Parents Should View Homework with Skepticism

I was really happy to see this piece by David Shenk, “Does Homework Work?” in the Atlantic Monthly:

School’s back, and so is Big Homework. Here’s what my 7th grade daughter has to do tonight:

1 Math review sheet,
1 Science essay,
French vocab for possible quiz,
History reading and questionaire, and
English reading and note-taking

About two hours, give or take. This is considered a pretty light load, so as to ramp up gently. Over the next few weeks, it will get up to three hours or more.

Most of us give very little thought to this long-lived combination. School and homework seem as interconnected as cars and gasoline. Kids need homework to get smarter — right? It’s supposed to be how they pick up a good work ethic.

Read the rest here.

13 thoughts on “Parents Should View Homework with Skepticism

  1. I found the comments made at the end by readers to be the most discouraging. The thinking is completely the product of the current education system…no creativity, passed down drugery (if it was good for my grandpa, and good for my pa, it’s good enough for me and my kids-mentality) and more means better. And the focus always seems slanted towards the high school level student…the younger kids are ignored or perhaps forgotten by these 20 somethings that write in touting the necessity for homework.


  2. I love the following comment. This poster must think he’ll get a gold medal someday for being such a trooper. Look at how much he hates learning but finds the drudgery of it oh, so noble. That “redemption through suffering” model again, that doing things we don’t like will build character.

    He’s already decided that calculus isn’t fun for most people, you’ll never have to use it again so just suck it up, take the course, do the homework and when you’re done, kiss the whole damn thing off. After all, math is such a dreary subject, you never plan to go into the field, right?

    “bostonhud September 15, 2009 7:32 PM

    As someone else said, homework isnt completely useless, its more that most teachers dont know how to effectively use it. Aside from the learning aspects, however, homework does teach kids the overall point that sometimes you have to do things in life that you dont like. Theres no point to making something like calculus “fun”. Its pretty boring, and unless you go into a math related field, pretty useless. Its better to just be honest with kids, and tell them that certain subjects arent going to appeal to them, but alas, they have to suffer through them anyway.”

    Her’es a newsflash, bostonhud. What if my kid DID love a certain subject? What if my child likes math? You didn’t say that we should make *those* subjects, interesting, did you? What if the status quo kills a passion? You don’t address *that*!

    If nothing else, we’re fighting here to not kill desire, to not turn students off, to keep that spark alive. This poster thinks that damage is a foregone conclusion. Let us pray he is not a teacher.


  3. It speaks to the purpose of education again…and I think I’m gleaning from the general population that education is about learning to hate school. Education is about free babysitting so that parents can work. Education is about a prescribed 13 years of prison followed by 4 years of skill attainment so that a job (or 5) can be obtained.

    There is nothing in there about a happy life. There’s nothing in there about learning for the betterment of humanity. There’s nothing inspiring about it at all.

    I’m talking myself into homeschooling, day after day, month after month, I can just feel it.


  4. And the saddest part of all? These young people don’t yet realize how cheated they were. We have robbed them of the ability to think.

    With each generation, we have the opportunity to breath life into young people. We hope they take their fresh idealism and zeal and make the world a better place. Instead we kill our young in order to save them.


  5. Homework is totally useful – through home work assignments I learned an astounding, blinding hatred for all things school related.

    And this was back in the 70s/80s when the load was lighter!


  6. I graduated from High school in 1979 and I don’t know if it really was lighter. I know I came home usually near 5 on the school bus, having used any spares at school for homework. I’d veg for a bit, eat supper, and then start homework…..I’d stop for my favourite 1/2 hour sitcom and go back to work…til at least 10. I’d have to can it no later than 11 because otherwise I couldn’t function the next day.
    I recall my mother would come and say good night to me at the kitchen table sometimes and ask me how much longer I’d work. Sympathy, but it was out of her hands because I was such a good student and that’s what you did if you were a good student. I doubt I would have ever asked her to intervene. I was responsible. My classmates who were good students were doing the same thing. That’s just the way it was. It was a badge of honour to be saddled with hours of homework…..and also an excuse for kids like me (shy, awkward) to avoid many of the social goings on. The dicotomy was good versus bad: good students did mountains of homework. Bad students didn’t. And anything less than 80 or an A was bad.

    What a wacko I was then!


  7. PsychMom — it’s funny that you say “education is about free babysitting so parents can work.” My father says the same thing. “School is all about letting parents work their capitalist jobs.” My reply is, “they don’t even do that well!” Right? Working mothers are always scrambling to fill in child care because of random school days off, child’s illnesses, etc.


