A sophomore at a Rhode Island public high school sent me this essay he wrote for English class. When he’s not doing homework, the student likes to do yoga and is a member of two clubs, People Respecting Individual Differences and Equality (formally known as the Gay-Straight Alliance) and Students for Social and Environmental Justice.
Homework Should be Optional
by a Rhode Island Sophomore
The time a student spends in school is generally six and a half hours. The bus ride can be anywhere from five minutes to over an hour, each way. The day begins at seven thirty-two in the morning, with a twenty-two minute lunch and a five minute break between classes. And when the student reaches home, more work awaits him or her: some times many hours, if the student does all of his/her homework. Yet, this nightly practice is often unneeded and causes much unnecessary tension and stress. Homework should not be mandatory; rather, it should be optional.
Homework doesn’t benefit students who need instruction the most, and is unfair to students who understand the material. As a math teacher explains in his blog: most students who are receiving As or Bs and need homework the least will do it, while most students who are receiving Ds or Fs and need extra practice of a concept or skill do not do the homework anyway, or do it with almost no effort (Meyer). Many students who need homework the most don’t have the materials, work environment or parental support to do homework assignments, and after a long day of work and school it is difficult for homework to be effective; studies have shown on average that two hours is the maximum amount of time that students can soak in the information per night (Strauss). This aside, mandatory homework is completely causeless for students who understand skills or concepts taught in class. An example of this is found in an article by Sarah Bennett describing a real-life situation in which a student received all As on his tests and quizzes, yet his average was a low C or upper D. This student clearly understood the material, yet because he did not do the homework made to reinforce the idea, his grade was low. Mandatory homework negatively affected his grade and ability to join an honors class, where he belonged.
After students go to school, many have jobs and extra-curricular activities to attend. When they arrive home, some must take care of elder or younger family members, others must clean, do chores and other such activities. With the addition of hours of mandatory homework, the student may find he or she has no free time; because indeed, extra-curricular activities are needed for increasing chances of getting into college, and jobs are often just as necessary as chores. It is often the case that students are given the message through devices such as homework to ‘go, go, go, all day long’ (Bennet). As these messages to work all day are given, so is an even more potent and dangerous one: that work is more important and valuable than anything. This message has many facets: work is more important than taking care of yourself, work is more important than family, work is more important than community service, etcetera. It lends itself to unhealthy choices and the belief that work isn’t fun or enjoyable. A New Jersey mother poses the question, “What are we teaching our kids for the future? That they all have to be type A workaholics, and if you find yourself with downtime during the day, it’s a sin?” (Bennet).
One major counter argument that those in favor of mandatory homework often make has to do with how a student’s free time is utilized after school. As one critic states in his article The Weak Case Against Homework: “when students are not doing homework, their principle pastimes are not play or reading for pleasure or any other meaningful activities … Instead, they are watching a lot of television: … two hours and eight minutes a day for the average 15- to 17-year old” (Matthews). Students do not always do homework anyway; and if the average high school student watches that much television then it is obvious that homework is not stopping television watchers or video gamers. Is stopping students from watching television really the aim of homework? Personally, I do not watch that much television a night- perhaps my lack of television watching is made up for in the amount of time I use a computer, but when I use a computer I am generally reading, socializing and learning. I do not want my time being taken away based on some statistic that doesn’t apply to me and was most likely gained by an unreliable SALT survey. There are other ways a teacher may influence after-school time rather than assigning homework, such as talking directly to students about television and the influence such devices have on their lives.
Another major point made by critics is regarding self-discipline. Alfie Kohn, author of The Homework Myth, explains “people fall back on the self-discipline argument and how it helps students learn study skills” (Strauss 2). According to some, homework is a method of cultivating discipline for the mind so that the student will be better prepared and able to cope with things that are difficult to focus on. Branching off of this, the claim follows that students who do not do homework have not learned to discipline themselves, and are sometimes categorized as ‘lazy.’ However, as exhibited in the previous logic, students may already understand the material, may have too much to do (another reason for quantity as opposed to quality in homework), or may not have the skills, as well as a number of other possibilities. Yes, some students do not care, but should the rights of the many more who do care suffer because of the actions of others? The self-discipline argument as it relates to homework is also faulty because it fails to recognize that self-discipline already occurs in school and can be tested in school- through the work that is done there, the quietness during tests, etcetera. There are many other ways to learn self-discipline, the most obvious example being exercise. With exercise, a person learns discipline, to keep themselves challenged and healthy despite mental reluctance- one would argue that this is an even better way to learn self-discipline, seeing as though not all students do homework and others do it with little effort. Study skills are also learned in school as well, but ‘studying’ is generally not considered a ‘homework assignment’ because it cannot be checked except by giving an in-class test or quiz.
There are many ways to organize a class without mandatory homework. One alternative is optional homework. In optional homework, a teacher would assign homework to a class but it would not be completed for a grade; instead, it would be taken by the student who would then balance the class assigning homework with other classes assigning homework. Teachers could give students suggestions about what is more important to practice, and could use extra credit as incentive. Optional homework would not only reduce stress and allow students more control, but would also promote communication between teachers and students as well as teach prioritizing by letting students decide what course they need extra time on. Optional homework deserves at least a trial period. Another strategy for avoiding the problems associated with mandatory homework is to assign less homework and to be more lenient with time allowed. Homework is one of the most basic components of high school; however, it is faulty and problematic. This is why it should be optional as opposed to mandatory.