More from Yesterday’s High School Senior

I got a second email from yesterday’s high school senior, who had even more to say on the problems with homework.

More Thoughts on Homework
by a high school senior
Camarillo High School, California

As always, the homework load depends on the individual teacher.

When homework is excessive, it simply turns into “drill.” The teacher assigns “stuff” (worthless worksheets, pointless projects) which are to be taken home. Very little of “it” was even taught in class, nor will be tested in the future.

The next day in class, students discover they did a lot of the work incorrectly. This leads to low scores and frusteration among students. (I’m sure some cheated w/ peers.)

Class time simply becomes a time for grading and going over homework rather than teaching, therefore making the environment stressful and tight schedules. This leaves very little time to cover the new material, which therefore leads to more homework. It’s a vicious cycle. Confusion among students and classroom complexity lead to students lagging behind.

One solution to less homework is more effective use of class time and better teaching methods to ensure that the students and teachers are on the same page. Another solution is simply not to assign the work, because some assignments are just ridiculous. (You’d be surprised to see what some teachers assign!)

There’s a common myth floating out there that teachers tell and parents purchase. “Homework teaches kids how to manage time and have good study habits.” That’s a lie. Since most of it is unproductive, or better yet counterproductive, it simply is a waste of time. Many students simply don’t know how or won’t study for tests because the homework serves no real purpose for test preparation.

My True story of excess homework (one of many)

When I was in 6th grade the whole class had difficulty understanding basic statistics: (mean, median, mode). She assigned six math worksheets over the weekend. The problem was the students weren’t understanding the material, not that the students didn’t practice enough.

11 thoughts on “More from Yesterday’s High School Senior

  1. Ok, maybe I’m not the brightest match in the box and…… aging, average brain may be playing tricks on me but the first time I encountered “basic statistics” in my education was in late high school, and the stuff I remember was taught in second year university. When did I truly understand anything about basic statistics?……By 4th year University when I was doing my own research studies and had read over a 100 or so papers. Age 22.

    Why are we trying to teach stats to 11 year olds?


  2. I am a college professor. While some may argue that some of my assignments are overly challenging… all of my assignments are designed to force students to consider complex issues independently. They are meant (usually) to take little time, but be addressed seriously.

    It stuns me how much training I have to commit to showing our incoming freshmen how I intend their “homework” to be used.

    For example:
    – Students have typically been “trained” to rewrite all of my questions prior to typing their answers. What a gratuitous waste of time – I should know what I asked.

    – Students typically ask “how long it has to be”, where, to me, if you address the questions as asked, the length is unimportant (as short as possible to answer the questions). More meat, less filler.

    -Students have been taught to “read” the textbook. No one should literally read a text – it is a reference, use it to gain information, not to follow word-for-word. Use it to glean key features, organize material, identify differences between similar ideas, and so on.

    -Homework is not an opportunity to force students to teach themselves something that you don’t find interesting enough to cover.

    Now that my children are working their way up this system, it is that much more infuriating.


  3. Yay, K!

    You prove the point in spades. We are literally drilling the thinking skills right out of childrens’ heads. They are trained to do so many mindless things from the moment they pick up a pencil that by the time they reach college 12 years later, there is no energy to think once they’ve covered all the mindless activity. Reading logs are a good example. Requirements like “Write three sentences” for answers, or write a page. What if the child has only one thing to say and can say it in a sentence and then spends the next hour trying to come up with the rest of the page. It’s mindless.

    What does it train? To me, one thing it does is let the child know that what they think (in one sentence) is not good enough. What they produce is not good enough unless it fills a page. So they learn to BS to fill the page. Filler, as “K” put it. And it starts in kindergarten. That’s the galling part.


  4. I hear you, K! 🙂 It’s enough to make me want to homeschool my son…

    Homework in college is really part of the way college prepares you to be a more independent learner. That’s part of the point of being in college! Once you decide on what you want to *do* (or at least major in), you should really be at a point when you’re taking charge of your own learning. You won’t have teachers to hold your hand and explain things forever. Once, when I asked a professor if I could take yet another class on a subject I felt shaky about (stats, actually :P), his response was-‘what, can you not read a book?’

    Other teachers/professors complain that if you don’t spell out the instructions in class to the last point (including word counts, formatting, etc.), you’ll have people that try to get by and b.s. or give you something entirely different than what you want. Has anyone else seen 20 page syllabi? Yikes.

    Loose instructions may make grading harder a bit (in a 100+ person class with 0-1 TAs, that’s not trivial), but it makes for more interesting work! At least you won’t be reading identical answers all night 🙂 I find that I get lots of great ideas for my own work from things students say too. Plus, when I have given explicit instructions in the past, it’s that much more annoying when students are obviously not reading them… Do I really want to be determining how many points someone should lose for not following my instructions precisely? BORING.