  8. That’s funny, FUM. They don’t even do free day care right!

    When I was considering homeschooling years ago, a friend put me in touch with a homeschool mom. At that point, I only knew a handful of parents who homeschooled, now I know a ton.

    I asked a question. The intent was not to be snarkey or snide, it was genuine, I really wanted to know.

    I’d become concerned when we switched to public school because the Friday folder was always bulging. When I eagerly pulled it out of her backpack, all I saw was work she’d done at home, What is going on here? I would ask myself.

    “Just what do they do there all day?” I wondered. “Nothing,” the woman replied matter of factly. “It’s day care.”

    Well, day care I didn’t need. I needed an education. Yes, I needed to work but she needed an education. If I wasn’t working (had just been laid off) then we were losing on both counts. She was getting day care, I wasn’t working, and then we homeschooled in the evening (aka, homework). An inefficient use of both our times. This picture had an awful lot wrong with it.


  9. I don’t know if it the same in the States, but there are some parents who want admission to school as early as possible so they no longer have to pay for childcare. That’s why I keep harping on the idea that, for the most part, we are a society that really doesn’t want to look after children. We don’t want to truly do what’s required to raise healthy happy children…the commitment and willingness to sacrifice just isn’t there.


  10. Full disclosure. I am an ardent feminist. I completely support women in their careers and tell my daughter, corny though it is, shoot for the stars. That way when she asks, Mommy, can you homeschool my children?, I think, if I’m still alive, she’ll have the best of both worlds. She’ll have an exciting lucrative career (that way I can move in!) and her children will get an amazing education (I can do this!).

    Very supportive of women and careers and their need to juggle families and work. But I will say this. Many many parents don’t want to interact with their children and use homework as an excuse.

    At the risk of sounding like Phyllis Schlaffly (remember her?), NOT!!! Heaven forfend.

    But my point is this. If you are using homework as an excuse not to play with your child, that’s fine by me, it is your choice. But…admit that that is your motive. Don’t give me some hifalutin’ high minded lofty bromide about how it teaches responsiblity and that you get to see what your child is learning all day. You want to see what your kid is learning? Ask him!

    If your second grader is studying the Great Wall of China, take her to Chinatown. Your third grader learning about Africa? Take her the African Art Museum. Yes, I know, you might not have these options in your area, but these are just examples. Every place in this country has something to offer, something you can do on the side to enrich your child, even if it’s only the nearest library. Free, no excuses. Cultivate a relationship with your child so they will open up to you.

    Again, it is your choice. Your home, you are free to interact as little or as much with your children as you desire. Not my business. But be honest. Don’t clamor for universal across the board homework for everyone because of your own misguided motives.

    And teachers, don’t assign homework based on what the parents want. Structure your school practices on sound research and not on ideology. Your job is to teach, inspire and educate. You are not there to win brownie points from obnoxious parents, you are not a cheer leader.

    So you counter, it’s a private school, I have to cater to my clients. Fine. Give it the ones who clamor for it. At Back to School Night, ask for two lines to form. On the left are all those who want homework overload, on the right are those who want none. I can’t wait to find out which line is longer.

    Oh, parent peer pressure. Well, in that case, still, only assign to the ones who ask. Which begs the question. These parents can’t come up with homework of their own?


  11. You see HWB…that’s the problem. I agree with you…(that’s not the problem)..I just get all excited by the points you raise.
    Parents really cop out in the home support area, to my mind, when they hide behind homework, saying how they need it to know what’s going on in school. It’s not the parents who don’t want homework who are not interested in their children’s education…it’s the exact opposite. Get your butt in school, I say, if you want to know what’s going on. Parents can be so passive…here take my kid please…do something, anything with them, I don’t care, just don’t make me responsible for them any more than I have to be. Somehow parental efficacy has been diminished…there’s something wrong in how a generation of parents has learned to parent.


  12. I’d like to see a 2-way dialogue between teachers and parents (and students!) regarding the benefits/disadvantages of homework and a critique of actual assignments. And, I don’t just mean a few comments in a PTA meeting. I mean a REAL, thoughtful, 2-WAY discussion. Does anyone have this in their schools out there?


  13. It’s all about moderation. Such a simple concept–why is it so hard for many schools to grasp? (and embrace?)

    I made this page in favor of research-based moderation–the “10-minute rule” supported by meta-analysis of 4 decades of homework studies. Hope some teachers see it, along with parents…

    And hey, nice coverage in the Atlantic Monthly. Congrats!


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