Spanish Schoolkids Go On Homework Strike, With Their Parents' Blessing : Parallels Children in Spain, facing up to three hours of homework a night, have put down their pens and pencils in protest. "We all want our children to succeed," says one father who supports the strike.
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Kids In Spain Rebel Against Homework, And Parents Are Their Biggest Boosters

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Kids In Spain Rebel Against Homework, And Parents Are Their Biggest Boosters

Kids In Spain Rebel Against Homework, And Parents Are Their Biggest Boosters

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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Lots of children want less homework, but in Spain, parents and even some teachers now agree. Millions of Spanish students are on a homework strike this weekend. The protest is aimed at changing Spain's public education system, as Lauren Frayer reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOORBELL BUZZING)

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: (Speaking Spanish).

A father of three greets me at his door in a leafy northern suburb of Madrid.

CAMILO JENE: My name is Camilo Jene. I am an architect,

FRAYER: On this weekday evening, his 14-year-old daughter Clara is at the dining table doing homework.

JENE: (Speaking Spanish).

FRAYER: "Often we're sitting down to dinner and I have to tell her to put away the books," Jene says. "It's cutting into our family time." Sixty-four percent of 15-year-old girls in Spain report being stressed about the amount of homework they get; even about a third of 11-year-olds say the same. Clara gets about three hours a day and double that on weekends, but she's now among millions of Spanish students on strike refusing to do weekend homework.

CLARA: Last weekend, I spent time with my family (speaking Spanish).

FRAYER: She says she learned how to make a campfire outdoors rather than studying.

JENE: (Speaking Spanish).

FRAYER: "It's complicated," says her father, "because we all want our children to succeed." Clara's grades won't be as good as those of classmates who completed their assignments. But the Jene family wants to change Spain's education system, which they say relies too much on busy work and rote memorization.

JENE: (Speaking Spanish).

FRAYER: Spanish teenagers get about a third more homework than average for developed countries, but that doesn't translate into higher scores. Spain consistently ranks low in reading, math and science. Organizers say about half of public school students are taking part in this homework strike, which began in November. Marius Fullana is an astrophysicist, father of two and spokesman for a parents' association, which called the strike. I asked him what happens next.

MARIUS FULLANA: (Laughter) This is a good question. Professors or teachers also agree with the measure and so they...

FRAYER: He says some sympathetic teachers have stopped assigning homework on weekends, and he hopes that could become the norm. A spokesman for Madrid's education system says it's up to teachers and principals and that there's no government mandate of homework on weekends. Catherine L’Ecuyer wrote a best-seller in Spain called "The Wonder Approach To Learning." She says to change Spanish children's homework load you first have to change their parents' workload.

CATHERINE L’ECUYER: The basic work schedule in Spain, for instance, is not 9 to 5 as it is in other countries. It’s 9 to 7. And for professionals, it’s 9 to 9 or 9 to 11. So what do you do with your child when he comes home at 4, you know, after school?

FRAYER: Homework - it fills that gap for Spanish families, but L’Ecuyer says studies show it doesn't actually help the kids. Finland ranks at the top of European education tables. But teachers there assign less homework than almost anywhere else.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Speaking Spanish).

FRAYER: It's the end of another school week in Madrid, and parents arrive to pick up their kids, many of whom will spend the weekend playing rather than battling their way through hours of homework. For NPR News, I'm Lauren Frayer in Madrid.

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