From My Mailbox: Letter from an Anonymous Freshman

Do you have any advice for this anonymous freshman?

Dear Sara,

You’ve devoted a lot of space on your website to the issues surrounding homework in elementary and secondary schools, but I couldn’t find any information on what to do when the onslaught continues into college. As a college student, I continue to experience the detrimental effects of excessive homework described in your articles (I had to sideline an independent study that I had wanted to pursue for years because I was falling behind on my homework). Since parents aren’t expected to have much of a role in the college curriculum (no PTA) and students are expected to be more independent, what can I do? How can I organize other overworked students? How do I raise the issue without looking like I’m just trying to get out of doing work (my parents are in another state and can’t vouch for me on this one)? I’ve been in college for less than a year, and I’m already exhausted. Help!

2 thoughts on “From My Mailbox: Letter from an Anonymous Freshman

  1. It would help a little to know what college and what courses. One of the great joys of college is that (a) teacher droning on in a class room lecture time ration balanced against (b) student learning through their own work – is much better. Instead of being “educated” by being talked at, you should be educated through research, writing, and lab work – almost strangely called “homework” by this anonymous poster. Student work, as oppose to classroom time, is a feature of college, not a bug. This is how education should be conducted. This is what makes college great and what makes the education all the more worth while.

    College is the opportunity for college. And its expensive. This is not the time to do an independent project. Of course, depending on the project, you could get a prof to sponsor it for credit and turn it into valuable college work.

    There is another issue of course load. Colleges will say that you must take between X and Y credits per semester. I was never one of the truly smart kids, so I always planned to take the lowest course load on a full schedule. I would balance a lighter course with harder courses. Generally you chose what you take. If all you are taking is pre med and O-Chemistry, well, what are you complaining about? Take chemistry and Clapping for Credit (music history).

    * Take the fewest number of credits possible
    * Go part time if you have to
    * Take the better teachers who give good work
    * Balance hard courses with easier courses
    * Have fun!

    And finally, College is or should be great. Have your focus on college – not on outside projects (where sports and clubs and student activities are defined as part of the college experience).

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  2. While learning should take place outside of the classroom, many of the assignments that I get are simply busy work and do not foster deep learning. Despite the numerous studies that have shown that homework assigned to older students has minimal, if any, benefit, I still wouldn’t be complaining if the assignments were manageable. The main problem that I have with homework is its suffocating volume. I am left with very little time to explore things that are of interest to me, even if they have educational value and are relevant to what is being taught in class. Who benefits when homework reaches a point where it actually inhibits learning?

    I also have no problem with professors expecting students to do reading or research outside of class and suggesting the completion of problem sets. However, some people learn differently and do not necessarily need to complete problem sets to understand the concepts taught in class. People who learn this way should not be penalised for their inability to keep up with written assignments, as failure to grasp concepts will show on tests.

    In addition, the volume of college homework far exceeds the amount of work that people do in the workplace. I am acquainted with professionals who do less work each day. My parents, both of whom went to college, are paid to work on company time (9 am to 5 pm) and are never expected to take their work home at the end of the day.

    By the way, the independent study that I was forced to drop was a language that I would have taken as a class (and for course credit) if it had been offered. Unfortunately, it was not among the languages offered by the language department, so studying it independently was my only option. I take umbrage at the suggestion that college is “not the time” to study something that interests me, as this is the last chance that I will have to study something outside of my major.

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