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A recent informal survey conducted by my daughter’s teacher revealed:

I received 27 completed surveys.  22 were happy with the current homework, 3 families felt their child needed less homework, and 2 felt that they needed more homework in order to be sufficiently challenged.

I think these results are deceptive, or at least based on misconceptions.

First of all, what does it mean to be “happy” with the current homework?  I think it’s an extremely rare parent who actually derives any sense of happiness or even pleasure out of their kids’ homework. Even the kids who sit down after school and do their homework without complaint are not excited to do it; it’s something to be gotten through in order to move onto activities that involve actual pleasure.  And the parents who don’t mind the homework generally also see it as just a fact of life that has to be dealt with.

So let’s assume that “happy with” really means “don’t object to” the homework their child is bringing home.  This would only be based on the assumption that the homework is valuable in some way – that it’s worth doing, it’s worth the price of giving up family time or time that could be spent on other pursuits because the child is actually getting something beneficial out of it.

What if these parents discovered that the homework their kids are getting doesn’t actually have the value they think it does?  Even the famous Duke University Study carried out by Harris Cooper, a homework proponent, concludes that homework has little to no benefit at the elementary school level.  Even assuming it has some value in elementary school, shouldn’t that supposed value be so clear, convincing, and concrete as to outweigh the clear, convincing, and concrete negatives?

In other words, is the child gaining such an academic foothold from his or her homework, or having concepts reinforced to such a degree by his or her homework, or learning the values of responsibility, self-discipline, and all the other non-academic benefits touted by homework proponents so deeply from the mere act of doing his or her homework, that it outweighs the time sacrificed for things like unstructured and imaginative play, physical exercise, enriching extracurricular activities, reading for pleasure, or just hanging out with Mom and Dad or siblings or friends – all of which are just as important to every child’s development as academics?  And this is best-case scenario.  Do those supposed benefits of homework outweigh stress in children, conflict between parents and kids over homework, sacrifice of a sufficient amount of sleep for children, or resentment on kids’ part to such a degree that learning and school themselves become not things to be excited about, but things to dread?

I want to address another fairly popular argument in favor of homework made by parents, and that is that homework allows parents to see how their child is doing in school.  Schools also like to state that homework creates a link between school and home.  I would like to argue that there are certainly other ways to see how one’s child is doing in school that don’t involve bringing the classroom into the home:  looking at the child’s classwork that comes home is one way; checking in with the teacher about the child’s progress is another.  I understand that there are some parents who truly do appreciate the opportunity to sit down with their child and watch them work through assignments so they can see firsthand how their child is doing, and that’s great!  But not every parent feels that way; there are plenty of us who care very much about our children’s academic development who just don’t feel it necessary to actually watch our children do long division or ven diagrams.  So I don’t think that’s a valid argument that everyone should be held to.

As to the last part of the survey’s results – that some parents believe their children should have more homework in order to keep them sufficiently challenged.  When did challenging children get added to the list of hypothetical homework benefits?  I’ve never read in any article or study (and I’ve been reading plenty lately!) that homework is supposed to, or in fact does, serve to challenge students.  Homework is supposed to do a lot of things (all debatable), but it’s never been suggested that it’s supposed to create further opportunity for challenge for students who need more challenge.  What it really sounds like – and, granted, this is speculation on my part – is that these parents want something “constructive” with which to keep their kids busy.

In summary, I’m just not swayed by this survey.  Are you?

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