Saturday, August 29, 2015

Al Arbour Dies – NY Islanders Coaching Legend Led Team to Four Straight Stanley Cups

First appeared on Blogcritics.

al -cup When I heard the news that legendary former NY Islanders head coach Al Arbour had passed away, yet another one of the memorable pages of my life had to be turned. Arbour may not have had the all the attention of New York media the way Joe Torre did when he managed the New York Yankees to four straight championships, but the NY Islanders won four Stanley Cups in a row (1980-1983) under his lead, and the team was more about Long Island than New York City anyway.

Growing up in Queens put me geographically in a predicament – while I lived in New York City, I was closer to Long Island. Living in this sports crossroads early in my lifetime shaped my allegiance to specific teams.

Having a family that had been Brooklyn Dodgers fans, I automatically had to root for the Mets. Along with that was the package deal of the football Jets. When it came to basketball, I liked the Knicks but the ABA Nets got Julius Erving and I quickly became a fan.

The Nets used to play in the Island Garden, and going to games in that small space was exciting and intimate. To go to the bathroom, you had to pass the court, and one time my father laughed when he saw me standing next to Rick Barry who towered over me, but that was how close the fans were to the players there.

When the Nets moved into Nassau Coliseum, I became exposed to the NY Islanders and quickly became a fan. This proved fortuitous because the Nets would soon leave the coliseum for New Jersey (thus losing me as a fan), but I couldn’t have timed it better because the ascendency of the Islanders had begun.

Al Arbour became head coach of the Islanders in 1973, and going to home games was exciting in this brand new arena. Remembering the old Island Garden, Nassau Coliseum seemed a true major sports venue. Having gone back to being a Knicks fan, I much preferred it to Madison Square Garden on many levels, especially the simple and quick trip to get there.

al-1 yahooArbour’s coaching ability seemed transparent. While players like Clark Gillies, Denis Potvin, or Bryan Trottier may have joked about him being a tough coach, there also seemed to be genuine camaraderie and affection between Arbour and his team. From the stands or on the TV screen,

Arbour came off as quietly effective, and his amazing record as both a player and coach qualified him for election to the Hall of Fame in 1996. Ask any of the players who were lucky enough to call Arbour "coach," and all will say similar glowing things about his leadership that took their team to four consecutive championships.

Of course, being that this team played on Long Island and not in New York City, we fans always would get into it with NY Rangers fans who thought they had the best team. Since the Islanders were not a city team, the Ranger fans had every right to claim NYC as their turf, but whenever the Rangers would come to the coliseum, the fans would let them have it with chants of “1940!” (the last time the Rangers had won a championship).

al-3 wikipUnder Al Arbour the Islanders won four straight Stanley Cups, and that is a monumental accomplishment – as is four straight championships in any sport. Arbour never was a rock star, with his eyeglasses and quiet demeanor making him seem more like a professor than a hockey coach, but his tactics learned as a defenseman for the Detroit Red Wings, Chicago Blackhawks, and the Toronto Maple Leafs proved invaluable for his team as it skated its way to those four unforgettable championships.

The 82-year-old Arbour had been suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and living in Florida. His passing is a sad moment for Islanders (and all hockey) fans, and sadly at a time that his old team moves into Barclays Center in Brooklyn to rejoin the New York Nets in the same building.

How apropos that the place that was once so identified with Arbour and his team – Nassau Coliseum – is now like a ghost town, destined to someday soon be demolished. It truly does feel like an end of an era now and, while this old Queens boy at heart may be able to easily hop on the subway and go to games, it won’t be the same ever again.

The Islanders now not only share a building with the Nets but a city with the NY Rangers, just as the Nets do with my Knicks. We can all dream that a new arena will be built where Nassau Coliseum now stands on the land that once was Mitchell Field, but that probably will never be, just as it seems that there will never be another guy like Al Arbour, who guided his team to win four Stanley Cups in a row.

al-4 newsAl and the coliseum are inextricably linked – and now both will be gone. We can salute him for those great seasons, and we can fondly think of the place his team used to call home. Indeed, another page has been sadly turned, and despite the tears there are also the great memories of that unmistakable sound of a Nassau Coliseum crowd cheering on the home team. That is forever for all of us who ever had the privilege to be there. Rest in peace, Al Arbour.

