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Back To School Barbershop: New Goals, Homework And Parental Supervision


And now it's time for our trip to the Barbershop. That's where we gather a group of interesting folks to talk about what's in the news and what's on their minds. And if you are the parent or caretaker of a child, a teacher, an administrator or a student, then we know what's on your mind as we head into the last week of August. It's going back to school. So for this back-to-school edition of the Barbershop, we've invited three people who definitely know the deal.

Doyin Richards blogs about parenting at His oldest just started kindergarten. His second is in preschool. He lives in Southern California, but he happens to be in D.C., so he's here with me in the studio. Hi, Doyin.

DOYIN RICHARDS: Hello, Michel. It's so great to be here. Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: Good to have you with us. Also, with us is Tammy Garnes. She's at member station WABE in Atlanta. She is the mom of two girls who just started the seventh grade and the 11th grade - big year for thinking college. And Tammy is also a former communications director for Atlanta Public Schools, so she's no stranger to back-to-school drama. Hi, Tammy. Welcome back to you as well.

TAMMY GARNES: Hey. Drama-free right here.

MARTIN: That's it. And last but not least, Christopher Emdin is a professor at the Columbia University Teacher's College. He taught for 10 years, and you might remember we had him on to talk about his book "For White Folks Who Teach In The Hood ...And The Rest Of Y'all Too." He joins us from Radio Foundation Studios in New York City, and he has a 3 year old who's in pre-K. Hi, Christopher.

CHRISTOPHER EMDIN: Hey. How are you?

MARTIN: So thank you all so much for making time today, and this is a - since this is such a hectic time of year for people - some people's kids are already in school. Some people are starting back next week or even the week after. But it's funny that when we called all of you separately to invite you to come, you all said the same thing. It's like you're going back to school, too. And, Doyin, let me just start with you. What were those emotions you were feeling as you took your little person to the first day of school?

RICHARDS: Oh, yeah. So my daughter started kindergarten a couple of weeks ago, and I walked her in. And I thought, oh, it's good, and I started bawling. And it was...

MARTIN: You're going to admit that? Good man.

RICHARDS: Oh, yeah. Listen, I'm man enough to admit I cry. I cry, right? So I walk in. She's like, daddy, this is the first day of school. I'm excited, but then I started - like tears coming down my face. Then she started crying. I was like, yeah, I got to put this together. I've got to keep it together for my kid. But it was really exciting, and I just look back on it. And she's such a happy kid, and - but it's really stressful going to school.

MARTIN: What was the - tell me what was the stress? What was it that made you cry? Was it thinking about leaving her? Was it thinking about her leaving you?

RICHARDS: Both. I just thought like time is going so fast. I was like - she was a baby like yesterday it seems like, and now she's going off to kindergarten and she's really independent. But it's really stressful as a parent. This is not what made me cry, though. But from a stressful perspective just being to a new school and looking at - God, are the parents going to like me or are they going to like my kid or like - it's super stressful because like you're going back to school. It's nuts.

MARTIN: And, Chris, your comment was really interesting to me, too, because you were saying that as a teacher, it's like you're going into battle. Tell me about that.

EMDIN: Teachers are gearing up right now, so it's like, you know, last year, I didn't have the best year ever. This year, I got to be ready to go. They're all in school a couple of weeks early before school actually starts, getting their books together, trying to outdo each other to see who's going to have the best classroom or who's going to be the most cool. They're doing their shopping now and making sure they dress well, so the teachers - the students are impressed by them. They're going over curriculum, so it's an exciting time for teachers.

MARTIN: I mean, it's interesting to hear from that perspective because we, I think, as parents, think all the stress is on our side, and thank you for the reminder that it is definitely not the case. Tammy, you were saying that this is - kind of along the same lines with, Doyin - that - you expressed it a little differently. You said it's not just a chance for the kids to get a new start. It's a chance for everybody to hit the reset button.

GARNES: It is. To me, it's like it's my new year, too, so I get two new years during a year, you know? So I get a chance to reset. I get a chance to say this is how I'm going to do the school year this year that's going to be different from last year. And, I mean, the stakes are really high in our house now because we're entering into the, you know, college pathway, you know, so every class that my kid takes now really counts, you know, for something. I'm like, oh, what's on your schedule? Oh, you're taking that class? Will it get you into college? Will that get you a career? Will that give you a happy life? So it's like, you know, the stress is like tenfold now. I can't believe I was worried in the earlier grades, you know. High school is a whole different beast.

MARTIN: I also heard you say that you have some new school year resolutions for yourself. I mean, this is the time of year when, like, teachers and parents are goal-setting for their kids. But you are saying that you're making some new school year resolutions for yourself.


MARTIN: Are you willing to share?

GARNES: Well, one I'm a little embarrassed by, but I have a tardiness issue that I have passed onto the child that I drive to school still. And my resolution this year is to be early. I want 100 percent on time arrival. Like that's so basic for some people, but for some of us with kind of an artist's brain, we get wrapped up easily in the mornings. And I want to be open - that was my second resolution - to new ideas, to things that they want to do this year. Of course, I want to be supportive, but most importantly, for me, my personal resolution is to go back to doing the things that I love. Now that they're older, I feel like I have permission to not helicopter as much and to actually get back to doing the work that I love, that I kind of sacrificed in order to make sure that they were supported all these years. And that's my resolution is to take time for me.

