Homework Hell

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.

8 Comments on “Homework Hell”

  1. PsychMom says:

    Wow, what an editing job. That was like a hotdog with no hotdog inside, and no condiments either.

    Thanks for providing the full letter and the newspaper article link. So the problem with homework seems to be now, that the parents are making too much of it. That’s rich. I’m with Peggy…everyone is missing the point. This stuff about homework being necessary is all made up. 10 minutes per grade was an idea pulled out of a hat. Antibiotics do nothing for the common cold and homework does nothing for children. Stop the nonsense.

    May 25th, 2010 at 8:56 am
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  2. Frank Bruni says:

    The problem with homework policy is that like many things in our busy lives we accept it as a matter of course. We trust in our school systems to “do the right thing”

    But the school system can be too narrowly focused on children as students instead of children as people.

    Educating a child is more than the sum of what they learn in school and a sensible homework policy (or none at all) allows children to explore the world around them when they have the time to do so…after school.

    We teach our children not to blindly accept without question. Perhaps we adults should also pay head to that advice.

    May 25th, 2010 at 2:51 pm
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  3. HomeworkBlues says:

    “So what’s a parent to do? It’s not exactly comforting, but Richard Stutman, president of the Boston Teachers Union, offers this tip: When helping out, keep your anxiety to yourself. “Generating neuroses in a child seldom works,” he says.”

    Gee, thanks, Rich. That’s the best you can do? So much for teachers in our corner over this homework thing.

    His big advice? Keep your anxiety to yourself. So now, not only are you expected to be THE ENFORCER, you’re supposed to also feel guilty for becoming anxious over this contentious relationship you’ve built with your child. Suck it up, you’re told and keep the anxiety to yourself.

    Neurosis, Rich here calls it. Gee, thanks, buddy. After all, if the child develops anxiety about homework, it’s the parent’s fault. They were just too darn neurotic about the whole thing.

    May 25th, 2010 at 4:46 pm
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  4. FedUpMom says:

    HWB, the quote from Stutman is infuriating. And to add insult to injury, it’s positioned at the end of the article, in the “wrap-up” spot. So that’s the take-away message. It’s the parents’ (read: “mothers'”) fault for getting too emotional. Yeah, thanks a whole lot.

    And he’s the head of the Boston Teachers Union! How about a Parents Union? That’s what I’d like to see.

    May 26th, 2010 at 11:10 am
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  5. HomeworkBlues says:

    “What avail is it to win prescribed amounts of information about geography and history, to win the ability to read and write, if in the process the individual loses his own soul?” John Dewey.

    Read this article: Joy in School. By Steven Wolk. But doesn’t it strike you how the more things change, the more they stay the same? Think how long ago Dewey wrote this. And ask yourself if anything has changed.

    ” No longer can schooling be primarily about creating workers and test takers, but rather about nurturing human beings” (Wolk, 2007)

    http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational_leadership/sept08/vol66/num01/Joy_in_School.aspx

    May 27th, 2010 at 8:18 am
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  6. clare strickland says:

    homework is hell…..we do to much work in school therefore we should have a break over the weekend all our week monday to friday is spent at school…our WEEKENDS SHOULD BE OUR FREE TIME !!!! ,…….

    January 31st, 2011 at 5:23 am
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  7. ödev says:

    HWB, the quote from Stutman is infuriating. And to add insult to injury, it’s positioned at the end of the article, in the “wrap-up” spot. So that’s the take-away message. It’s the parents’ (read: “mothers’”) fault for getting too emotional. Yeah, thanks a whole lot.

    And he’s the head of the Boston Teachers Union! How about a Parents Union? That’s what I’d like to see.

    June 15th, 2011 at 1:37 pm
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