A few weeks ago, the Boston Globe ran a piece, Homework Hell. Here’s the letter, heavily edited, that the Globe published on Sunday in response:
Beth Teitell’s article “Homework Hell” (May 2) provided an important, albeit anecdotal, view of how homework can negatively affect family life, but the topic of homework and the ways many schools routinely apply the requirement deserves fuller treatment. Teachers, administrators, parents, and reporters would do well to consider what’s driving blind acceptance of homework at all levels and whether current practices are beneficial or based on nothing but an enduring myth. – Peggy Field / Norwell
Peggy Field sent me the full letter she had written to the Globe:
To the Editor:
Beth Teitell’s article “Homework Hell” in the May 2 Boston Globe magazine provided an important, albeit anecdotal, view of how homework can negatively affect family life, but the topic of homework and the ways many schools apply the requirement as a matter of routine deserves a much fuller and more serious treatment.
Teitell’s piece seemed promising at first, illustrating the real rifts that can occur between parent and child when parents are put in the position of homework enforcer. However, the piece veered into a discussion of vague “parental anxiety” before concluding with an exhortation from Boston Teachers Union President Richard Stutman to parents to “keep your anxiety to yourself” when helping out.
Omitted is the possibility that parents can maintain a positive attitude toward school, teachers and learning, and continue to urge their children to work hard and do their best, while asking questions of their child’s teacher and school officials about homework policy.
Many important questions about the stated goals, educational validity and simple fairness of compelling students (and their families) to devote periods of at-home time to additional school work — particularly in elementary and middle school grades — are simply not being asked by those who should be asking such questions. Existing thorough and respectful examinations of the subject, not only by Alfie Kohn but also by Sara Bennett, Etta Kralovec, John Buell and Cathy Vaterott, are blithley ignored in lieu of complacently maintaining the status quo.
Few would argue that taking time outside of school to thoughtfully puzzle out a vexing calculus problem or computer program, or to read a novel or historical text at length, is a negative. But teachers, administrators, parents and education reporters would do well to take a step back and consider what is actually driving blind acceptance of homework simply as a matter of routine at all levels, and whether current practices are beneficial or even harmless, or if they are based on nothing but an enduring myth.