From My Mailbox–A High School Senior Speaks Out

Here’s an email I received from a senior at Camarillo High School in California:

Dear Sara:

As a high school student I believe most homework is just a waste of time.

Simply put, a lot of the work can actually be done in class or not done at all (I’ll get to that later). Homework is just used as a substitute due to ineffective teaching methods and teachers wasting time.

Most homework assignments are just pointless: fill in the blank questions, word seaches, crossword puzzles, drill assignments, etc. It does not help review the material. It’s just used as a tool for teachers to figure out how to grade. Bad students simply won’t do the homework. Good students will do the homework getting nothing out of it.

Excess homework has created a lazy generation. It teaches students it’s okay to cheat, copy off, or even fake assignments. The more homework teachers give, the more tension there is in the class, the more tension, the more behavioral problems and lower grades students have. It’s a lose for the student, a lose for the teacher. Since there is too much homework, after homework is finished, kids just like to watch TV.

This year I pretty much have no homework. Since my calculus teacher only assigns very few problems, I actually learn how to do them correctly.

Lots of homework is the root of student laziness, not the solution. Having better teaching methods in class is the solution, not homework.

Thank you for your website.

27 thoughts on “From My Mailbox–A High School Senior Speaks Out

  1. As a mother it has been hard for me to resist the urge to not just fake the assignments and move on. Okay, I admit, I have actually done it. The shame! 😉 Anyhow, like this student, I have done that for my kids on occasion because 1) hard to see the value of some of the homework to begin with and 2) can’t we just get this over with?? The least of my infractions in this regard is feeding my son the answers.

    If I’m a mom doing it (and in all other things I consider myself a respectable citizen) I can imagine that kids get frustrated and find short cuts as well.

    If homework was truly enrichment material, and kids were shortcutting, surely their knowledge of the subject matter (and therefore their grades/scores) would suffer? But that doesn’t seem to be the case.

    Homework is often just a lot of busy work given to people who are already too busy with real life.


  2. I’m 40 years old. I remember when I was in school. I hated homework so much, that I was one of those kids that either didn’t do it, or fight all the time with my mom. I had extra activities after school, chores, and sometimes I would hang out with my friends if there was enough time. By the time I got done with my homework. Which my teachers gave me a lot of, I wouldn’t have time for anything else. My problem was I hated reading. I was a slow reader. I just couldn’t comprehend was I was reading. In high school I was better at reading. But the homework was hell. Each class gave you at least an 1 hour of home per night. I had 6 classes. That’s 6 hours of homework per night. It was a nightmare, and I was extremely stressed out all the time, to the point I got ulcers, and migraines, so I started not doing the work.
    When my children started school it was the same thing all over again. I dreaded when they would come home with homework. It was a constant fight to get them to do it. First of all they spend all day at school, then when they walk in the door I would give them a break, but I couldn’t give them that much time. In grade school they would be up way after midnight doing school work. They got home from school at 3:30, take the bus home. be in the door at 4:00. I’d give them a half hour break, and they would have to start on their homework. They had no time for anything else. It’s BS. I am very upset with the schools. I truly believe that if the schools are going to test our children (STAR, CAHSEE, SAT 9 ect) and hold our children accountable than the least the school can do is teach these children what they are suppose to teach them at school, and not give them instructions throughout the day, and leave the actual work for the students and their parents. Because a lot of the time parents can’t remember how to do things like algebra, or trig because it’s been 10 years since they themselves have done it, and our children need help. Then they can’t do their work because they need the teacher to explain it to them. Then we as parents get a phone call from the school that says that our child hasn’t done their homework so they get detention. How fair is that? The stress that homework causes in the home to very overwhelming.
    And the schools, and our government is wondering why our children test scores are way below most countries.
    I think that it’s time to hold the schools accountable for there actions. I’m not talking about the teachers. I’m talking about the administrators. It’s there fault.




