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I hate homework

January 12, 2010

It’s true. I may not be in school anymore, but I hate it nonetheless.

Every day when the kids get home from school, Mira (8th grade) spreads her books, papers, and binders all over the bar in the kitchen so that she can do her work while I cook dinner. Then, she proceeds to spend the next few hours working through assignment after assignment.

Meanwhile, Chiara (4th grade) has nightly assignments. She has math worksheets and reading logs. Projects. Cursive practice. And a minimum of 30 minutes of reading a night.

I ask you, considering the fact that the older kids get home at 5:30…and need to go to bed around 9:30….where does that leave any time for family? Tonight, Mira spent at least 4 hours on a project, and will have to get up early to finish coloring it. And it isn’t as though she waited until the last minute, either. She’d already done a bunch of research and write ups about her topic, which was epilepsy.

She ate her dinner while working on her project.

She needed constant assistance from me while working on her project.

Meanwhile, there’s dinner to cook (thankfully, Chris is home this week, a rarity, so he did dinner while I helped Mira figure out how to organize her facts)…a five-year old bouncing off the walls…another kid with, you guessed it, homework to do. Homework that she needed help on.

I suppose I should be grateful that Soren (9th grade) rarely brings anything home. That, however, is only because he has an IEP in school and thus was assigned to an academic lab class, in which he does his daily assignments and gets one on one teacher assistance.

But if he doesn’t qualify for an IEP again next year, that work will all come home. And then I will have to somehow figure out how to feed the kids, calm and occupy the small tyrant, quiz Chiara on her multiplication tables, go through her backpack, help her with her math worksheets, assist Mira with whatever, PLUS help Soren find a space where he can focus and assist with math I do not understand any longer (not to mention offer help with French, English, History, Science, etc…on any given night).

I am one person, and I’m sorry…but when do we get to be a family? Just on weekends? That isn’t okay with me.

Plus the stress I see in the kids just kills me. It’s too early for them to start running the rat race. They’re too young to be Type As. Mira, however, is well on her way there. At this pace, I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if she’s an ulcer candidate before too long.

Lastly, I can’t help but wonder why there’s such a push for homework in an age when more and more working adults are drawing boundaries for themselves, and choosing to leave work at work. Experts on human behavior warn against the stress of working too much, yet that is exactly what our kids’ schools are expecting of them.

I’m tired of it and plan to talk with Mira’s adviser about it in parent/teacher conferences soon.

Meanwhile, I offer support as I can. Encouragement whenever appropriate. And perspective…for myself and for them. The best I can do right now.

One of my favorite experts on the subject is Alfie Kohn. He’s written extensively on parenting, and has a few things to say about homework. Here’s an article I just found on his website. See what YOU think.

Kids May Be Right After All: Homework Stinks
By Alfie Kohn

With the start of a new school year, students once again are shifting impatiently in their seats, working their way through an endless pile of worksheets.

And that’s after they come home.

A new study confirms what kids and parents already know: The “tougher standards” fad that has American education in its grip has meant more and more homework for younger and younger children.

Several years ago, we learned that the proportion of 6- to 8-year- olds who reported having homework on a given day had climbed from 34% in 1981 to 58% in 1997, and that the weekly time spent studying more than doubled during the same period.

Last month, professor Sandra Hofferth at the University of Maryland released an update to that study. Now, the proportion of young children who had homework on a specific day jumped to 64%, and the amount of time they spent on it climbed by another third. Homework rates for 6- to 8-year-olds are now virtually equivalent to those for 9- to 12-year-olds. And let’s not even talk about the high school workload.

What the research shows about the growing burden of homework is disconcerting. Equally important, however, is what the research doesn’t show: namely, that homework is necessary or beneficial. We know all about the stress and exhaustion, the family conflict and loss of time for other activities. (“Our kids are missing out on their childhoods,” one Mom laments.) But we reassure ourselves that it’s all worth it because homework raises achievement, teaches independence and good work habits, helps them to become more successful learners.

Remarkably, however, the data to support those beliefs just don’t exist:

* There is no evidence that homework provides any benefits in elementary school. Even if you regard standardized test results as a useful measure (which I don’t), homework isn’t even associated with higher scores at this age. The only effect that does show up is more negative attitudes on the part of students who get more assignments.

