Guest Blogger: The Importance of Getting a Break

Today’s guest blogger is Kate McReynolds, a child clinical psychologist who is currently the Assistant Editor of Encounter: Education for Meaning and Social Justice. I met Kate while working on The Case Against Homework and, whenever I get the opportunity to talk to her, or read her writing, I feel lucky to spend time with her. Here, she explains why vacations are so critical.

The Importance of Getting a Break
by Kate McReynolds

With the end of the school year, over 50 million American children are looking forward to summer vacation. But for most children, the school year never really ends. Summer homework assignments, internships, and summer school (including voluntary programs) mean that most children will be taking a working vacation. Many educators and politicians, especially those who support the current “standards movement,� maintain that homework, including summer homework, is vital to the academic success of our children. But is it? More importantly, is it good for children’s overall development?

The Development of the Whole Child

Academic mastery is one of the many developmental needs of children. They also need to develop social and emotional skills, self-control, problem solving abilities, self-confidence, creative and imaginative capacities, values and morals, a hopeful vision of the future, and a strong sense of self. Too exclusive a focus on school work deprives children of the activities they need to develop these other important capacities. In other words, excessive homework might help youngsters do better in school (although there is reason to believe that it works against learning), but it makes it hard for them to develop what they need to do better in life. To develop fully, children need time to play, time for self-directed activities, time to socialize with friends and neighbors, and time in nature. Children need time with their families too, relaxed time that is not fraught with homework battles. And they need time to dream and to wonder, time to imagine who they are and what they can become. Teenagers especially benefit from free time with their friends and unscheduled time to think, to dream, and to ponder their futures.

How Summer Homework Hurts Academic Growth

Not only can summer homework hinder children’s full development, it can hurt their academic development. Everyone needs a break from their work, especially children. A real vacation, without even the thought of work hanging over one’s head, provides time to rest and recuperate. Vacations restore children’s spirits, renew their energy, and revitalize their enthusiasm for school. But real vacations do even more. They give children’s brains and minds vital time to consolidate and integrate new knowledge. When children have the opportunity to turn their attention away from their studies, for an afternoon or for the summer, new knowledge can “sink in� and become a permanent part of the child’s mind. Youngsters are then ready to take in more. Imagine a sponge that’s completely full of water. If we want it to absorb anymore, we have to make room for it.
Summer without homework will help our children, emotionally, socially, and academically. And it will add to their happiness.

8 Comments on “Guest Blogger: The Importance of Getting a Break”

  1. Maarten says:

    I think this is a bit sensationalist. A good cross-cultural study is needed. Many countries’ education systems assign significantly more homework than does the American system. And those children generally outperform their American counterparts on standardized tests, display higher levels of social capital, and are generally in better shape than American kids. I’m afraid the problem is a bit more complex and culturally sensitive.

    May 29th, 2007 at 12:53 pm
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  2. Joe says:

    Actually, if you’d read the book you’d know that many countries that give more homework than in the US get lower scores on standardized tests, and many countries that outscore the US give less homework.

    May 29th, 2007 at 2:21 pm
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  3. Steve says:

    Although I am not a huge fan of mind crushing homework, I am dismayed at the lack of professionalism in your comment. Don’t get me wrong — I can enjoy an opinion, but not an ignorant one.

    Your commentary lacks the appropriate backing of peer-reviewed educational and psychological journals. There are no citations, no references, and above all, no analysis/syntheses supporting your claims. This degrades your work to rhetoric/propaganda (ref: Walton — Informal Logic) and mere opinion.

    If you want your work and ideas to be seriously considered by an educational community, you need to learn how to write as an academic, present your argument, highlight evidence, and be able ethically consider all positions on the topic. Otherwise, your work on this blog will remain a sensational and conjecture.

    But maybe that is your point — which is ill-formed and uninformed. I guess it sells books — how sad. Perhaps this is an example of unethical conduct rooted in intellectual dishonesty?

