This article is an editorial based upon the author’s experience.
I’ve been reading with great interest the current debate about the usefulness of homework. As with most debates, the issues have become polarized and both sides resort to hyperbole in order to make a point. On the one side are those who argue that homework puts too much stress on families, takes too much time away from other more useful activities, destroys creativity, and isn’t very helpful anyway. On the other are those who argue that homework reinforces lessons presented in school, helps students prepare for class, and provides useful repetition so that concepts won’t be forgotten.
As with most debates, there’s some truth to all of it. Homework can indeed provide preparation, practice, and reinforcement for lessons. Homework can help kids learn important life skills like organization, time management, and how to use resources. It’s also true that homework can be busy work, a reinforcer of mistakes, and stressful. Continual failure with homework, like continual failure during school hours, lowers self-esteem and makes it less and less likely that a kid will be successful. When homework becomes a nightly battle, it can damage parent-child relationships.
The questions concerning how much homework should be required at what age, concerns about quality, and issues around effective parent involvement can be adequately responded to by taking credible research seriously, training teachers to design homework wisely and well, and developing home-school partnerships that give parents the skills they need to be good homework helpers Once we institute sensible homework guidelines, though, we get to a much more difficult and painful issue. Managing homework comes down to whether the kid’s home can provide the atmosphere and support for the work.
Middle- and upper-class families are likely to spend time helping with homework; structuring homework time, providing space, materials, computers, and encyclopedias; insisting on correcting it, and contacting teachers when there are problems. These families are the same families who are able to provide supplementary educational experiences like summer camps, family vacations and travel, and Saturday outings to the museums. These families generally live in areas where schools are good to excellent anyway.
Parents who are struggling to make it financially, parents who are struggling with mental illness or addictions, parents who live in fear of domestic or neighborhood violence, don’t have the emotional space to make homework a priority. Their kids are pretty much on their own. Financial limitations are just that, limitations. Families living in poverty aren’t able to afford a computer or getting connected. Unless they happen on camp scholarships and special programs, their kids aren’t going to be spending vacations and Saturdays anywhere but at home and in front of a TV or on the streets. Often they live in school districts that are under-funded and in which teachers are stretched to their limits.
There are exceptions, of course. Some parents in well-to-do families neglect their kids or try to buy the help and support they themselves should provide. Some parents from impossibly impoverished situations none the less find the personal energy and psychological strength to champion their kids’ schooling. However, exceptions are, after all, exceptions. Generally kids are sent down the path of school achievement or school difficulty from an early age. That path is largely determined by the ability of their parents to provide them with support. Economic status doesn’t have everything to do with it but certainly is a major contributing factor.
Until we as a culture decide to look boldly and honestly at how inequalities in class are connected with academic achievement, until we are willing to match our ideals about equal education for all with our money, there will be lots of kids who will never have the opportunity to reach their potential. We may not be able to solve all the inequities of class but we can provide more support for school success to the kids who need it. By keeping schools open and staffed many more hours each week, we can make sure that every child has the opportunity to get extra help and enrichment from caring adults. The school library and plenty of computers need to be available after school, during the evening, and on Saturdays. Equally important, there needs to be sufficient qualified staff available to provide practical help and to take personal interest in the kids doing well.
It’s unrealistic and unfair to expect overwhelmed parents to continue the work of school at home. My vote is to pay attention to the research, drop homework entirely from elementary schools, and instead focus on providing young children who need it with after school help as well as enrichment experiences. For middle and high school aged kids, institute school-based help time outside of normal school hours as an option for getting homework done and done well. Then all of our students will have a much more equal opportunity for success in school and in life.
Some Reasons Why Kids Should Have Less Homework
There’s no secret that the education system is very competitive. Like the child’s first steps or first utterance of the words momma or dadda, a child’s first day of school is a life changing event. children have an easy time at the beginning of their academic life and begin to catch on slowly. A daily routine begins to form and thus begins the next decade and a half of learning.
Parents get wrapped up in the routine and it doesn’t take long for them to accept that as normal. Within it are daily studies that the student takes home to complete for a grade and now the pressure is on to do well. At this point it doesn’t matter how much work the kid has, the more of it the better. There is a fringe view that says kids should have less homework. Here are the reasons why that would be something to consider.
What Homework Impacts/Produces
The schools are very aware of the impact homework has on children and family lives. This is why they’ve created programs that help get the child through those humps with tutors, counselors and even extending school semesters, all with the purpose to encourage more homework. Here is what more homework impacts and even an example of the results it can produce.
- Family Time
- Too Much Pressure
A parent has a busy schedule until their child catches up with them. Being able to form a different schedule around each other can be stressful. Homework is like the extension of school where it is no longer kept out of family time. It’s like a imposter in the child’s life.
Is the idea to produce workers for the state or produce well-rounded individuals? Spending more time with family would produce the latter, which eases the child into taking life more seriously and learning more valuable life lessons with the family than through the pressure of producing ‘machines.’
Too Much Pressure
Children have a lot to learn about life, even going on into the rest of their lives but even more so at an early age. The pressure brought onto kids about completing homework is often too much and not measured by the student so much as by the competition. Keeping these things at a competitive level is disproportionate to what the student can handle, often resulting in behavioral problems with the school and the family.
More homework doesn’t always have the result the people who give it expect. More homework might entice the student to take shortcuts in their study and get by through cheating to spend more time doing the things they want to do, being a kid.
Many schools under parental pressure, are weighing in for less homework on their kids. It’s even gotten to the point where laws are being considered to support this option as there are also special schools that have moved on with a ‘no homework’ model. As the mindset begins to change, the system which produces students who achieve will change too.