MARTIN: Wow. You're my hero.


GARNES: We don't know how it's turning out yet. OK? Now, don't get too happy.

MARTIN: Doyin, have you got any besides not to cry in front of your daughter?


MARTIN: Freak her out.

RICHARDS: Well, I think my main resolution is just to value time because time is truly the most valuable resource that we have. And I just feel like a lot of times it's like the kids are grabbing on you like when they're 5 and 3, like, oh, daddy, let's play, and I keep pushing them off, like, oh, I got some homework - I got some work to do, some personal stuff to do.

But now I'm like, you know what? I want to cherish every moment I have because I can't get this back when they're teenagers. When I look at Tammy's kids, when - I mean, it's funny when they're teenagers - and correct me if I'm wrong, Tammy - but sometimes they don't want your attention...

GARNES: They don't.

RICHARDS: ...As much as they - right? So I want to cherish them now when they're tugging at my leg and saying let's go to the park, daddy, let's play, let's hang out because it fleets, and it goes by so fast.

MARTIN: Chris, what about you? Do you have any new school year resolutions?

EMDIN: You know, I have resolutions every single academic year, and once August rolls around, it's like life changes, right? And also like - they're also sort of resolutions that I share with my network in my communities. I work with a lot of parents, a lot of students, so this idea of, like, always sort of showing the young people or imagining for them what the next step is so they sort of get geared up to get to that point on every single year.

I go through like a plethora of conversations with parents and with young people about that kind of work. And then for me also it's like, you know, just like research-wise, you know, make sure that I don't sort of fall victim to the narratives that are going on in the world but are always going to like what I know is right to do about education because the world always shifts with standards and shifts with approaches and shifts the curriculum. But good teaching is good teaching, and good education and good parenting is just that. It's like holding onto what the ideals are how to do this the right way.

MARTIN: Well, OK, before we let you go one more topic on that question. The perennial topic that I've seen discussed all the time now and that is homework.

EMDIN: Oh, yeah.

MARTIN: Homework.

GARNES: (Laughter).

MARTIN: There was a news item that was going viral this week. A second grade teacher in Texas...


MARTIN: ...Brandy Young sent home a note stating there - her no homework policy. Her letter stated that homework will only consist of work that your student did not finish during the school day, and she went on to say that research has been unable to prove that homework improves student performance. Rather, I ask that you spend your evenings doing things that are proven to correlate with student success like eat dinner as a family, read together, play outside, get your child to bed early. Doyin, it sounds like you and she are on the same page because she's like be in the moment, be with your kid...


MARTIN: ...Relate. But I can - I'm sure other people are going, no.

RICHARDS: Oh, she's my hero. I think that's fantastic. I mean, one thing that's fascinating, to me, is with a kindergartner. My kid came home with homework. Daddy, we have homework to do. I have homework to do. And I'm like what?

MARTIN: What was the homework, pound sand?

RICHARDS: Yeah. I was like seriously - roll around in the dirt.


RICHARDS: It's like - it's crazy, so she - yeah, like ABC's like write the A's, write the B's.

GARNES: Right.


RICHARDS: It's stressful for her. She's like why - we have to do this, daddy, but I know I'm going to get in trouble if I don't do this. And that takes away from the purpose of homework, right? It's not supposed to be stress. It's supposed to be education. Very strange.

MARTIN: Tammy, where are you on this? Because you've had years now of, like, sitting on top of your kids to make sure that the science project gets in, like...

GARNES: Yes. And we did do the whole kindergarten - I - the first one went to a school where it was homework, homework, homework in the early years, and the second one went to a school that was a Reggio Emilia school where it was like dance around in your diaper and paint paint all over your body. I mean, I've done both ways doing this thing, and now that they're in middle school and high school, I'm seeing the end result of it. I think homework is appropriate in some spaces and places, but I admire her. In second grade, you don't need to come home and do much homework. Come home and enjoy your family, but on the flip side of that, there are a lot of families who aren't home when their kids get home. You know?

MARTIN: Chris - I'm going to give Chris the last word on this as the - as - presumably you've studied this question...

EMDIN: I have. I have.

MARTIN: Give us the last word on this.

EMDIN: So here's what the issue is, and I hate to always get back to the sort of philosophy, right? There's a perception that homework has to be this sort of laborious, hyperintense...

MARTIN: Right.

EMDIN: ...Sit down and quiet as the parent has the door saying you can't get out perception. So it's really not about...

MARTIN: I'm sorry. Are you spying on me? Are you in my house?


EMDIN: I'm not. I'm not. I just know what it looks like, and I think it's really about the perception of homework, right? I think children should have homework. Children should not have homework as sort of associating doing academic work with punishment or with, like, labor. So if your kindergartener had 15 minutes of homework, but the homework was think of as many imaginative ways that you can use the letter A. You know, that enhances certain sort of academic skills, but at the same time activates imagination, makes it fun for the parents to be engaged in. All those little things matter.

MARTIN: All right. That's Christopher Emdin, professor at Columbia University Teacher's College. Also with us Doyin Richards. He blogs about parenting at and Tammy Garnes film and television producer, thank you all so much for joining us.

RICHARDS: Thank you.

EMDIN: Thank you so much.

GARNES: Girl, you are the best. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.