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By Sally Torbey

Homework help: when less is more

Uploaded: Jul 6, 2014

We hear a lot of interesting comments about our large family, but my favorite is the question the custom official at the Beirut airport asked a few years back. After inspecting our stack of passports, he glanced at our crowd of children and asked my husband, "all these kids with just one wife?"

We are frequently asked by parents with two or three kids how we manage. I assure them that we are not super human, we just have lower standards than they do, and easy kids. I did not fully appreciate how essential our kids' compliant, cooperative temperaments were to harmonious family life until we acquired a dog, who has neither.

We also embrace a parenting philosophy of benign neglect. Per The Oxford Dictionary, "a noninterference that is intended to benefit someone ? more than continual attention would." As any parent of three knows, moving from man-to-man to zone defense is a game changer. When children outnumber parents, meeting each child's needs and desires on a consistent basis is a distant memory. Although our kids will argue that they have been deprived of attention, we like to think that having so many siblings has helped them acquire skills and self-sufficiency.

We are always happy to have support for our less is more approach, and thus were delighted to read Judith Newman's recent opinion piece in The New York Times, "But I want to do your homework." She cites research by two sociologists, Keith Robinson and Angel L. Harris, that shows that kids whose parents help with homework actually do worse academically. Even high achieving kids' grades suffer when parents are involved.

For years we have felt guilty for not figuring out how to build a circuit so that our then second-grade daughter's lighthouse beacon would blink on and off. Now there is scientific evidence that we actually helped her succeed by not helping her with the project!

Robinson's and Harris's book, "The Broken Compass", takes on the widely held and seemingly logical assumption that parental involvement leads to higher academic achievement. Encouraging parental involvement has been viewed as an essential part of the solution to our nation's educational woes. Although seemingly counterintuitive, their analysis suggests that parental involvement is not the panacea for which many have hoped.

This is life-changing news for parents of school-aged children! Think of all the time parents will have at their disposal if they are not quizzing their students on the two-letter state name abbreviations or helping build models of the human brain with labeled color-coded regions. And think of all the guilt those of us who have trouble finding time to help with homework can shed!

According to Robinson and Harris, what does seem to make a consistent difference in academic performance is that parents "convey the importance of education to their children" and "create and maintain an environment for them in which learning can be maximized." Those tasks seem much less daunting and time consuming than solving the pre-algebra problem of the week!