  4. Dear ten year old:

    I have my doubts you are ten, for all we know, you could be an adult who is posing as a child to stir things up just for the heck of it.

    But I’ll pretend you are and take your word for it. You say that we need to have a great education and job. No eloquent poster on this blog refutes that! We aren’t anti-education, my dear. Nor anti-work. Many parents, particularly mothers, who post here have full time professional jobs.

    As for denying our children the great education you must be getting from all that homework, I for example, wanted my daughter to have time to write her novel when she was your age and indulge her passion in books.

    Somehow someone has convinced you that if you don’t do every little drop of homework, you won’t get a job later on and you’ll have to clean up poo (or is it poop?). You’re too young to know and you’ve bought into what you’ve been told. Who can blame you? You are only ten. We have taught you to listen to the grownups and mind your manners. Typically this is a good thing, unless the grownups in your midst are feeding you a pile of poo.

    You seem to think you need to write in all caps and leave out some important punctuation. I guess all that homework you purport (look that one up, kid. You’ll learn me from me than all those worksheets you lug home) to support hasn’t taught you as much as it should have, eh? Just think what you could learn if all that busy work just didn’t get in the way.


  5. Correction:

    You’ll learn MORE from me, meant to write. Arrrgh, not much influence to a ten year old if I don’t catch every one of my mistakes! Me thinks it’s because the draft copy is so light, half the time I can’t tell if that period really made it on or not.


  6. Help! My son is failing High School because of homework. They don’t teach in class and expect parents to teach after a hard day at work without understanding what we’re supposed to teach. Even in grade school my kids would come home with math assignments that were completely incomprehensible! Eric fails semester classes because of not doing homework, and then gets good grades in the same classes in intersessions. The difference? Intersession classes don’t assign homework.
    My other son, a middle schooler was following this same pattern. I started homeschooling him this year. No homework, no wasted time, no “F’s”- he has to master everything before moving on. Unfortunately Eric refuses to do homeschool. Does anyone know of a High School in the L.A. area with no homework?


  7. Sophie, homework doesn’t help you get an education if it doesn’t help you learn, or if it makes you so stressed out you don’t have time to sleep or pursue any of your own interests. You can still get a good job without doing spelling practice sheets and 80 algebra problems a night.


  8. Your right when you said lots of homework is the root of laziness,
    i mean i learn more in class, mainly because at home i know i have the option to just search up the answers on the internet. I have a really good maths teacher at the moment that explains eveything i need to know to understand it, i rarely get any maths homework and i got and A on my report for that subject.


  9. Sara Bennett:
    These negative comments make me want to cry, and there’s no doubt that I would cry, if it weren’t due to the time crunch that has been struck up by my outrageous amounts of…HOMEWORK.
    My story is one that is much different than the ones you have been written, yet it still revolves around the same topic that has students all over the country unable to live their lives to the fullet extent.
    Some basic background info about me:
    No, I am not posing as a student, I really am a roubled 8th grader and I attend Valley View Middle School in Simi Valley, just about an hour away frm Los Angeles.
    The reason my story is a bit unique is because I, myself have 3 major conflicts that cause my homework to take so exceedingly long.
    1. I have Attention Deficit Disorder and even the strongest medications have little to no effect on habits in school.
    2. I am in the Gifted and Talented Education program, meaning my classes are challenging; above average.
    3. I have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and will not rest until my writing is PERFECT. By this, I mean that writing a sentence could take an entire min. for me.
    Not to mention, my mother is an elementary school teacher, who sometimes may not realize that it isn’t such a piece of cake to get straight A’s in Middle School.
    Just one more thing you should know is that I just may have to stop taking my medications, because they make me feel not hungry at all, even though I am underweight for my age. I must now choose what is more important: Eating a lunch every day or Taking these medications in order to keep up 3.0 average in G.A.T.E.
    So I most definately appreciate all that you have done, and seeing this website is almost like seeing a brighter future for me; one where I can be an average weight, meet new people that I can call my friends, or even get my homework done within 2 hours and 10 minutes.
    And the most important feedback that I would like to give is the total time MY homework takes on a typical day. My friends find it hard to believe me, and you might, too but remember that I am not an average Middle School girl. By the time I arrive at my house and have had as much food as possible, it is 3:30. If I am lucky, I am able to finish by 10:00.
    So much for a brighter future. P.S. I like the way you spell your name; just like mine:)