  Photo credits:,, Wikipedia, NY Daily News  

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Assassinations of TV Journalists in Virginia – The Media Needs to Change Coverage of Shootings Now!

First appeared on Blogcritics.

Each week seemingly brings new shooting deaths here in the United States – and as a nation we collectively mourn as we see faces of the victims and feel the pain of their friends and loved ones. Sadly, each incident brings out the political hacks on both sides of the aisle using the tragedy for their own purposes; however, beyond blaming and finger pointing, one insidious accomplice in these events seems to go about unscathed and conducting business as usual – the media! By presenting in depth coverage of the killers (their lives, motivations, and twisted beliefs) the media offers encouragement to other maniacs who seek the same dubious version of fame.

tv3-WDBJ7The shooting deaths in Roanoke, Virginia, of WDBJ7 reporter Alison Parker (24) and her cameraman Adam Ward (28) while they were conducting a live interview with Vickie Gardner (who is recovering from a gunshot in the back at a local hospital) regarding local tourism are mind numbing. This brings a whole new and rather sick dimension to the term “reality TV” – a disturbing, gruesome, and potentially far-reaching act of violence that should be a slap in the face for the media; unfortunately, after watching coverage last evening and early this morning, it is apparent that the media has learned nothing from this tragic event or any of the ones that came before it.

As in the past with other shootings from Columbine to Sandy Hook to this terrible one, the media tends to focus on the shooter and the reasons why he or she committed the crime. I for one would not waste a drop of ink on writing his name – and I have never written the names of shooters in the past or included their pictures in articles. My only wish is that all media would follow the same pattern.

The salient point here is that the warped minds of killers like these crave attention. They are committing these violent acts to further interest in either a cause – as in the case of the Boston Marathon bombings – or for personal matters, which seems to be the motivation in Virginia. The spotlight on the killers is truly salt in the wounds for the families and friends of the victims. They don’t need to see and hear about the killer’s reasoning – whatever the case their loved ones are dead. 

The other readily apparent reason not to publish pictures of shooters like this one and feature stories about his life and reasoning for taking lives is that it stokes the fires of like-minded individuals. Every maniac who is looking for some kind of recognition or feels wronged by an employer, a lover, colleagues, or the government can find gratification in such coverage of what the rest of us see as a deranged lunatic.

The problem is – and this killer confirmed this point of view by indicating that he was motivated to act because of the Virginia Tech killings years ago and the more recent shootings in South Carolina – that seeing such publicity for a killer after horrendous violence only encourages others to follow the maniac down the path.

The best thing all media can do while covering events such as these is to consign the killer or killers to complete obscurity. For reports to go on and on (and this is what I saw last night and this morning) about the killer and all his reasons for hurting people is farcical. I don’t care about his motivation, about the way he suffered, or any other poor excuse as to why he did it – the most fitting way to deal with these murderers is make them faceless and nameless.

Of course, in a case such as the Boston Marathon bombing, when the suspect survives and goes to trial, there is going to be a public airing of everything. It is a fact that we have to live with; however, if the killer commits suicide after perpetrating such senseless violence, what is the point of making his story seem important.

tv4There were opportunities to see family members and colleagues talking about the victims. On FOX News Megyn Kelly interviewed Alison’s boyfriend Chris Hurst and her father. How these two men even managed to answer questions boggles the mind, but it seemed important to both of them to stand up for Alison’s legacy and also to shoot down accusations made by the killer in a “manifesto” released by the media.

By publishing the rantings of this madman the media qualifies them as something worthy of review. The warped minds out there read and identify with them. What a recipe for new disaster after disaster.

The media should reconsider how it handles shootings like this one and sadly, those we know will come. You would think that since these two victims are two of their own – journalists on the job no less – that the media would have taken a step back and said, “Let’s not give this guy what he wanted – a platform. Let’s just focus on Alison and Adam and their families.”

Sadly, I must leave you with two truths that should bother you for the rest of the day. The first truth is that the media will never stop covering these stories the way that it always has because it is believed there is a perverse interest in the public to learn about why a nutcase is a nutcase which leads to increased viewership. The second truth is as long as the media continues presenting stories about killers like this one and publishing their photos, they are going to be complicit in inspiring others out there who want their piece of dubious notoriety.

tv2I along with millions of others mourn Alison Parker and Adam Ward – two lives cut short by a madman whose name their families and most of the rest of us wish we had never heard mentioned. Rest in peace, Alison and Adam.

