More from Dr. Daniel Gottlieb

Last week, I posted an article about how teenagers need more downtime, which was written by Dr. Daniel Gottlieb, a clinical psychologist, family therapist, and author of, among other things, Letters to Sam: A Grandfather’s Lessons on Love, Loss, and the Gifts of Life. On Monday of this week, he wrote a follow-up piece, again originally published in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Inside Out | Would less homework lead to more learning?
By Dan Gottlieb

My last column was about too much homework and what to do about it. I advised adolescents to form committees of students and parents to examine homework practices at their schools. I suggested they consult several recent books that argue that excessive homework does little good and a great deal of harm. I supported the position taken by many educators that homework should total no more than 10 minutes a night multiplied by grade level (90 minutes in ninth grade, for example). And I recommended that the newly formed committees meet with administrators and teachers to make their case.

Of course, I received dozens of e-mails. Most were from parents like Ginny DeLong, who said that when her daughter was in 10th grade, her English teacher would assign two hours of homework a night just for her class (one of six). When she complained, it turned out the school did have a homework policy – but no one was aware of it.

Jim O’Brien wrote that his adolescent daughter is “buried under homework; every night, every weekend and most holidays.” I also heard from a friend whose child is in kindergarten; he is already hearing about excessive homework requirements in first and second grade!

Educators responded as well. A middle school math teacher from Gloucester County said she knew about the academic research and had cut way back on her homework assignments this year. The result? More students are completing homework and their overall understanding of the subject matter has increased, she wrote, “because the students feel the work is more manageable.”

I heard from students like the high school senior who feels like he spends more time at school than at home, where he says he sleeps about six hours a night. He was not optimistic, and believes there is great resistance to change in education. Perhaps voices such as his have not been heard. Sara Bennett, coauthor of the recently released The Case Against Homework, e-mailed me to underscore the importance of including students in the dialogue about homework.

Not everybody agreed. David Scolnick, a father of three, thought I was all wrong. He suggested that much of the problem is children’s attitudes and approaches to homework, and that efficient children spend less time. Even three to four hours of homework a night, he said, would leave a “couple of hours for instant messaging.”

David did find common ground with many parents and teachers who feel the culprit is overscheduling. Certainly that is the bigger problem. But a letter from a young woman in a Philadelphia private school suggests we should be looking in another direction.

She began by saying she averages four to five hours of homework a night, and went on:

“I am continually enduring stress and sleepless nights, but I know it is for the good of my future. High schools are concerned about one thing: college. And they feel it is their duty to help their students be #1. This leads to many of the sleepless nights I have experienced, and I see no end in sight. But I still believe that in the future this lifestyle may help me.”

The pressure to achieve is often about getting into the best college. Once there, the pressure continues. After graduation, it often gets even more intense. Why? It’s all in the pursuit of security – and happiness!

The young lady in private school believes that enduring stress today will help her achieve security tomorrow. Yet we know that continued exposure to stress will not boost resilience, and can actually create depression and compromise the immune system. We also know that, above the poverty level, there is no relationship between money and happiness.

Sure, life’s challenges are much bigger than stress caused by too much homework. But if adolescents can be empowered to solve this one problem, maybe that newfound strength will help them better care for themselves and the larger world in the future. After all, isn’t that what we really want to get out of an education?

9 thoughts on “More from Dr. Daniel Gottlieb

  1. Thank you for your writing on this topic. I teach at the high school level and the stress and results of stress. This is one of the biggest problems in high school. I also deal with gifted underachievers and their two biggest problems are homework related shut-down and stress.


  2. I have two boys. We live in what I call an overachieving town. My 12 year old has endured so much homework that I believe he may soon just shut down completely. Some of my friends often have to guide their sons through much of their homework in order for it to get done. I believe the boys are getting resentful. Why is it that I feel the very premise of this overloading goes against every grain of my son’s biological make-up? Why can’t we listen to our sons? My son actually told me that he does not like to read that much yet but he probably will later on. Isn’t this saying that he would rather go out in the world and live his own adventures? I would like to address our public officials because they have insisted on implementing standardized testing. Could there actually be a correlation between standardized testing policies and the huge increase in stimulant medications prescribed to our boys? I have a friend who works in a pharmacy and she cannot believe the amount of medication our kids are on. Why isn’t anyone looking into this? When I address standardized testing policies with the teachers and the amount of work thrown on our kids in order to perform well on them, they tell me that they could lose their jobs if the kids don’t perform well. Please reply with suggestions. Not all people agree with me and it is a touchy subject.


  3. I am working on a story about excess homework for Fox-29 here in Philadelphia. I am looking for a family with high school students to talk about juggling the work load. If you know of any families who would agree to be interviewed on camera please let me know. They can email or call me! 215-982-5567.
    Courtney Brinkerhoff


  4. hi,im astudent at Byrd MS
    thanks for finaly making public an issue affecting the future of the world,
    i have tried to adress this problem with my teachers before, but only one of them understood me, all the others laughed and asuumed that i was just arguing to get out of doing homework, but they are wrong, if it was true, then i would just not do it at all and not care what they have to say


  5. Hi, I am in year 10 (in australia, so i’m sixteen) at the moment. I believe that students are getting too much. Furthermore students should not have to do assignments, instead we should be given exams. Exams are a lot easier to study for.

    Good article Dr. Gottlieb



  6. Kids get stressed out and need a break and down time. They should stop giving out homework before anything happens from stress.


  7. For much middle school I just wanted to crawl into a corner and cry because I was always stressed out, and too much homework was one of my biggest issues. At my school, most teachers had students sign a contract saying that they would get no more than 45 minutes of homework a night from that class. Of course, this policy did not factor in the fact that students usually had 4 other classes with the same policy and that many teachers often went over the 45 minute time limit. Add on top of that all of the reports and poster projects that we were given (somehow teachers never seemed to consider this as part of their alloted time for homework) and you can understand why many other kids and I ended up hating school and dreading having to get up and go to it again the next day. I’m now a junior in high school, and while things for the most part have improved, there are still days when there’s too much work and not enough time.


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