Friday, December 21, 2007
Do Schools Use Homework for Social Control?
Isn't six hours of boredom plus a long bus ride enough school for one day? Isn't thirty hours plus six hours on a bus enough for a week, every week? When a child is required to do a lot more of the same uninteresting stuff every night as homework, I say it is required for reasons other than educational.
School systems have decided that homework is a good thing, regardless of its content, saying: "We are going to give children homework every day, and later on we'll figure out what to make them do." The prescribed amount depends on the grade, but it begins in kindergarten with ten minutes per night, and adds ten minutes for each grade until in high school kids are doing two or more hours per night. But is it worth the nagging, the family conflict and the exhaustion? I say No, there is no advantage.
Who makes such bad rules? Why do some parents demand it? Schools across America are doing this even though there is virtually no research that says there is a link between homework and achievement in the elementary schools, while there is evidence that homework can actually lower achievement. Alfie Kohn, longtime education activist writes: "No study has ever demonstrated an academic advantage for homework at the elementary school level," and at the high school level, "there is no proof that homework has ever led to higher scores." (from Kohn's book, "The Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad Thing.")
The usual argument says that homework "reinforces" what is taught during the day. Yet, in many instances, schools expect the parents to do much of the teaching, because the teachers are simply too busy with discipline, or checking homework or other details and do not have the time to actually teach the material. At worst, the teachers simply don't know the material themselves, and are leaning on the parents for help.
Kohn: "Homework isn't merely pointless, it actually undermines children's interest in learning." He adds, "The homework that is being sent home is no better than kids watching TV." At least with TV, they get to learn something new.
"What is behind the schools' push for homework? Social control. Homework keeps the entire family focused on school. It acts to sell school--an artificial life--while undermining a robust family life or a child's own real interests. Thus, homework has a political element, seeking to monopolize the time of families and, of course, the children, even in their homes. Let's stop believing that homework involves learning. It is busywork whose goal is to occupy your child's time, denying them real lives. Parents need to encourage children to find their own ways of spending their time away from school. Let them find hobbies and creative pursuits instead of the drudgery of worksheets of math problems or diagramming sentences or other time-wasting. Kids need a real life, not a synthetic one.
The families might ask the school board to eliminate homework just one day each week - say Wednesdays -- so that children and families can use those evenings for activities apart from school concerns.
Schools often mention that they are preparing children for what they call, a "global competition." And yet, Kohn says that there's a movement in Japan to eliminate homework for elementary grades because it makes them unnecessarily competitive.
Bottom line: The effect of homework is that kids are turned off learning. Homework should be assigned, if at all, on the basis of the importance of the work, not because someone has decided to keep kids busy on worksheets when they might otherwise have real lives. Homework for the sake of keeping kids busy during their home time is a bad idea. Kohn says: "There is no basis in fact for the view that homework is necessary or desirable." Let those who set the homework policy provide research that backs their views. Otherwise, let homework be optional.
Ned Vare is an architectural designer and author; former private school teacher, businessman, and elected official.