Guest Blogger–A Grad Student Speaks Out

Today’s guest blogger, Candace Hanson, is a graduate of Oral Roberts University and is currently studying Counseling at Valparaiso University. She is originally from Atlanta, Georgia. She just sent me the following piece a few days ago and her timing couldn’t have been more perfect. The Comments to Monday’s blog post are about this very topic.

Homework Discriminates Against Children from Dysfunctional Homes
by Candace Hanson

I have long thought about how productive homework actually is. In school I was the type who aced all of my tests, participated in class, and generally learned the material. But it never failed–the more homework I had for a class, the worse I did in it since I didn’t do the homework and completion was counted as a part of my grade.

Why would such a smart kid not do homework? Especially if it was the only thing that stood in the way of getting an A? Well my home life was not really one in which it was easy to do homework. I had an extremely dysfunctional family. There was always yelling and fighting. My parents were both pretty checked out, so my sister and I kept the household going. We were the oldest so we cooked, cleaned, did laundry, and helped the younger kids with homework and baths etc. When we got home, we were pretty much the heads of the household, and doing our homework was not only physically impossible, but school was not even on our minds at home–we were concerned with surviving and our siblings’ survival.

Now when I look back, I think of how many kids there probably are out there like me. Home is chaos, dysfunction, or overflowing with unreasonable amounts of responsiblity for whatever reason. How can these children be graded on their ability to complete tasks at home, when home can be an unpredictable, uncontrollable environment? How can a teacher mark a child’s grade down for not doing homework, and mark another child up because he completed it, when the fact that the child did not do the homework may be completely out of his control? Maybe home life is easier for child #2. His parents encourage him and help him with his homework. He has not much to worry about other than cleaning his room and practicing the piano. Is it fair for child #1 that his grade is dependent on his home, which is not his fault, and under which he rarely has control?

It’s just another reason why homework needs to GO! A student’s achievement as far as grades go should be measured in the class, during the school time. Whenever grades are influenced by something the child is supposed to do outside of the class, I would go as far as to say that this could be construed as discrimination. Students from less stable or healthy families are discriminated against.

Could the presence of homework be one of the many factors that is causing and perpetuating the stratification of society by socioeconomic status and race and contributing to the achievement gap?

8 thoughts on “Guest Blogger–A Grad Student Speaks Out

  1. Your last sentence says it all….in addition to standardized testing and modern curricula that perpetuate the marginalization of whole groups of childen, we have homework that only makes the struggling child feel worse. To make homework, especially in elementary grades, mandatory and something that figures into a measure of achievement (ie grades) is making a value judgement about childrens’ lives. It’s like getting a gold star for having a Mommy (who is a homemaker) and Daddy (who has an important job!), and living in a nice house. Another example of how out of date homework is.


  2. The irony of all this is that NCLB purports to help the impoverished or struggling child.

    It has always struck me as odd that teachers have the authority to grade you on work you did when you were not in class. Even years ago, I would cringe with indignity when I’d meet with a teacher and she would purse her lips in disapproval because some homework didn’t get done.

    Don’t you wish we could all go in there and demand to scrutinize and evaluate exactly what happens when they have our kids? Of course we can, it’s our right, and we should.


  3. Or, what if they parents are involved, but don’t happen do be literate in English? I’ve noticed that in lower elementary, homework papers have directions written in tiny print well above the grade level of the students. If they do send something home, it should be something that needs no clarification to the child, that he can do on his own. But I agree with the post that they shouldn’t send it at all.


  4. Increasingly, I see homework that requires the use of the internet for research. Not every child has access to the internet at home and the computer labs at school are closed at the end of the day.

    I’m also seeing more and more group homework projects where several students are required to get together after school hours. It’s impossible to coordinate the schedules of 3 or 4 middle school students when they can’t drive themselves.


  5. This is an excellent point. I grew up in a similar household. I still have this vivid memory of having to tell my 10th grade chemistry teacher that I hadn’t studied for my test because my father, in a drunken tantrum, had taken it from me and hid it. I am not even kidding. My teacher looked at me like I was making up some big story. I failed the test.

    These days, I’m a single working Mom. I don’t have a dysfunctional home, but I have to wait until after to work to help my kids. That means we don’t even start homework until after 6:30 most nights, and then we are rushed and tired and hungry. I was appalled the other day when on the night of the 1st grade play, my son was assigned homework. I barely got him there in time for the curtain call at 6:30. But a lot of the kids had been home all afternoon. My son’s situation is not equal to that, and so his homework was not turned in. Totally situational and nothing to do with attitude or desire to learn.


  6. I’m sorry — I was typing fast. What I meant to say was that my father had taken my book from me while studying. Often, in dysfunctional homes, parents actually work in cross-purposes to a child, especially when that child has a desire to succeed. They consider them uppity and ungrateful.


  7. This was incredible. I experienced situations like this growing up and it never crossed my mind that the life of other kids was not like mine. I just felt that I was inferior (this was reinforced by my teachers and parents as well). Not having a clean surface to write on, or paper, or other basic supplies does not mean the child isn’t interested or capable. At the time I even tested very highly on advanced aptitude tests despite that my homework performance kept my grades in the dirt!


  8. Kat, I had something similar happen to me. I was taking AP US History and the teacher mandated that all homework had to be typed. Of course my mother refused to purchase a decent computer, and one night simply wouldn’t allow me to finish my homework. I was typing up a short paper and she walked up and turned the computer off. I didn’t have time to go anywhere else or was allowed to, and I failed that assignment.


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