into a great college and couldn’t do the work because, while I was smart enough, I had never bothered to learn how to study. I never needed to before. I dropped out of college. It was bad, but it wasn’t a total loss. I did go back eventually. I learned to work eventually too, and while I was out, I did meet my wife, so I wouldn’t change that for the world. If someone had told me back then that doing my homework was important for me in learning how to work, I don’t know if it would have helped me, but I’m telling you this story in case it does help someone else.