Guest Blogger: Homework In College Isn’t Useful

Today’s guest blogger is Dorian Davis, the managing editor of Republican Spectacular, who interviewed me for his online journal. During the interview, we began talking about homework at the college level–something I haven’t researched–and I invited him to write an entry. Dorian teaches at Fashion Institute of Technology, is a guest commentor on MTV’s pop culture series MTV Hits, and a graduate student at the School of Journalism at the City University of New York. He has researched and developed a political documentary for MTV, and contributed to a special for LOGO.

Here’s what he has to say:

Is homework useful in college?

By Dorian Davis

No.

Not really.

Let me clarify that:

The college environment is very different from elementary school, and middle school, and high school. In college, we are not prisoners of the standardized test. So, we can meander away from our prepared curriculum, and stumble back into it, whenever we want. In college, we have the freedom to make learning fun. But we rarely do. Instead, we assign readings, and readings, and readings, and readings, and readings, and readings and readings. So, the biggest nuisance in college is arbitrary reading.

Reading should happen this way:

STUDENT: “I’m interested in X.”
TEACHER: “Oh, you like X? You should read Y.”

Instead, it happens this way:

STUDENT: “I’m interested in X.”
TEACHER: “Oh, you like X? It’s not in the curriculum. Read Z.”

Who are we kidding? This student is never going to read Z. So, why not point him in the direction of something interesting?

Once, as a writing coach at FIT, I asked my students to bring in a book that interested them and that inspired them to write. My plan was to let them read their books during the course of the semester and watch as they began to assume the phrasing and the writing styles of the authors they read. One student picked a book about website design and HTML. I refused to let him read it! Why? I have no idea. His book on website design seemed too unsophisticated. I was very misguided. What a snob! HTML is useful. Instead, I made him read The Scarlet Letter. Why? I suppose that, in my defense, it’s about fashion in a matter of speaking, and I taught at a fashion school, but it was utterly irrelevant to his life!

My mistake with this student and his HTML book is a good example of what happens when teachers teach to their own interests, or to their own midterm, instead of teaching to their own class. The best part of working with college students is that they generally have the maturity and the sophistication to apply what they learn in class to their own pursuits. Too often, we can pevent that kind of synergy by monopolizing their free time with meaningless work, such as my self-indulgent requirement that a computer science student read Nathaniel Hawthorne.

My advice:

Work hard in the classroom.

Read. Write. Quiz. Test.

Put your students through Boot Camp.

Then, when the bell rings, stop.

Let the students go.

After all, class is a conversation.

It’s useful.

But homework is not.

Homework forces a student to sit in a remote corner of his own house, or in his own dorm room, with his face buried in text books, watching as the sun goes down, and the clock spins around, and his whole evening evaporates. He is not having a conversation. He is talking to himself.

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