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End the tyranny of homework!

By Alan Caruba
web posted September 11, 2006

I do not recall doing much homework when I was growing up. Most certainly, I was not burdened with it in elementary school. It probably began in what is now called Middle School grades. I do recall wondering, after having spent the better part of the day in school, why the teachers thought that additional study at home would have any benefit?

To put it another way, if a teacher is unable to impart the basic knowledge required of a student during the many hours he spends in the classroom, why expect that same student to acquire that knowledge independently and, presumably, on his own time? Why must parents be pressed into service to do the teacher's job? Why must otherwise good time spent with one's family or just being a kid be wasted on the rigors of homework?

Did it build character? No. Did it help me to learn "time management" techniques? No. Did it develop in me a burning desire to learn more? No.

By contrast, during my teenage years, I became a professional magician, earning scads of money entertaining at birthday parties and other events. I learned to be confident in front of an audience of any age. It taught me to be skeptical of other kinds of "magicians" offering up reports, surveys, and polls purporting to support some harebrained notion or other.

Someday, perhaps, grateful generations of students will erect statues of Aflie Kohn on the campuses of their schools. Who is Alfie Kohn, you ask? He is the author of The Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad Thing. ($24.00, Da Capo Press)

Suffice it to say, I am going to share the central message of his book with you because it happens to have answered many of the questions asked above. It answers the questions that parents across this fruited plain called America continue to ask teachers and school administrators without ever getting a decent, honest answer.

Indeed, anyone witnessing tiny tots and older students trudging to school, stooped over with backpacks filled with the previous day's homework assignments, must surely wonder why whole generations of Americans went to school without once wearing a backpack? There was homework, but it was never the burden that it is today.

As Kohn notes, the mystery surrounding homework "deepens in light of the fact that widespread assumptions about the benefits of homework—higher achievement and the promotion of such virtues as self-discipline and responsibility—aren't substantiated by the available evidence."  That's right. The author poured through countless studies of homework and concluded that it serves no purpose whatever.

What is evident, however, is "The most striking trend regarding homework in the past two decades is the tendency to pile more and more of it on younger and younger children." Those of us who have examined the education establishment since the 1960s have long concluded it is utterly failing the students passing through government schools. Loading up kids with after-school work is simply proof of that failure.

Kohn notes five significant aspects of homework and why it is a bad thing.

(1) It puts a burden on parents. In many cases, both parents work and, after a full day on the job, why should they and their children then have to deal with still more work?

(2) It is responsible for a lot of stress in the lives of children by simultaneously overwhelming the struggling student and removing the joy of learning for high achievers.

(3) Homework is frequently the cause of family conflict. Specifically the nagging to which parents must resort followed by the whining of the child. This affects the parent-child relationship negatively, as do the tensions that arise when kids try to work with parents on homework. After a full day at school, home should be a place to unwind, to engage in hobbies, to play, to be a kid!

(4) There is less time for other activities. "There is less opportunity to read for pleasure, make friends and socialize with them, get some exercise, get some rest, or just be a child." The freedom to "do nothing" is very important to children and, in my case, an adult.

(5) Perhaps most important of all, one of homework's worst adverse affects is to dull a love of learning. If learning something is always "work" than learning anything takes on the same connotation. This is why most kids hate homework. Learning is what they are required to do in school. Why can't their home be free of the tentacles and burdens of school?

Kohn's book, a densely documented look at the realities of homework clearly demonstrates that all the things we are told about it or believe about it are wrong. There are laws against child labor in America that were, when enacted, considered quite progressive. There is no law against homework. There ought to be! ESR

Alan Caruba writes a weekly column, "Warning Signs", posted on the Internet site of The National Anxiety Center. His new book, "Right Answers: Separating Fact from Fantasy", has just been published by Merril Press. © Alan Caruba, 2006




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