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Mendham Township Middle School Homework Assignments

Blame the bankers!

A left-leaning humanities teacher at a Brooklyn middle school handed out a homework assignment this month in which students had to fill in the following sentence:

“Banks are often run by ————— people who look for ways to hurt the most financially vulnerable people in the country.”

Students had to choose among five words to fill in the blank — with “nefarious” or “reprehensible” as the only possible answers.

Francesca Gomes, 40, a veteran teacher at the New Voices School of Academic & Creative Arts in Sunset Park, assigned the work to her 7th-grade class.

Gomes has been outspoken on lefty causes and is part of the United Federation of Teacher’s Social Justice Caucus. She is also a member of Socialist Alternative, the group that pushed for the election of a socialist candidate to Seattle’s city council in 2013.

Gomes leans further left than even Mayor de Blasio, and blasted him on social media in April for a comment he made at a Staten Island forum when asked about a “gag order” on teachers disparaging state tests.

The mayor said, “Think of what it would lead to if teachers openly criticized every education policy they disagreed with,” the Staten Island Advance reported.

“Um … I don’t know, maybe meaningful improvements? Screw you, De Blasio,” Gomes wrote on her Facebook page.

New Voices Principal Frank Giordano did not respond to messages seeking comment. When confronted at her Brooklyn home, Gomes slammed the door in a reporter’s face.

In February, a Staten Island middle school teacher took heat — and had a disciplinary letter placed in her file — after she placed a question about President Trump on a vocabulary worksheet.

“President Trump speaks in a very superior and __ manner insulting many people. He needs to be more ___ so that the American people respect and admire him.”

The answers were “haughty” and “humble.”

The teacher defended herself to one outraged parent — whose child lost points on the assignment for not answering the question — and said the question was not meant as a political statement.

And a teacher at Susan Wagner HS received a letter of reprimand for bashing Trump before the November election, tirades that were recorded by one of his students.

Some parents, he added, seem happy to revisit their high school years.

“There was one parent last year who would write pages and pages of stuff. It was great, so good to read,” said Mr. Frye, who graduated from Montclair High in 1994.

Others are more resistant. “When my daughter told me about the homework, I looked at her and said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me. I graduated. I’m done,’” said Lydia Bishop, a local real estate broker whose daughter Vanessa was in Mr. Frye’s class last year. “I did it very resentfully, but I did it.”

Sometimes, Ms. Bishop said, she got out of the homework assignment by logging on to the blog that Mr. Frye created for parents and writing, “I really don’t need this today, I have stuff to do.”

The excuse, she said, was enough to keep Vanessa from being penalized and, despite her reluctance to do homework, Ms. Bishop still thinks Mr. Frye is “one of the best teachers we’ve got.”

Some parents say they like the assignments because they can spark intellectual conversation with teenagers who are normally less than communicative. “Searching for meaning in literary works is like stretching brain-cell-taffy in this household of literal interpretations and men of few words,” one mother wrote on the blog.

Others refrain from complaining to Mr. Frye but figure out the most mature way to say, “The dog ate my homework,” or persuade their spouse to comment on the parent blog instead.

In three years, Mr. Frye said, the assignments have met with only one flat-out refusal. He has received strong support from his bosses — Peter Renwick, an assistant principal at Montclair High, called the approach “very innovative and creative” — and some cautious interest from national teaching experts.

“I think it’s great,” said Gerald N. Tirozzi, executive director of the National Association of Secondary School Principals. “It’s wonderful to involve parents in this way, very meaningfully, and directly related to the instruction the children are receiving in school.” Mr. Tirozzi said he had not heard of any other teachers making similar assignments, and added that he would be interested to know if the students were performing better.

Carol Jago, the incoming vice president of the National Council of Teachers of English, said, “This is one of those really good ideas that has the potential to do what we really want in society.

“It has to do with what we talk to our students about, and what kind of models we are for our children as readers,” she said, adding that in her 32 years of teaching, she has often asked parents to forgo hiring tutors and instead just read the books their children were reading.

“With 10th graders, the parents often really did tell me that it was the one place where they could talk with their student without fighting, without arguing about their hair,” Ms. Jago said.

But she also cautioned against penalizing students for something that their parents cannot or refuse to do.

“Common educational wisdom is that you don’t assign homework that kids can’t do on their own,” she said.

In fact, Mr. Frye has not penalized students whose parents have told him outright that they will not post responses. But in one case, when the parents neither did the homework nor explained why, a student did lose points — but not enough to lower the student’s overall grade, he said.

He said he got the idea for the homework assignments from a district kindergarten teacher he sat next to during teacher orientation one year, who asked parents to write about what their children had done over the weekend.

Experts say that while many elementary school teachers ask parents to write letters introducing their children at the beginning of the school year, few teachers subject parents to a weekly regimen of reading and writing.

Mr. Frye, 30, teaches 65 ninth graders, in three sections, in a classroom where student art and album covers from Stevie Wonder and John Coltrane decorate the walls. As part of the school district’s efforts to reduce the achievement gap between black and white students in this Essex County suburb — a topic Mr. Frye studied for his graduate thesis — every freshman, regardless of earlier performance in school, takes a world literature course, considered a high honors class, like his.

He said that all the students’ parents had computer access and that only two had told him that they were not fluent in English; one posts on the blog anyway, one sends her responses to him privately, by e-mail. Another parent phones responses in to him.

Tony Lopez, a corporate lawyer who posted a lengthy reaction to the Kennedy speech, given the day after the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was shot, said he was actually glad to do the weekly homework

“I take it as giving back to the teacher what he is apparently giving to our kids, a lot of attention and a lot of requirements,” Mr. Lopez said. He added that he had been impressed with Mr. Frye’s preparations for the class.

“As a family, we opted to meet him at least halfway,” he said.

Tracy Parsons, whose son Danny is the second of her two boys to be a student in Mr. Frye’s class, said that the weekly assignments had changed the way she approached homework with her children.

“In high school, to some degree you have to back off from homework, so they can gain independent learning skills,” Ms. Parsons said. But teenagers, she noted, “leave a lot out. You ask, ‘What’d you do in science?’ and they say, ‘It was fine.’”

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