Photo credits: Facebook, WDBJ7

Monday, August 24, 2015

TV Review: Why I’m Very Afraid of Fear the Walking Dead

First appeared on Blogcritics.

fear3-amc Let me set the record straight – I am a huge fan of AMC’s The Walking Dead. I am the biggest Deadhead around – even bigger than Ben and Jerry with their Cherry Garcia. That doesn’t mean I am going to be automatically a fan of the spin-off prequel Fear the Walking Dead. In fact, after this first episode (which AMC is calling a “pilot”), I am afraid that I am not a fan of this version of the zombie apocalypse or even coming back next week. 

AMC has created some great shows. I loved Breaking Bad and never wanted it to end; however, Better Call Saul did not win me over. The whole idea of the prequel is in and of itself problematic because we know where the show is going. In the case of Saul, we know Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk) is going to end up a manager of Cinnabon in Omaha, just as he predicted to Walter White (Bryan Cranston) in Breaking Bad. The whole of what came before concept may attract some fans, but I just find it to be very tedious. I would have much preferred to see Saul’s life after Heisenberg, constantly running in fear from someone coming into his life from the Breaking Bad universe. That’s a show I would have tuned in to see.

Fear the Walking Dead suffers from a similar lack of urgency to watch. We all know what’s going to happen – Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and company have given us the utter horror and despair of what occurs when the dead walk the earth. The “what comes after” is infinitely more compelling than what came before – we know that already.

fear1-amcIn this incarnation we couldn’t have a more annoying family. They are dysfunctional with a capital D, and each has issues that should be more interesting than they are. Where TWD began with Rick waking up from a gunshot wound in the hospital after the world had gone to hell, here we have first annoying teenager, druggie Nick (Frank Dillane), waking in a drug den to find his gal-pal missing. As he staggers around the almost bombed-out abandoned building looking for her, he discovers that she is feasting on two other dead druggies and starts coming toward him to continue the carnage. Oh, she has a knife in her heart, so that kind of tells loopy Nick that something is amiss.

He ends up running outside and, while we expect a zombie horde, instead we get the living denizens of LA, one of whom hits druggie with a car. This sends Nick to the hospital where he will be questioned by police who obviously know more than they are saying. We realize this because we are like the audience watching Hamlet knowing that Polonius is behind the curtain (more than a few minutes of that wears thin very quickly).

Back at dysfunction central – Nick’s home – we get to meet mom Maddie (Kim Dickens), boyfriend Travis (Cliff Curtis) who can fix pipes, and even more annoying but not druggie child Alicia (Alycia Debnam- Carey). In an effort to show some sort of domesticity before the descent, the show’s creators should have known better and gave us a family with whom it would have been easier to identify.

At this point their problems don’t seem more important than yours or mine. The story line then takes us to a city high school where Maddie’s kids attend and she and Cliff work. A scene where a kid brings a knife to school and is saved by Maddie from the principal is supposed to set an ominous tone – the kid knows what is going to happen. Earth to AMC – so do we!

The suspense factor is not there. Just as we know Saul will end up saying, “Time to make the donuts,” we know this kid has seen every episode of TWD and Maddie hasn’t had the time because her Sunday nights are too busy. I will spare you the rest of the less than gory details. The point is that AMC should have learned from Carl (Chandler Riggs) on TWD that one annoying, self-absorbed teenager is quite enough, but here they give us two. Of course, one could defend Carl because he has been through hell, has lived in that world with no devices, no friends, and has seen his mother die giving birth to his sister. Yes, perhaps these kids Alicia and Nick are going to be where Carl has been, but we have to care first.

There will always be those who will like this show because of its pedigree. To them I say, “Enjoy!” Unfortunately, I am not won over by this first episode. It took a seemingly long 90 minutes to get to the point where Maddie and Travis know something is wrong – Nick’s drug dealer friend becomes a zombie and doesn’t die after being shot in the chest and hit by a car. Even then Travis utters what could be a signature line or the death knell for this series, “What the hell is happening?” Duh!

fear2-amcBut Maddie’s inane response kind of sums up my reaction to the pilot: “I have no idea.” And, the truth is, after watching FTWD for ninety minutes, I have no idea why I did. So far the teens are like those dispensable kids from Halloween of Friday the Thirteenth whom we cannot wait to see be dispatched by Michael or Jason; unfortunately, they seem to be part of the core group that will experience the zombie apocalypse unfold.

