When my children explode through the door at 3:15 and open their backpacks and folders, I find my blood pressure rising. It’s not just the chaos of the afternoon, the recounting of the day, the voracious snack consumption, or strewn backpacks, shoes, and coats. It’s the homework. I’ll admit it—I am a conscientious objector when it comes to homework. I have had more than a few conversations in which I have questioned the educational value of the assigned work, if not questioned the practice as a whole. My kindergartner, after being gone a full day, comes home with a page every night. My fifth-grader’s folder usually runs in excess of five to six pages, sometimes up to ten. Which might include, say, mapping all of contemporary Central America, as well as all the major cities and landforms of the ancient Mayan, Incan, and Aztec Empires—and that’s only a portion of a single night’s work. It takes at least an hour for him to do homework, and that doesn’t include his mandatory fifteen minutes of trombone practice for band or silent reading time. I know this isn’t the worst of it; we aren’t even to the high school or middle school years yet.
I am troubled by this trend. With degrees in education and child development, I am disturbed by this disconnect between theory and practice. In fact, I regularly have to talk myself out of marching into the office for a polite, albeit well-argued, factually supported, educational smack down. Children, especially young children, need to be exploring; they need outside time, they need play time, and they need to develop social skills, not spend one more hour with a pencil in their hand or flashcards. When questioned about the homework, principals and teachers say, “Well they need to develop the habit early,” or “The parents expect it.” Really? At five? The research does not support this and is considered, at best, to be mixed on homework as a whole. Policy seems to be more driven by popular opinion and myths rather than fact.
Did my generation seem unable to handle homework when the time came to have it? I didn’t do homework until high school, and even then it was minimal: I did some studying for AP classes, some math problems, a few book reports or projects, but I didn’t have a steady flow of daily hours of busy work. And I managed just fine in school and the real world.
What troubles me is that I don’t see any benefit in it for our children. I do not think they are smarter, or happier, or more creative for it. Homework just seems to be a hassle for everyone—the kids, the parents, and the teachers. It just adds stress and headaches all around. It often feels like schools are trying to copy other cultural models of education, instead of admitting that busy work and skill and drill are not the answers.
I have been on the other side of the desk, so I can appreciate how caught between a rock and a hard place teachers are. I struggled to teach students in a predominantly low socio-economic rural area, some of whom had caregivers who were not literate. Our schools are expected to meet unrealistic demands and performance measures, but I wonder what the long-term consequences of these changes in education will be.
What trends have you seen in homework? What was your experience in school? If you are a parent, have you stood up to the homework issue or other educational issues? Am I alone or have you had it as well?