    Of course, the real problem is that students expect explicit instructions on everything too. I *always* have 30 emails from students asking for everything from ‘is 5.35 pages long enough?’ to ‘can you give me a list of 20 possible topics to write on?’ despite my assertion that I want their ideas. Now, not all students are like this, and many of the ones that are have been trained that way, as K pointed out. It’s frustrating when I try to encourage independence while other courses are encouraging them to follow instructions. It’s confusing for students (and kids) who are trying to figure out what the point of it all is. Is the point of life just to follow instructions? Learning is something someone’s supposed to make me do and then I go and have my real life?

    I could go into a whole other rant on the problems with the grading system and how it’s related to the whole homework and learning issue, but I’ll spare you 😛 It’d be nice to see what the research has to say about it, though.

    Thanks for your website!



  5. I should rename myself Mother’s Day Blues today. I was a prolific poster on this blog but stopped for a while because nothing has changed and a parent at this school who co-commiserates with me doesn’t think there’s much we can do. There probably is but it’s like moving mountains. I already tried writing a carefully crafted email in November to the principal and so far I’m still in the batter’s box, either struck out or hitting foul balls..

    But I’m singin’ the blues today and cast about , wondering just who would really be able to “feel my pain.” This is the place to come and vent. My daughter is a high school junior so it’s more than just venting. It’s not just about being a chronic whiny complainer. I have better things to do.

    Last night, my daughter took a break from a major pager she’s working on and we took a moonlit walk. We are doing this every night and it’s beautiful. Whether my daughter can afford the time or not, I urge her to come and our family takes this lovely walk in the neighborhood. I prefer twilight or sunset but my daughter is never ready, still working hard so by 9pm I insist and off we go.We walk up the block and then it’s time to come home. That’s all the time we have and we can’t even spare that.

    It struck me yet again that the things I crave, that I am so sad we don’t have time for are simple pleasures. What I wanted to do today is completely free and if we pack bag lunches, all we pay for is gas.

    But we can’t do any of them. It’s not about goofing off, it’s not about not meeting responsibilities. If I had a major work project, I might find myself choosing to be shut in too. If I had to attend a conference today and woke to a cool breezy gorgeous Mother’s Day, I’d suck it up and say, well, I have to go, responsibilities come first.

    It’s not that way with our high school kids at the “better” schools.. It’s not the occasional weekend being shut in. It is chronic relentless homework that spills into every weekend. Weekends are either the same old same old grind that maybe you could rush through to make time for a walk or two papers due that require every second.

    Even at the “best” schools, something is terribly wrong when my daughter watches videos in history and anthropology class but the papers are sent home. Why can’t it be in reverse? Do most of the hard stuff at school and assign the videos for home viewing. Now that’s something I can do with my daughter! I know the answer to that, why not push it to the family if you can get away with it, but that just makes me madder.

    There were a number of wonderful free things in my area I wanted to take our family too this weekend. The Lincoln exhibit at the Library of Congress which closes today. The azaleas at the arboretum which will be gone when we can next make the time. The free Mother’s Day concert at the Kennedy Center. I’m cursed with a kid who I just LOVE to be with, our excursions have always been enlightening, educational and so much darned fun. But I’m not allowed. I
    Two major papers due tomorrow. I’m so disappointed that I wound up blurting out to my husband, “why did I even bother marrying and having a child if I just have to do everything by myself?” My daughter overheard it. Happy Mother’s Day. Now she feels guilty and it’s not her fault. Good going, mom.

    Do I sacrifice my entire family on the alter of homework? Hell, no! When she was in elementary, I took control. Clearly not enough, but I did the best I could with what I had. My daughter would walk through the door and I’d say, if you have this much work ________________________, and only this much time ________________, then you only do this much work ________________.

    But now she’s in high school and walking this tightrope can be excruciating for parents.When I express dissatisfaction with homework, I underscore my philosophy. I’m not anti-education, quite the contrary. I remind her how much time we spent on writing in the homeschool year, that I believe in hard work, passion and talent. But if you never have experiences, if you never go anywhere ,or have time to read a book or visit a museum or take in a ballet, your writing goes flat because you have no personality or personal stories from which to draw inspiration. One paper asks my daughter to recollect family vacations. Hello, we rarely take any because of homework. There is a disconnect when the the teacher posts on Blackboard, have a lovely Mother’s Day, don’t forget the paper due tomorrow.

    So Mother’s Day is canceled. I thought about all the things I wanted to do today and how my choices are to be either shut in with my daughter or go off by myself. If someone wishes me a Happy Mother’s Day, do I just grumble? I wrestled with my approach. If I post on my Facebook page the list of activities I wanted to do with my family but didn’t, no one would get it and think I just got busy or didn’t want to be with my daughter. If I write, this is what I wanted to do but can’t because of homework, I come off whiny. If someone asks me what I did and I reply “nothing,” I come off boring. It’s not about impressing people or worrying what they think. It’s,who am I and why I am living this life? Why is this happening to all of us?