At this point, I just don’t think I can go forward from here. Just as with Better Call Saul, I believe AMC could have taken a different direction. They could have made this into a concurrent series, with another group of survivors in New York or Philadelphia. For five seasons of TWD there has always been the awareness that there are more survivors – perhaps even larger groups – and we could see how they are dealing with the end of the world differently than Rick, Carl, and company. There would also be a chance for crossovers in both series, but here there is no way a group in LA will ever meet up with our Georgia gang.

For now Fear the Walking Dead did little or nothing to keep me watching. I just might come back to see if those two annoying kids get it, but my “fear” is that they will not only survive but find more of their ilk to bring into the fold. Be afraid, dear readers, be very afraid!

  Photo credits: AMC

Saturday, August 22, 2015

The Tooth Fairy Is Cutting Back – The Tooth and Nothing But the Tooth

First appeared on Blogcritics.

tooth1 Okay, there are more important things in the world like global warming and the condition of Donald Trump’s hair; however, upon reading a recent article in the New York Daily News that the dear old Tooth Fairy was cutting back on expenses, I felt that I had to take a stand on this and question the practices of this legendary and supposedly generous sprite.

First of all, the reported average amount that the fairy shells out per tooth just has to be wrong - $3.19 per tooth. The idea that she is counting out 19 cents in addition to the three bills per child is preposterous. Does she actually have time to do that with thousands of kids all over the country losing their teeth every night? Why doesn’t just she round it up to $3.20 or, if she’s really being careful with her pennies, round it down to $3.10?

tooth3Judging from my own household, my kids have been getting $1.00 per tooth for years. My son recently lost his tooth – he proudly displays the fact in the photograph – and he happily ran downstairs in the morning and showed me his dollar bill. That’s my proof that this article is way off on its estimate, and also on claiming that $3.19 is down from when the amount per tooth peaked at $3.70 in 2010.

Secondly, I have always had my suspicions about the Tooth Fairy. What does the imp do with all these teeth? Are they being harvested for some nefarious purpose? Perhaps there is some sort of black market headed by a pernicious puck who is melting them down for use in some evil scheme.

Thirdly, that $3.19 is really bothering me. Now this isn’t sour grapes, but I got a quarter per tooth as a kid, and I was as happy as Rush Limbaugh at an all-you-can-eat buffet. I never complained about a quarter. In fact, after one tooth came out and I saw that coin, I promptly went into the bathroom and started pulling on my other teeth to see if I could get them out too.

But thinking back on it, I felt weird about the Tooth Fairy when I was a kid. Like Santa Claus, there is something sinister afoot when you think about the supposed benevolence of their behavior. Santa has a mean side too – no doubt about it. Just ask any kid who got a lump of coal in his stocking. And there is something weird about both of them sneaking into the house in the middle of the night anyway while we are sleeping.

tooth2So when I was about six or seven I started picturing the evil Tooth Fairy. I heard her buzzing in my ear like a blood thirsty mosquito, saying scary things, and then slipping under my pillow and taking the tooth away to her sinister lair where she used it for purposes far beyond my imagination.

But I digress – now we are supposed to be dealing with a Tooth Fairy who may or may not be downsizing. Yes, we all feel the weight of prices even for the bare necessities in this economy. Maybe pixie dust is really expensive in the Fairyland Walmart, and that wing wax can’t be cheap either; however, an explanation is in order as to how some kids are getting more than others.

Perhaps she is giving some of these other kids more money, but then why do my kids keep getting that lousy dollar bill? If she’s cutting back then she had better be equitable about it. Something is rotten in the state of Fairyland, and we must all rise up and demand that the Tooth Fairy be fair to all kids. Is that tooth much to ask?

  Photo credits:,    

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

$20 Bill Needs a Facelift – Why Not Replace a Slave Owner with Former Slave!

First appeared on Blogcritics.

buck1-getty There has been an exerted push in recent months to change the way our money looks. While U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has the bright idea to rid the $10 bill of the image of Alexander Hamilton – one of the founders of our country – many people are fighting back and demanding a change to the $20 bill, which sports the face of past president and slave owner Andrew Jackson.

