The truth is, my kids’ homework has been a thorn in my side for years. My oldest son attended a private school through the second grade, and was not assigned homework until the second grade. I was floored when my second, Joey, started (public) kindergarten and began bringing homework home – kindergarten! It’s only gotten worse as more of my children have entered the school population. While my oldest son has resigned himself to his homework load after years of being subjected to it, the younger ones struggle against it. They whine, they cry, they complain, they dawdle. My role in the afternoons has been reduced to Homework Taskmaster; I reason with them, I bribe, I threaten, I nag, I yell, and sometimes I cry right along with them. Our entire afternoon revolves around homework. I am deeply resentful of this dynamic that has been foisted on us. Why are we doing this? Why must they – we – be subjected to this? Is it accomplishing anything positive? Do the undeniable negatives outweigh those supposed positives?
Every time I’ve complained or brought my concerns to my kids’ teachers, I’ve been met with resistance. Never sympathy, never an attitude of “Let’s figure out what the problem is and try to work it out.” Always instead, some variation of “Homework is a fact of life, so get used to it.” I’ve been told that the problem is my kids, or that the problem lies with me – never that the actual homework is the problem, or the policies that generate the homework.
It all finally came to a head a couple weeks ago. I was sitting with my first-grader at the kitchen table after school as she slogged through her worksheets, complaining. “You just have to do it, Lilah,” I said. “Focus. Just get it done.” Finally she just broke down sobbing. “I’m tired, Mommy!” she wailed. I was struck, in that moment, how insane this whole situation is. She is six years old. Why is she being put through this? I calmly reached for her homework packet and said, “You know what? You’re done for today. You did enough. No more.” She cried even harder. “But Mommy! If I don’t finish it, I won’t get recess!” I felt a stab of anger; do they really get recess taken away for not completing their homework? “Yes you will, Lilah. You’ll get recess. I’m going to write a note to your teacher.” And I did.
Therein started my quest to get our local homework policy changed. The policy our District currently has in place is ambiguous at best, and unreasonable at worst. There seems to be quite a lot of disagreement over whether the policy mandates that the teachers in our district assign homework, or whether the assigning of homework is discretionary. Many of the teachers believe that they are required to assign homework (and despite my daughter’s first-grade teacher assuring me that recess is not taken away for unfinished homework, rumors of this unwritten policy persist as to various teachers). My own inquiry to the District resulted in the response by one Board member that teachers are “expected” to assign homework, and by another that it is discretionary.
In any case, the time guidelines outlined by our District’s policy are both unclear and unreasonable, and the District bases its entire policy on unsubstantiated claims that “homework contributes toward building responsibility, self-discipline and life-long learning habits, and that time spent on homework directly influences students’ ability to meet the District’s academic standards.” This statement has been refuted, point by point, by various studies which have concluded that there is no tangible benefit to homework for elementary school students, and only a slight benefit at the junior high school level. As far as homework supposedly instilling non-academic character traits like responsibility and self-discipline in our children, not only does reality not bear that out, but who is the District to say that we parents aren’t capable of choosing our own methods by which to instill those traits in our children?
Something’s got to give. The fact is, I bristle at the notion that the school has my children for 6 ½ hours a day and then sees fit to impose on our family time and dictate how a considerable chunk of our time at home must be spent. If that were to be justified, then some very concrete, tangible benefit would need to be demonstrated, and I’m just not seeing it. Neither does current research support the notion that homework is beneficial. The one study that homework proponents like to fall back on is a study published in 2006 by Duke University which found a slight correlation between homework and achievement – “achievement” defined as test scores. There is no research out there, however, that shows that homework instills critical thinking skills, inquisitiveness, curiosity, or creativity, nothing that shows that homework fosters a love of learning – in fact, there is no study that shows that homework improves actual intellectual learning at all. And the downside of homework is undeniable: stressed-out children, an adversarial dynamic between parents and children, less (or no) time for unstructured play or extracurricular activities, and worst of all, children who develop a distinct dislike for school and who are not excited about learning. I can personally attest to all of this, and I have no doubt that many, many other families can as well.
I want change in our district. Follow me to see where this goes. Maybe you can effect change in your district, too.