* In high school, some studies do find a correlation between homework and test scores (or grades), but it’s usually fairly small and it has a tendency to disappear when more sophisticated statistical controls are applied. Moreover, there’s no evidence that higher achievement is due to the homework even when an association does appear.

* International comparisons offer no reassurance. In describing the results of their analysis of student performance across 50 countries, which was published last year, Pennsylvania State University researchers David Baker and Gerald Letendre said: “Not only did we fail to find any positive relationships,” but “the overall correlations between national average student achievement and national averages in [amount of homework assigned] . . . are all negative.”

* Finally, not a single study has ever supported the claim that homework teaches good work habits or develops positive character traits such as self-discipline and independence. These assumptions could be described as urban myths except for the fact that they’re still taken seriously in suburban and rural areas, too.

In short, the research provides no reason to think that students would be at any sort of disadvantage if they got much less homework – or maybe even none at all. And the accounts I’ve heard from teachers and schools that have abolished after-school assignments, yet whose students are succeeding brilliantly (while maintaining their enthusiasm about learning) offer evidence of a different sort.

Yet these schools are in the minority, to say the least. As a rule, homework is assigned not merely on those occasions when the teacher really believes it might help, but on a regular schedule that’s been determined ahead of time. And the homework load is growing fastest for younger children, which is precisely where the supporting evidence isn’t just shaky – it’s nonexistent.

It’s time for us to stop taking the value, and existence, of homework for granted. Rather than confining ourselves to peripheral questions – “What types of binders should kids have?” “Is x minutes enough time for this assignment?” – we should ask what really matters: Is the kind of homework our kids are getting worth doing in any amount? What evidence exists to show that daily homework is necessary for children to become better thinkers or more engaged learners?

And: What if, after spending six or seven hours a day at school, we let them have their afternoons and evenings just to be kids?

Copyright © 2006 by Alfie Kohn. This article may be downloaded, reproduced, and distributed without permission as long as each copy includes this notice along with citation information (i.e., name of the periodical in which it originally appeared, date of publication, and author’s name). Permission must be obtained in order to reprint this article in a published work or in order to offer it for sale in any form. Please write to the address indicated on the Contact Us page.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Tish Hicks permalink
    January 12, 2010 4:22 am

    Hey Ana

    My bro in Chicago, a former Santa fe-an, forwarded this to me as of interest.

    We live just outside of Los Angeles and just swtiched from “the really good public schools” in Burbank for a relatively young, but very forward thinking Charter school called Los Feliz Charter School for the Arts that embraces Alfie Cohen’s philosophy of no homework. It has made a tremendous difference in our lives. Our seven year old has gone from me about to take him to the psychologist because he was saying things that lead me to believe he was depressed to joyously asking everyday when we can play baseball in the open space across the street as he is going to be a pro baseball player, or can build a cat hotel for our kitties, or go to the art museum, or sit and read a book or draw or play with his friends because we don’t have to have the daily confrontation about homework.

    You are on to something. When I visited his first/second grade split class last year, I said to myself he might as well get an office job right now with the rhythm of this day.

    While I do wonder how the transition to the world where people expect you to deal with doing the “workload” might be, right now I know he is happy again and we have a much more flowing time at home. And we’ve only got two:)

    If you’d like to know more about Los Feliz Charter School, check out the site http://www.losfelizsarts.org. One of the missions of the school is to become a model for what public education in the 21st century can be. Would love to start a discussion outside of LA about our very becoming efforts!

    Good luck with the workload! Sounds like you have some cool kids and they have a cool mom!

    Love and light
    Tish Hicks
    Burbank, CA

    • ana june permalink
      January 12, 2010 9:20 am

      Hi Tish, thanks for writing! I so wish we had such a school here. As it is, my kids go to one of the more progressive charter schools. They have a garden, study emotional intelligence, do yoga, serve healthy organic food in the cafeteria…but the homework load is staggering, and I am about to try taking that on. It just isn’t healthy. I’d love to know more about your school. It sounds amazing. Your description of how your son turned around emotionally in a no-homework model is encouraging to me. I’ll go take a look at the link. Thanks so much!

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