Part of the drive to change a face on the currency has been to get a woman’s image on one of the bills currently in use. The twenty seems like an ideal one because Jackson is certainly not in the same league as George Washington (yes, he was a slave owner too), Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, and Benjamin Franklin. The images of two of these men – Washington and Lincoln – can be found on Mount Rushmore.

Some people have suggested that Thomas Jefferson replace Jackson, and one could question why Jefferson wasn’t the original choice for the $20 dollar bill; however, now the rush to change one of the male faces to a female one has moved full steam ahead. Much of this is due to the work of the group Women on 20s, which has led the fight to counteract Lew’s push to change the $10 bill. The rationale found on their web site is cogently presented, especially considering Jackson’s status as not only a slave owner but a person who led the devastating campaigns to wipe out Native Americans.

buck pbsOn the site results of a nationwide poll are presented, with familiar names such as Eleanor Roosevelt, Susan B. Anthony, and Rosa Parks getting many votes each; however, the overwhelming lead in the voting goes to Harriet Tubman. Those familiar with Tubman’s legacy as head “conductor” on the Underground Railroad leading the way to save hundreds of slaves from the abusive plantation system of the South realize this is an excellent choice.

The idea of the image of Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill is inspirational. How appropriate is it for a former slave who escaped and then led hundreds of other slaves to freedom would replace the face of a slave owner?

It makes so much sense that the only fear would be that it would not be recognized by Lew who remains convinced that Jackson should stay and that the $10 bill should be changed – and with whose image remains a mystery. Many Congress members (64 as of now) have come out in favor of changing the $20 bill. You too can have your voice heard by going to the Women on 20s web site and joining the cause.

buck3-forbesMy fear is that we get some crazy people who confuse celebrity with actual merit. In this world where the selfie is king, it doesn’t seem to be too far a stretch to imagine someone like Kim Kardashian getting the nod by popular vote to have her mug on our currency. Can you imagine Kim going into an establishment and paying for something with money sporting her image? It boggles the mind with the incongruity of it, but these days nothing that used to seem impossible is even remotely so anymore.

My vote is for Harriet Tubman – born a slave, escaped to the North, helped others escape, became an abolitionist and Union spy; she is a shining example of the endurance of human spirit against an evil such as slavery.

As the father of a teenage daughter who needs good female role models, she couldn’t do better than to look up to Harriet Tubman. How wonderful for all children – male and female alike – to see this happen in their lifetimes. It is without a doubt time for a woman on U.S. currency, and we can only hope that Secretary Lew will listen to the resounding call for it to be Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill.

  Photo credits: gettyimages ,,forbes 

Monday, August 17, 2015

On 70th Anniversary of VJ Day: Japan’s Prime Minister Does Not Apologize – But Should He?

First appeared on Blogcritics.

On the first VJ Day – August 14th, 1945 – my father was in France getting ready to go to the Pacific. A few days earlier his company was told, “Pack your bags; we’re going to the east!” and they all knew where they were going and dreaded it. After the grinding victory over Germany in Europe, these men wanted to go home, but there was still work to be done and there was no other choice.

Dad recalled hearing the news as he sat in a cafĂ© in Paris with a friend. It had been broadcast on the radio and all the locals starting cheering. Dad and his friend switched from coffee to something stronger to toast themselves and all of America – the war was finally over.

However, as most people know, war is never over for those who serve and their families. The haunting memories lingered throughout my father’s life – including the thought of those buddies lost in combat. While war takes a toll on individuals, collectively nations bear the burden as well. America recently has dealt with 9-11 as an event that has shaken us and left resilient scars in the aftermath.

japan1-reutersSuch is the case with Japan as it marked the 70th anniversary of its defeat. Over the years Japanese leaders have issued various and velied apologies, but not so in 2015. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s remarks are reflective, noting past "apologies," but never rising to the actual apology itself. One can read the full text of the speech to keep things in context, but let us consider these particular words carefully:
On the 70th anniversary of the end of the war, I bow my head deeply before the souls of all those who perished both at home and abroad. I express my feelings of profound grief and my eternal, sincere condolences.
Yes, the words “Sorry” or “I apologize” are not here, but do they need to be? I have heard some pundits complaining about this, and even among my circle of friends and acquaintances there are mixed feelings. I wish my father were still with us in order to ask him how he felt about it.

japan-5 frobesOn the other side of the world Germany, Japan’s former ally during World War II, has made great strides in not only apologizing but in attempting to right the so many wrongs committed by the Nazis. There is a necessary and compelling drive to continually set things right long after everything fell apart.