    Steve
    (Former Professor of Theoretical Physics)

    May 29th, 2007 at 7:03 pm
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  4. Jennifer Smith says:

    Joe: If you’d actually read the studies, you’ll see the book misrepresents reality.

    May 29th, 2007 at 9:02 pm
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  5. Amanda Cockshutt says:

    I’ve read “the book” and many of the actual studies cited, and I don’t find that the book misrepresents reality at all.

    You will find if you dig into educational research much of it remains unpublished and suffers from terrible experimental design.

    The 2006 meta analysis review by Harris Cooper clearly shows that there is no correlation between time spent on homework and academic achievement for elementary school students. Period end of sentence.

    May 30th, 2007 at 12:43 pm
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  6. Steve Olson says:

    I haven’t read the book or the studies and I know something from experience…

    The more homework you give my child the less likely we are going to stay in your school. I will spend my evenings teaching and learning things with my child… things we think are important. I will not allow the school to take away my time with my children. They have no right to invade our personal time, so I will not allow it.

    Homework is an intrusion into our personal time. If you want it covered, do it on your time, I’ll cover what I want on my time.

    Too harsh? How would you like it if I sent my child to your classroom with a bunch of tasks we couldn’t finish in our time at home? Maybe the laundry or a bicycle repair? What would you think if I sent him to school with a book we didn’t have time to finish the night before so he could finish it during class?

    Think about it… homework is an invasion of privacy and individual liberty (when done involuntarily).

    May 30th, 2007 at 9:48 pm
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  7. Kate McReynolds says:

    A lively debate is a wonderful thing. I want to respond to some of the comments. Maarteen brings up the subject of cross-cultural/international variations in student achievement, suggesting that educational systems in other countries are assigning more homework than the US and getting better results. In fact, the empirical evidence shows that on factors such as academic achievement, socio-economic status, and the happiness and well-being of children, countries that assign less homework, and that safe-guard children’s free time and relaxation, score higher on all measured variables. (For more information on this, and related topics see my article – ‘Homework” – Encounter: Education for Meaning and Social Justice 18 (4): 7-10. Summer (2005), and check out Amnesty International at amnestyusa.org, and Children’s Defense Fund at childrensdefense.org). But the point is well taken. Educational policies must honor the cultural traditions of the community in question. In my view, the “standards movement,” as promulgated by the No Child Left Behind Act, undermines our country’s democratic values. Homework, under NCLB, is not only bad for children, it constitutes an expansion of governmental powers that intrudes, unnecessarily and undemocratically, into private life. Public school is a good thing and uniquely American. But when the Federal Government controls local public school, when it overtakes family life, and when it becomes privatized, it is out of line with our culture and our fundamental values.

    Steve (former professor) is concerned that my comments are “mere opinion” – that without reference to peer reviewed educational and psychological journals, they are even “ignorant” opinions. Let me propose that opinions, even ignorant opinions, play a vital role in democratic dialogue. Blogs have, in part, taken the place of various community centers where democratic citizens discuss current events and share their opinions. My blog entry about summer homework is my opinion, as Steve’s response is his opinion. For some of my peer reviewed, referenced opinions and essays go to great-ideas.org and click on Encounter: Education for Meaning and Social Justice. But in the mania for evidence based knowledge I hope we don’t lose sight of the fact that, in most contexts, personal experience, education, passion, reflection, wisdom, intuition, and expertise are all valid sources of knowledge

    May 31st, 2007 at 9:53 am
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  8. Sue says:

    Just as most Chinese students,when i was in junior and senior shcool,i was assigned lots of homework everyday and every vocation.Actually i hated it.I did not finish it untill it ended the deadline.That means working till midnight and bad performce. In my class, almost everyone did like that.What the importance of homework?It just makes us more tired and bring bad habit us.

    March 22nd, 2008 at 11:10 pm
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