  10. @Sara Kaitlin — are you sure you need to be in the Gifted and Talented program? The more I hear about these programs, the more I wonder whether they actually help our gifted kids. If you read HomeworkBlues’ comments, you’ll see that her daughter is in a GATE program and the overwork has been a huge problem.

    If you transferred back to the regular program, could you have a more balanced life? Is the the GATE program really worth all the stress?

    Please post back and let us know how you’re doing. Take care of yourself.


  11. Sara Kaitlin, I’m a parent, as you know, and I’ve just begun to read your essay. My time demands at the moment (almost eight, daughter must be in school by 8:30 and she cannot get out of bed, she is that tired, every morning, luckily we live close) mean I’d better get off and get our morning routine underway.

    Sara, I just want to leave you this nugget and then finish reading your comment later. You are not alone. As least not where my family is concerned.

    You are twice exceptional. That term means that you are both gifted and have an exceptionality to include ADD. That’s exactly my daughter’s picture.

    Life for these kids is indeed very rough because their high intellectual ability means they crave conceptual in depth learning which finds them in gifted/talented programs. Because school administrators believe that gifted kids must get five or six times the amount of homework than their non-gifted peers, gifted children are already strained beyond belief. Ad to that a disability or an attentional issue, and these kids are under ridiculous pressure.

    It can take an ADD child three times longer to complete homework because they get distracted. Throw in severe sleep deprivation and you already have a combustible mix. If a high school demands no more than two hours of homework, as Harris Cooper recommends, an ADD child would be finished after six. That’s already way too long but at least it would get done.

    At my daughter’s school, the norm is six hours! Even if my daughter had the strength and perseverance to do homework eighteen hours a day, there simply are not enough hours in the day. Do the math! And people like Mike tells us to just get over it and stop whining. When will someone finally realize how incredibly serious this problem is? For all children. The GT/LD ones are merely the canary in the coal mine.

    Believe me. I know. I’ll write more later, Sara Kaitlin. Hang in there. And keep talking to us here. We’ll have some advice and solutions for you. But do know this. You are entitled to FAPE, a free and appropriate education. IN THE LEAST RESTRICTIVE ENVIRONMENT. That last clause is often intended for disabled students where the reasoning goes that they should be “restricted” as little as possible, meaning get them in mainstream classes and out of self contained ones, if they can handle it.

    The same applies in reverse to our students on the other end, the high end. Putting gifted children in classes that are not commensurate with their abilities also means you are “restricting their environment,” restricting their ability to learn to their potential. It’s the law but too many parents don’t know about it and school officials won’t tell you. The burden of proof is on the parents to know their rights in a public school system.

    Teachers and staff often erroneously assume that these kids would be better off in easy non-gifted programs. Taking a chld with very high intellectual ability and ADD and putting them in a regular classroom is about the worst thing you can do. That’s not elitist, trust me, many times these kids wish they were not 2e (twice exceptional). A very lecture based worksheet driven curriculum is anathema for GT/ADD kids. My daughter’s friend has fallen into that trap. A brilliant girl with ADHD, she has now become a complete underachiever and bored to death. She is very turned off to school. But if you talk to her, she’ll knock your socks off with her intellect, wit and humor.

    But then again, losing one’s love of learning may happen just as equally to a gifted kid with an exceptionality who is crushed by homework. Obviously the solution is to create a strength-based model at school where these children can access higher level learning, with supports. Capitalize on the strengths and work around the weaknesses.