During a visit to Japan earlier this year, German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke again and again about Germany’s defeat not as a thing of shame but calling it “a day of liberation.” More than anything Merkel strove to make clear that after the infinite pain and suffering her country inflicted, that after the war the Allies who defeated them made the difference in how Germany would move forward.
We Germans will never forget the hand of reconciliation that was extended to us after all the suffering that our country had brought to Europe and the world.
These remarks were made not just for the benefit of the journalists present, but seem clearly directed at Mr. Abe, whose country also committed so many atrocities during the war. Besides their imperialistic actions in neighboring countries, where the brutality of the occupation inflicted enormous physical and psychological damage, there was also the issue of the “comfort women” taken from those places and used to pleasure Japanese troops.

Do the Japanese view their war crimes as less atrocious than those of the Germans? Could that affect the way Japanese leaders face the issue of expressing sorrow while not directly apologizing? Of course, the Holocaust inflicted by Nazi Germany is one of the greatest crimes ever committed by a nation during wartime or any other time; however, the Japanese should not use that as an excuse of convenience.

How long does the memory of pain and suffering last? One could argue that it is until everyone who had been alive and suffered during the ordeal is gone. If that is the case something like Pearl Harbor could be rapidly reaching the point of being forgotten, with a day like September 11th to follow. The salient point is that people can never forget – things like the Holocaust, December 7th, 1941, and September 11, 2001, must live on in the collective memory of people who believe that great tragedies must be remembered in order that they are never repeated.

Earlier this year in his speech to the Congress of the United States, Mr. Abe tellingly said, “History is harsh. What is done cannot be undone.” This is a curious precursor to the statement issued on the 70th anniversary in Japan. In it Mr. Abe seems to be trying to move Japan forward by not looking back:
We must not let our children, grandchildren, and even further generations to come, who have nothing to do with that war, be predestined to apologize.
While it’s understandable that the Japanese people have to move forward, there is the undeniable truth of what happened during a war started by the unprovoked Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

king 2We have to teach our children about things that happened before they were born, and part of that is never shirking responsibility for actions taken by our nations in the past. Americans should never forget the barbaric treatment by our government of Native Americans, the despicable institution of slavery, the horrific Civil War that killed more Americans than any other conflict, and the ensuing disparity and inequity black Americans suffered that eventually was confronted by the Civil Rights movement led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. For us to try to forget any of this is an illusion – a dangerous attempt not at revising history but eliminating it.

Yes, Mr. Abe is correct that “history is harsh” but it needs to be. And yes, what is done can never be undone, but that doesn’t mean that we stop the conversation. In Germany there has been a concerted attempt to do that – to accept the emotional and physical liability for crimes committed. It is obvious that in her visit Mrs. Merkel was prodding Japan to do the same.

I will share one personal story. During my August 1995 visit to Japan – the 50th anniversary of the end of WWII – I attended a ceremony in Nagasaki and cried during it. When it was over and as I prepared to leave, an older Japanese woman in traditional dress saw my distress and handed me a flower saying in English, “Sorry.” I took the flower, smelled it, and said, “No, I am sorry” (thinking of the devastating bomb my country dropped on that city). Her smile in response to my words offered me hope that the world can be a better place if we make the effort.

There is a need to apologize, sometimes on all sides, and this anniversary is, if nothing else, a reminder that war’s horrors can never be forgotten or glossed over. It is our duty to teach our children well in order that they teach their children well and to have that continue in perpetuity. If we do not, we are not only ensuring things will be forgotten but that they will inevitably be repeated.

  Photo credits: reuters, forbes

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Reports Indicate Kids Get Too Much Homework – Are Parents Partially to Blame?

First appeared on Blogcritics.

HW3 telegraph If you have children currently enjoying the bliss of summer vacation, you know that they are dreading those three dirty words – Back to School! They are emblazoned everywhere on buses, billboards, and store windows. While the kids may be upset over their impending doom, many parents also have reason to fear those school days because it means one horrible truth – back to school is the return to helping their kids with homework.

