That’s right, I don’t believe in homework. Not until high school, and then I believe there needs to be a two-year guided course on time management and instruction on how to study effectively before juniors begin doing real work at home. Homework before high school is a colossal lost opportunity.
What is the point of elementary and middle school homework? To reinforce classroom lessons? To prepare children for the rigors of high school coursework? To teach time management and critical thinking skills? Or is it to pick up the slack for over-burdened and over-extended school curricula? Is it designed to deaden the spirit, or force heads-down conformity? Is homework the bi-product (or the secret agenda?) of a society unable to address the breakdown of the middle class?
Okay, this could go on forever, and there’s a lot of back-and-forth about the advantages and disadvantages. I’m not going to reinvent the wheel on this argument, the tubes of internets are teeming with the fury from both sides ditto sheet. What I’m here to say is I don’t believe in homework, but I do believe that time can still be used in constructive educational pursuits. Dig this.
First, we make education compulsory up to a certain age, right? We need to agree whether it’s the time or the education that’s compulsory, because if we’re just keeping kids off the streets, out of the military, and out of the factories then we can just extend the school day and give the kids more recess. If we’re serious about the educational aspects then we need to step up and stand behind that conviction and that means extending the school day and dumping homework. Your employer doesn’t send you away at 3 in the afternoon with a couple hours of work to do at home, on your time — unless they do, in which case you either better love what you do, get paid well for it, or get another job. There is no level playing field in education if students are spending upwards of one-third of their education unsupervised and off-campus. Parents and homes are wildly different in their ability to offer a student what they need, and to suggest that homework can be evenly applied outside of the school environment ignores this reality.
If we wish to keep our heads in the sand about the increased demands on educators and the amount of curricula they are expected to deliver then I guess we can continue to justify homework. Why not? Put the burden back onto the parents who have to supervise and enforce homework. That’s the road to a solid education.
How about some suggestions, something a little more positive?
Let’s use homework to guide and teach kids in subjects they aren’t learning in school. Use the time for educational enrichment that will help build a more rounded individual. Kids as young as third grade could begin to get lessons in philosophy, for example learning the basics. Teach the Socratic method with reinforced homework, lessons that can be used to tie into other subjects. Establish a fiscal management program that sets up in-school bank accounts that converts grades and homework credit into dollars that can be used to teach balancing a checkbook and paying mock bills… at home, just like mom and dad. Give kids a one-week after-school intensive in something technical like basic electronics and then send them home with kits to make a monthly project of their own design. Ditto computer programming, website design, digital photo manipulation. If music and the arts have been cut (or aren’t considered essential) there are many video/DVD lessons that could be sent home. A course in art history, film history, music history, can be a valuable component that doesn’t take up class time if its an additional subject learned at home. There are more, a lot more, I could spend all day coming up with ideas.
I’ve read in several places that free play has become one of the “lost” aspects of contemporary childhood. I know I had lots of free time as a kid to tear apart my bike and put it back together (after school bike clinic?) and I learned from that. I built a couple of what we called go-carts, what are probably better described as downhill racers, and more than a few of us built bike and skateboard ramps (woodworking?). I know kids who built plastic kit models, model rockets, you know, hobby stuff. There’s a lot to learn from all of this and t doesn’t need to be lost knowledge if it’s worked into homework.
We need to get beyond our narrow perceptions of what constitutes an education, what is considered valuable. One of the lasting effects of the Reagan Revolution’s Back To Basics movement in the 80s has been that we have reduced education to three subjects — reading, writing and arithmetic. This wasn’t a mistake, it was a conscious decision to reduce the nation into the most common denominator, a deliberate dumbing down of the nation’s citizenry. If education reform, if getting back to basics is truly important, if leaving no child behind is indeed to goal, then why do we even need homework?
Where are the studies that prove a correlation between homework and measurable, improved educational performance?
There aren’t any. Because no one is willing to set up a control group of students who receive no homework to serve as a baseline. That would be “wrong” to deliberately subject school children to the possibility of failure by denying them homework. Or… perhaps it would be too damning to have a control group perform as well as (or better than) a group loaded down with homework — imagine the chaos, the anarchy, the shock and horror of having to admit several decades of policy failure! No, there will always be people to bend the results and explain away the inconsistencies because that’s the kind of nation we are. No doubt, no mistakes, all bluster.
So every time you see or hear some school crowing about the rise in test scores and the increase in grades as a result of homework, you know you’re hearing the sound of someone who drank the homework kool-aid.
And don’t get me started about the electoral college.