These days, a lot of parents are sending me sample homework surveys they’ve created to distribute in their communities. When I’ve looked at them, I’ve been struck by how even seemingly innocuous questions can be loaded.
Here are some ideas from Alfie Kohn, author of The Homework Myth, with whom I have ongoing conversations:
I like to point out that most such questions tend to be subtly loaded. For example, “Do you think your child receives too much / too little / about the right amount of homework?” assumes that it’s necessary for some homework to be assigned and thereby helps to exclude critical responses to the whole idea of making kids work a second shift after school is over.
One might be tempted, then, to right the balance by asking some questions that are loaded, for once, on the other side:
— Given that research fails to find any academic benefit to homework for students who are younger than about 15, do you have any reason to believe they should be assigned homework anyway?
— Do you believe children should be required to devote their afternoons and evenings to academic tasks — even at the expense of their social, artistic, or physical development — or do you think six or seven hours a day spent on such tasks is sufficient?
— In your opinion, who should determine what happens during family time: the families themselves or the schools?
Less controversial, perhaps, would be questions like these:
— To what extent does your child’s homework seem designed to deepen his or her understanding of important ideas (as opposed to memorization of facts)? In your opinion, is it having that effect?
— Many educators and parents believe that the most important criteria by which school practices should be judged is whether they are helping children to become more excited about a given topic and about learning in general. How does your child’s homework measure up on that score? Is its effect on his or her DESIRE to learn generally positive, neutral, or negative?
— Would you favor a voluntary system whereby families that want additional academic assignments after school could receive them while families that would rather allow their children to pursue other activities could opt for no homework?