At HRA I am the closest thing we have to a raccoonologist, at least since Dr. Wearing left. It is a fact that domestic raccoons become lethargic and overweight if their food intake is not monitored closely while in captivity. Raccoons are lazy animals by nature, the only reason why they are often found in the wild to be thin and quick is because they have to constantly work their poor striped tails off tracking down food and dodging predators. Human beings tend to be similar in some ways to raccoons.

Human beings, like raccoons, when left to our own devices often choose laziness and leisure if possible. In fact, one of the major objections most people have against certain kinds of drug abuse is because people who use those drugs tend to be comfortable with boredom and lethargy, thereby wasting their potential and wiling away their best years in a fog. This is a problem. That also sounds exactly like video games, but that is another discussion for another time. My point is that without struggle, we grow mentally lazy and slow. Without striving toward higher things, we become comfortable digging through the trash and even sometimes proverbially going hungry altogether.

At HRA we have been fighting the homework monster for many years with varying degrees of success. Our most recent changes seem to have made a real difference in most students’ homework load. Periodically, however, parents can expect their students to have bursts of greater homework, such as before a project is due or prior to midterms and semester finals.Our program is intended to be rigorous. The rigor exists because students are not only capable of achieving great things but because the more they are asked to do the more they will attempt to do. More challenging standards result in two great advantages: more successes and more failures.

Success is advantageous for your student because it will enable them to build experience as a student who can accomplish what they set their mind to. This can be a great comfort when they have 3 papers due in one week, a doctoral dissertation defense, a major criminal trial or three screaming babies in the back of a broken down car. “I can do this, I graduated from HRA.” In college I often encountered challenging times when multiple tests, papers or speeches were due in close proximity. Part of me worried and part of me thought, “I’ve always gotten things done, I will get these things done, too.” This is a great advantage of having experienced meaningful and earned success when challenged by difficult requirements.

Failure is also to their advantage. Failures teach great lessons. In my master’s degree program at Tech I took a class in business analytics and was asked to evaluate some statistics and interpret them into useful information. Long story short, I justified ignoring a large portion of the statistics because I couldn’t figure out what they meant. My teacher had a psychotic reaction. In fact, he told me that in the real world a person could go to jail for publishing intentionally misleading statistics (I still remember the crazed look in his eye). He made his point, and I redid the assignment. I failed on that one, but I learned a lesson that I will never forget. In addition, failure also teaches students that they can bounce back from a major setback. Some students are perfectionists and failure is slightly higher than death on their list of fears. Failing, and learning to try again and again if necessary, gives your students a chance to realize how tough they are and that when they get an F, the world does in fact keep turning. Failing teaches your kids how to have “grit.”

Students who are gifted with great ability may find that most school subjects come easy to them. It is important to put those students to the test. One day, they will meet their match. It could be at school or in the workplace. It is important that they know that not everything comes easy and that things that are hard are worth doing.

As parents, please know that our desire is not to crush your students with homework, but rather to challenge them sufficiently to make them ready for the challenges of their world. Homework is one way to do that, but not the only way. We hope that the homework which is assigned is limited to the most beneficial type and an appropriate length. Some students will spend longer on some homework than others. Some students are perfectionists and must work or they will become stressed out. Other students must work harder in order to keep up. When we plan for our homework weekly, we aim our anticipated time spent on homework at the “good” student. “Good” in the technical sense, a “B” student who we expect a reasonable amount of diligence from. If your student insists upon A’s they will spend longer and if your student is typically a C student, they must spend long on the homework in order to attain a B or an A.

Achieving the balancing act of rigor without exasperation is the task that we have as parents and teachers.

Like the mighty raccoon, students reach their full potential when they are searching their world with their eyes wide open and their hands kept busy. So to sum up, in order to avoid psychotic professors and being forced to survive by digging through the mental trash bin, your kids need to become gritty, feral raccoons…that doesn’t sound right… but you know what I mean.