    For example, my daughter yet again had to look up twenty words in the dictionary every Sunday last year and copy them by hand onto a sheet of paper. This tedious assignment can take HOURS, and we parents have to sit there and make sure she stays “on task.” Better to substitute an assignment she’s good at that reaches the same goal, learning vocabulary. Reading comes to mind, she loves to read, she can stay focused on reading until the cows come home, let her read. That is how she developed the vocabulary of a college professor at age 10. By reading! So let her read. Stop taking away all her free time. Her Sunday has already been snatched from her, let her at least do a captivating engrossing assignment and not a soul crushing one.

    It’s not happening. And only does when these kids have very strong parents who advocate and don’t back down. Sara Kaitlin, if you can, two options that can amazingly enrich your life are either homeschooling or going straight to college after middle school. Doesn’t mean your parents send you away from home. You are essentially homeschooled with a mix of on line and local college courses. With more sleep and a flexible schedule, you will find the workload will be manageable and you have greater control of your destiny that you would in a traditional high school. It’s the perfect style to capitalize on that “focus on the strengths, mitigate the weaknesses” model.

    I should write a book. Thanks for listening.


  12. Sara Kaitlin, I’m back now and have had a chance to read your entire letter. Your medication mirrors my daughter’s experience as well. Not only did concerta take away her appetite but it causes sleeplessness. We’ve just switched her but because she began on a lower dosage, she really got herself into a hole at school and we’re coping with that now. I wake her up at the last possible minute, we rush like the dickens, we moved close so she barely has time to scarf down breakfast in the car and then she’d come home with a lunch bag that was barely touched. Meaning she’d go all day without nourishment. Is this the way I want us to live our lives, so unhealthy, no exercise, sleep or food? Heck, no.

    I’m rushed now so I have to be brief in my response. Or briefer. When I responded this morning, I hadn’t yet read FedUp’s response. I see she referenced me. Yup, our story too.

    I’m about to contradict myself. Does it make me appear a little crazy? Perhaps. I know this relentless homework stress has addled my brain. Or the opposite. It is a miracle I’m still sane, given the stress school puts us under.What is undisputed is that it has seriously shaved years off my life.

    It demonstrates my conflicting positions. I will tell you I wanted to take my daughter out of her current school after 10th grade. She’d been accepted to a private school. My daughter vehemently did not wish to change schools and my husband felt we should respect her wishes. I disagreed, arguing that we are the parents and we need to call the shots on this one. Never mind that we didn’t have the money for the private school anyway but she was in line to receive a generous merit scholarship because her grades were good.It was a complicated situation because it was was a boarding school and we both were loathe to send her away from home. It was a school she discovered on her own and lobbied relentlessly to go. But once she was accepted to her current school and had spent some years there, she was reluctant to pull up stakes yet again. She’d had enough school changes in her life and wanted to stay put. It was not so simple and clear cut. But regardless, I was firm that I wanted her out, that we needed to salvage what family life we had left.

    My conflicting stances on this are that she is still, well, gifted. And friends with PG 2e (profoundly gifted, twice exceptional) children who’ve had to take them out of gifted programs lament that their child’s intellectual needs are not met.

    How to have both? Right now the only way to get both is to homeschool. Sara Kaitlin, could that be an option for you? Looks as if both parents work full time so that may not be in the cards but it’s worth exploring. There is a national network of women who work and homeschool. It’s not easy but it’s gratifying and far less stress than what you and our family undergoes. Do consider it.

    But I’m with FedUp. The situation for you and my daughter is toxic and ultimately I do not believe that it’s worth sacrificing our entire lives on the alter of gifted education. Gifted Shmifted. I also don’t feel it’s ethical for me to put my daughter in that kind of situation for the sake of glory but it’s what she fervently insisted she wanted. The part that makes me cry is she wants to learn. She wants to work hard! And schools take advantage of these kids who are earnest and make them do the impossible. That’s what’s unethical! My daughter would say, it’s as if they are punishing us for being smart.