    So I developed a new tactic. My Facebook status message contained all the things I wanted to do as if we were actually doing them! A litany of cultural, educational and outdoor events I will attend today! I couldn’t resist. My final event was, brunch in Paris. At least I still have a sense of humor.


  6. Major PAPER, meant to write. Not pager. Typo. I don’t catch all my mistakes because the draft is such light print.


  7. Hi HomeworkBlues — happy Mother’s Day! I hope you have a chance to enjoy your daughter. Hang in there, summer is coming soon.

    Could your daughter do something different next year? Could she take a “gap” year after high school? She really needs a break.

    Your posts, as well as my daughter’s experience, have made me very skeptical of the whole gifted-industrial complex. In our district, all they know how to do with a bright kid is put pressure on them to achieve more, faster.

    I’ve read a lot on the “gifted” issue and so many people recommend acceleration, even skipping one or two grades. I know that wouldn’t help my daughter and I wonder how many kids are really helped by that.

    I’ve come to the conclusion that the problem with the schools is not so much that the material is too easy, and she could do more difficult work, although that’s often true. The real problem is that the approach is too rigid and controlling, and she needs more freedom. If she has more freedom she can find the right degree of difficulty for herself.

    We don’t have anything planned for Mother’s Day — we’ll have a quiet day at home. I’ll play flute-viola duets with my older daughter and take the younger one out for a walk/bike ride. It’s a gorgeous day, so we’ll spend some time in the garden. I hope you find some moments of leisure too. OK, enough time at the computer — I’m on my way outside!


  8. Thanks so much, FedUpMom. I’d like to respond point by point because you made some compelling ones, but I’d better get off the computer and clean the house. That seems the best option today!

    I had such wonderful plans. I have such a wonderful kid. So it’s not for lack of imagination, ideas or desire. We have those three critical ingredients already in place to make a dynamic interesting family.

    Regardless, I’m bagging Mother’s Day, it’s fraught now with too much regret. How is it shaping up today? My daughter did have some scheduled events this weekend. She had a graduation at our place of worship yesterday, of course we weren’t going to miss that, she played a large role. Also at our place of worship, she had community service this morning (that she missed. I didn’t have the heart to wake her) and she attended her choir practice there too. She howled she couldn’t make the time but I pushed her out the door, at least she’d get a few minutes of socialization there. When it’s over, everyone absconds, rushing home to get projects done. lf she didn’t attend these weekend classes, she’d never see her friends.

    But half of Saturday and half of Sunday are devoted to these papers and that’s not nearly enough time. When homework proponents here espouse its perceived virtues, what is their take on weekend homework? How much time exactly must a student put in? Our weekends all year have taken on a drab monotone. Friday night she’s usually too fried from a week of sleep deprivation to get any homework done. This Friday afternoon we raced out to buy clothes for the graduation last minute because it was the only three hour block we had in weeks!

    So Mother’s Day is canceled. I can’t recover it. My husband tried to make me feel better and we considered taking the laptop to the arboretum so at least I could see the azaleas, a spring treasure. But the battery won’t last that long so we had to bag that idea. It comes to a point where it’s all a consolation prize so why bother?

    To break the monotony, my husband walked with her to the library to get her papers done. She’s anxious because she still has volumes to write and it’s already 3pm. I love the library too but when it’s a consolation prize and the best family time I can get is sitting next to her while she slaves away at this project, I’m starting to think I’ll pass.

    He’s with her and I’m home drowning my sorrows at the computer. I’m losing my soul!

    FedUp, you make some good points about schools and gifted education. I’ll explore those with you further. The short of it is this: my daughter likes her school, she likes the kids, she fits in. If not for the homework load, it wouldn’t be a bad place at all. That’s like saying if not for the tsunami, the beach is a marvelous place to hang out.

    My child does not want the stress and pressure. Sadly, the children think it’s the price they must pay to go there. My daughter had the opportunity to leave for the last two years of school. She chose to remain where she is. My husband felt then we should let her. We don’t have many choices right now.

    Should I have continued homeschooling after that one year? Probably. The thing about high school is, once you begin homeschooling, you have to stay the course. You can always pull out to homeschool but the reverse is much trickier. I could have done that, continued homeschooling. You know what a strong proponent of homeschooling I am. I even proposed last year we skip high school and go straight to college but my daughter didn’t want to be with 19+ year olds as a fifteen year old.

    Homeschooling is heaven yet it still irks me that my tax dollars must go to educate other people’s children while we are forced to bail.


  9. I would just like to comment that, as a student, homework instructions, including ‘write a page’ or having a set topic on a writing tests, can be extremely restricting and kill imagination. Can’t we come with our own ideas? Or are we too dumb for that? *sigh*
    stressed_out_student year 9, age 14


  10. OH! And you’re right about special days. It’s mum and dad’s 10th anniversary in a few days and I haven’t prepared anything because of 2 exams, maths revision and 3 projects packed into one week. Thank goodness it’s a 3 day weekend. 😛


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