When I mention, even to parents I’ve connected with who are unhappy with their children’s current homework load, that I’d like to see a no-homework policy adopted in our district for elementary school, I often get a response that that’s “extreme.”
Here’s what I don’t get: why is homework a given? Why has it become just the way it is? And why don’t more people question it? Even parents who watch their kids slog through it every day, miserable and missing out on other activities, even parents who grit their teeth through their kids’ daily homework themselves – even they, by and large, just accept it. School and homework go together like peanut butter and jelly. I think most people just can’t imagine school without homework because they’ve never, well, imagined it. And even though the homework situation has grown way more burdensome over the last generation (come on! Nobody in my age bracket was doing homework in early grade school! I don’t think I had regular homework until junior high; in fifth and sixth grade, my homework was not daily and consisted of special projects and book reports for the most part), I think we just accept it (though we bitch and moan about it) because we accept that the powers that be must know what they’re doing, and hey, it’s just the way it is.
In truth, aside from questioning the actual value of homework as a whole, I deeply resent just the principle of homework: the notion that the school – or anyone – has the right to dictate how any portion of my kids’ and my personal time is spent. It feels like a violation of some fundamental right. Doesn’t it? Imagine if when you got a job – any job – taking work home to do after your regular shift was over every day was expected – just a given. (I know some jobs are, in fact, like that; imagine if pretty much every job was like that.) Imagine if every boss said, “I know you’re putting in your eight hours every day, and giving your all, but you have to take this stack of work home with you and spend an hour working on it at home every day because we believe that it will help you be a better worker.” Imagine if we parents decided that we should have the right to dictate how an hour (or a half hour, or any increment of time) of our child’s school day was spent every day. “I’m sorry, Mr. Smith, I know this disrupts your classroom time, but I feel it is important for Johnny to take piano lessons every morning because it will help him to be a more well-rounded child.”
Ha. That seems extreme, doesn’t it?
But the fact that schools and districts and teachers can impose on family time after the school bell rings – well, that’s just the way it is, right?
I like what Alfie Kohn has to say about changing the homework default. The default should be no homework; homework should be assigned only under special circumstances – not universally, and not all the time. A no-homework policy would not be extreme; what is extreme is that homework is just a given, pretty much no matter what.