    But…and now I demonstrate to you the eternal conflicts my husband and I bat round and round, so that we go in circles. She’s still gifted! I can no more change that than I can alter the color of her eyes. My friend jokes I could drop her on her head.

    The way I solved the problem you describe, Sara Kaitlin, is I pulled her out for 8th and regret I didn’t do so sooner. More and more, people I know (they find me on other education forums I subscribe to) are pulling their kids out of school to homeschool them for middle. A friend who is an educational consultant for the gifted, particularly the highly gifted, those kids who would not do so well in regular programs because they are not neuro-typical, tells parents, if you can only homeschool just once in your life, just once, make it middle school. The best time to homeschool!

    Sara Kaitlin, look into that option first. Becuase then you truly will get both. Challenge and a childhood. Right now you can’t get both in school, it’s either one or the other. The regular programs have been hijacked by NCLB, testing drives everything now. We even saw too much of that in the GT program and we said sayonara. We pulled her out, did a fair amount of unschooling, bought two on line courses, eliminated pointless assignments and went to museums, the library and the woods instead. It was a magical year. Who needs drugs when sleep almost accomplishes the same thing?

    Let us know how you fare.


  13. As I read all that…HWB being brief….yikes 🙂 …I couldn’t help think that if the educational system was truly teaching kids how to learn…there wouldn’t be an issue about whether kids were gifted or not. Or slow learners or whatever. This artificial system of K to 12 (age 5 to 18) would go out the window in favour of a system where the gifted 6 year old sits among 12 year olds to learn how to take an engine apart, or to watch how a science experiment is performed. We’ve done so much damage socially and academically to kids, that we can’t even dream of having little kids amongst to older ones because of the “dangers”…we have created something awful for our kids.

    I’m so sorry, Sara Kaitlin. Thank you for writing about your life…if homeschooling is an option, I hope you can pursue it.


  14. “As I read all that…HWB being brief….yikes 🙂 …”

    I’ll revert back to my original hiatus :). I start off thinking I have a minute and it takes on a life of its own. Sprouts little legs.

    Good luck, everyone. And wish we me luck too as I take on the school system. More meetings coming up.


  15. sounds like you have bigger fish to fry right now…I wish you much success. How could you fail, with your brand of determination!


  16. Ah, you’d be surprised. I wish I could relay details of the meeting yesterday. This would be the perfect forum in which to share that. Stay tuned.


  17. Disillusioned, thank you for those very kind words.. Oh, I’ve adopted your name. It’s a better fit right now :(.

    On one frustrating count, there is no headway. Which strikes me as so odd, given that it’s not that big of a deal, the school made a mistake, they should rectify it but they are digging in their heels.

    The school is always right. Even when they are not. And if they are not, you take the fall. That’s the equation I’m dealing with. The saddest part is that the person who is taking the fall is a child. Children are naturally hopeful. As a society, we should do everything to guard that.


  18. FedUpMom-
    I completely understand your idea that the G.A.T.E. program is not leading me into a better life than the normal classes. This is something that I can definately agree with because I do have the experience of having ONE normal class in my schedule.
    I begin my day with homeroom, then go to:

    1. GATE History
    2. GATE English
    3. Yearbook (24 students in the school were chosen)
    4. GATE Science
    Lunch for 45 minutes
    5. Algebra AB
    6. Phys. Ed.

    The idea of Algebra AB is that in one year (eighth grade) students complete the first half of the Algebra book, allowing them to finsh the last half in their freshman year in high school. Due to the fact that my grade in GATE Pre-Algebra last year was a C for every quarter of the year, my teacher placed me into Algebra AB, a slower-paced class.
    The students in this class are really pleasant to be around and have changed the way I used to think of “average” students. In the past, I made the overgeneralization that every one of these students had a lack of motivation or just didn’t WANT to put effort into their schoolwork. Well, I was wrong. That may cover one fourth of these students, but many of them (as I have seen in my Algebra class) really do want to learn all that they can, they just have a harder time grasping as much information as the G.A.T.E. students.
    The reason I mention this class is because it reminds me of how difficult my other classes are. If I was unable to get even one B last year, how on earth can I suddenly have a 99.8% A this year? Well:

    1. New Medication
    2. New Teacher
    3. NOT G.A.T.E!

    Wow, I never thought such a huge change could happen. I’m not the girl who never has time to complete my Algebra homework, I’m the girl who is always asked to help someone study for their upcoming quiz. I would take that option anyday. I will type again, right after I have finished eating my mini-tacos:) Thank god, it’s Friday! Happy Halloween!


  19. Sara K. — a friend of mine compared our system of tracking gifted kids to the Peter Principle.

    The Peter Principle, if you haven’t heard it, is this:

    “In a hierarchy, every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence.”

    Dr. Peter noticed that in the business world, an employee who proved competence at one level was then promoted to the next level. Eventually the employee was no longer promoted, because he was no longer proving competence. Thus the employee stayed in a job he wasn’t very good at.

    In the schools, we take the brightest kids and track them into the most difficult classes. But because we don’t understand what bright kids actually need, the difficult classes are difficult for all the wrong reasons. The classes are difficult because the workload is huge, and because they cover a ton of material in not enough time.

    It’s become notorious among college professors that kids who took AP classes are badly educated and not actually ready for college. Colleges are also finding that kids who had “accelerated” math in high school need remedial math in college. Why? They were pushed too fast through too much stuff, without truly getting the foundation they needed.

    Obviously, this isn’t my decision to make, but from what I know of our nominally high-performing schools, and from what you’ve told us of your life so far, I would urge you to reconsider the whole GATE business.

    Ask yourself: how do the GATE classes benefit you? Are you learning more? Are the classes genuinely interesting? Or are you holding on in the hope of enjoying a higher status at school, and looking good in your college applications?

    As you’ve seen with your Algebra class, in the regular classes you would get to be the smart kid and still have a life. Maybe you could cut back on the meds too. Can you talk to your parents about this? And please keep us posted.

    And above all, have a fun Halloween!


  20. The Peter Principal. I was JUST talking about that to hubby yesterday. Daughter just dropped the two years ahead math. The thing is, she had a knack for it. But something had to give. She was drowning under a crushing load of homework. What else is new?

    Her school pushes the gifted kids so hard, I was really worried she might lose her love of math and never touch it again in college. And that she’d abandon her dream of becoming an engineer or an architect, both of which draw on strong math ability.


  21. Today I got my new medication and the pills are larger, but that’s okay. I tend to eat lunch more because my yearbook teacher lets me eat lunch in her classroom every day, exept for the last two week of December (Xmas, faculty meetings, etc.) She gives me a front of the line pass, which persuades me to WANT to buy, instead of waiting in that 10 minute line and getting 25 minutes to eat. And I’m the editor-in-cheif because she couldn’t think of anyone else that could understand her. I also appear to be great at graphic design, which is why I can’t be homeschooled.
    There are three high schools in Simi Valley, which is in southern CA; Royal, Simi High, and Santa Susana.
    Royal is too far and no one I know will go there.
    Simi is the sports school where the cheerleaders, athletes, and people with falling grades end up.
    Santa Susana is my dream because there are about one half the amount of students there are at Simi High and there are no cliques. It is a magnet school; the focuses are academics (there is an interview to get in), technology (like my graphic design), and arts (I perform in proffesional theater).
    No homeschooling will help me because if I am homeschooled this year, I won’t be allowed to go to Santa Susana next year.
    One other thing that happened today:
    I finished my homework BEFORE 6:30 and I hate to think it, but it may only be because today was the first day of the second quarter and teachers are finishing up report cards (if anyone wants to know my grades, I know them all). By the way, my homework took from 3:30 to 6:30 WITH dinner, having 1st friend over since summer, AND being on the phone dealing with teenage drama.
    Well, have a happy first day of November!


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