An Unusually Vexing Homework Assignment At The Willows School

The Declaration of Independence

Not long ago, my 5th grade daughter came upstairs and said in a shaky voice that she needed help with her homework, due the next day. This isn’t her usual pattern or demeanor. Normally, she goes into her room and does her homework, popping out if she has a question. So, when I saw her face, I knew she wanted help with the assignment.

 

“I have to memorize the Preamble to the Declaration Of Independence,” she said in a quivering voice. Handing me a paper with the Preamble on it, she said she needed to understand its words before she could memorize it. The class is studying the American Revolution so the assignment fit with the theme she’s been working on. What didn’t fit was the rote memorization aspect of the homework.

 

I was reminded why we chose The Willows for our kids. I’ve written about homework previously. The teaching style is incredibly creative and inspiring, using big concepts and ideas to help kids learn.  Memorizing is used to support an assignment, not for its own sake or to “make work.” Of course, this was a very worthy homework assignment. It was just atypical for our school.  Thankfully, my daughter isn’t used to the type of endless memorization I grew up with.

 

We sat together on the bed and went though the incredible Preamble, line by line. I explained each premise and we talked about how America is unique and unduplicated because of the Declaration of Independence. I explained the concept of “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” Thinking about it gave me chills. It is carefully nuanced and profound. It is, at once, both simple and stunningly complex. Imperfect, but as close to perfect as any country has come. This document has powered through the decades, helping define who we are as a nation.

 

Despite my daughter’s uneasiness with the assignment, I loved sitting with her talking about the history of our country, written in antiquated language we no longer use, but whose eloquence and brilliance still guides our founding principles.

 

The next morning, my daughter woke up and asked to recite the Preamble. In a sing-song voice, she nailed it. Off to school we went.

 

After school, I asked her how the test went. “Great” she said as if the previous night had been unnecessary. That’s my girl!

 

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Christina Simon: Los Angeles, California, United States I'm the mom of a daughter (15) and a son (12) who attend Viewpoint School in Calabasas. I live in Coldwater Canyon with my family and a rescue pit bull, Cocoa. Contact me at csimon2007@gmail.com

10 thoughts on “An Unusually Vexing Homework Assignment At The Willows School

  1. After reading your post, I got the chills too. I want to read the Declaration of Independence again. Some of my best memories are when I sat with my kids and helped them study for an exam or helped with homework. I loved learning with them.

  2. I looked up how long the preamble is-Oh dear. I think I would have encouraged my child to create his own short version. I was a teacher for 6+ years. I never believed in giving memorizing tasks. I remember memorizing in high school and nothing coming from it. Final exams are an example of how cramming/memorizing is such a waste of time (there are some exceptions. I used to memorize Spanish verb conjugations so I could speak the language). The preamble is a lot to ask of a 5th grader. And there are many other productive and enriching ways to have kids to spend their time. Thank you for this post. You remind me of my revolutionary teaching ways. xoxo

  3. I’m not big on memorizing, but when it is utilized sparsely, it can be quite effective. I still remember parts of a Julius Caeser soliloquy and Chaucer and Beowulf in Old English!

  4. That sounded like a particularly awful assignment, but Ryann nailed it (of course). I’m sure she was thankful for her mom’s support.

    I remember having to do something similar in 11th grade – the Olde English introduction to the Canterbury Tales (which we had to pronounce in Olde English…you wind up sounding like a drunk version of the Swedish Chef from the Muppet Show).

    The Preamble has its flaws, but it is elegantly constructed. Thank you for this poignant historical reminder…particularly when State elections are today! :)

  5. What a wonderful, patient Mom! (I can see me getting squirmy about three words in.) And man, did this bring me back … I still know the first ten digits of pi. Unfortunately, I no longer have any idea what this knowledge means, nor how to apply it …

  6. I really like this particular blog. Very nicely written. As for your sweet daughter- I am so impressed that she didn’t want to begin memorizing until she had an understanding of it. This is a young lady who is showing a love of learning. This is huge, ( I was a teacher – 1st career) and Christna, she’s special.

  7. I can see how that would be a challenging, yet rewarding, assignment. Your daughter must have been so proud of herself that she “nailed it.” Good for her!

  8. I’m surprised you didn’t go the route I did when I had to memorize the Preamble (a requirement in Illinois, the state where I grew up). We all sang “We the People” from School House Rock. I think everyone in the class passed with flying colors.

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