Having a child who has gone through grammar school and is now entering high school, I have endured nine years of varying degrees of homework horror; however, I also have a child going into first grade, so it’s another round of worrying about the nightly struggle to get the homework done before bedtime. 

So what have we come to in this country that we are overloading our kids with homework? One report indicates that elementary school kids “are getting significantly more homework” than is recommended by National Education Association and the National Parent-Teacher Association. These organizations recommend the “10-minute rule” for homework, which means starting with ten minutes of homework in first grade and then adding ten minutes to each subsequent grade level. This translates to 20 minutes in second grade, 30 minutes in third grade, and so on. This would mean ending with 120 minutes of homework in the senior year of high school.

HW2 stylemagazineWith no guidelines for homework in Kindergarten or Pre-K, those teachers are left to assign or not assign homework on their own. Having just gone through a year of Kindergarten homework with my son, I can attest to the fact that we spent many an evening going way beyond the recommended number of minutes for second grade. Two pages of math and two pages of ELA a night do tend translate into what amounts to a struggle of wills to get the work done with a five-year-old.

Now I have also been on the other side of the fence – spending years as a classroom teacher and a school principal. As an administrator I have worked with teachers and advised them that they were giving too much homework; however, I have also had parents storm into my office and complain about teachers not giving enough homework. One parent held up one page of math and said, “I’m not getting my money’s worth with so little homework!”

So while many parents may commiserate with the nightly struggle to do homework, there are those who mistakenly believe that “a lot of homework” is a good thing and signifies that schools are giving them “bang for the buck.” As an educator I can tell you that this is a pathetic fallacy and nothing could be further from the truth.

While there are many other examples of parents struggling to help kids with their homework, we have to look beyond that and ask ourselves a question – why are we parents doing so much to “help” kids with homework? When I was a kid, I did my homework and then my parents “checked” it, which usually translated in them looking to make sure all problems were done and signing it. I can remember getting some help in first grade, but after that I was basically on my own.

Today I know of parents in my own family and in other families who are basically helping/doing the homework as a form of damage control. Since many teachers count homework toward the final grade, parents consider this as a necessary evil in order for their children to do well. But this is the same attitude that accounts for science fair projects that look like Albert Einstein put them together – this is not just the parent going overboard to help but basically living vicariously through their children’s successes.

What parents need to do is to not be “helicopter” homework helpers. While I can see helping your Kindergarten child or even a first grader, by the time a child is in second grade it is a good idea to take a step back and only get involved when asked. When your child is finished, it is appropriate to go over the homework with your child, checking each answer. I would say this can go until both you and your child realize it is no longer necessary – somewhere between fourth and sixth grade.

HW4 psuI have always believed in homework as a reinforcement of classwork, but in some schools using blended learning models that is changing and that is welcome news for all parents. As education evolves into something that hopefully transcends issues with Common Core and rises to a level that serves children, teachers, and parents well – and not the interests of big testing companies and their partners in crime in state education departments – homework may be the focus of all class time and the instruction will take place virtually at home at each student’s level and at a pace right for him and her.

So as the Back to School Monster rears its ugly head, it is not necessary for parents to cringe in despair. Parents should be partners with teachers in the education equation, and that means parents speaking up and telling a teacher when the homework is too much. If he or she hears this from enough parents, then some changes are obviously in order; however, if certain parents keep asking for more homework, they are not part of the solution but a part of the ongoing problem.

My advice as an educator and a parent is to take a step back, see what your children can do on their own, offer support, and not worry about children making mistakes on their homework. Mistakes are part of life and the sooner kids realize that is a way of learning as well. Any teacher worth his or her weight will not penalize kids for making mistakes on homework and give them the credit for doing it.

HW1Parents are supposed to be partners in education and as such they need to make their voices heard even as soon as Back to School or Meet the Teacher Night. Doing so will let the teacher know you are involved and vocal about your child’s education, and that should translate into less homework headaches for you and your child in the long run.

If you see that your child is getting too much homework (and additional study work), that is not the sign of a good teacher – that’s an indication of purposeless overload. If the teacher will not listen, talk to the school principal and, if that doesn’t work, the school board. In the end all of us should want the same thing – the best education for our children in school and by extension at home.

Homework does not in and off itself guarantee that and it’s all parents’ duty to make sure that homework overload doesn’t burn their children (or them) out.

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