From the Mouth of a Ninth Grader

Dear Sara,

I’ve seen your website, and I just want to say how grateful I am that someone out there besides my friends and I understand how awful homework is and how it really doesn’t help us learn at all.

I’m a freshman at a competitive public high school in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I’ve always spent large amounts of time on homework; last year, I spent maybe 2 1/2 hours on homework on average. This year, it’s much worse. On good nights, I spend maybe 3 1/2 hours on homework. On especially bad nights, I spend up to 4 1/2 hours doing homework.

All my teachers give horrible amounts of work; my math teacher gives us up to 30 long, complicated math problems, which takes me a while because I’m not particularly good at math, and I check my work because I’m afraid he’ll give us a pop quiz on it the next day. My history teacher gives long, grueling assignments, mostly involving reading long textbook chapters and then doing worksheets on them. My English teacher gives huge amounts of work; we have to memorize 200 vocabulary words a month, complete terribly long essays he grades meticulously, do worksheets on a novel we’re reading exclusively in class, AND read a novel that’s supposed to be read exclusively at home. It’s horrible, because English has always been my favorite subject, and now I dread

going to class every day because I’m afraid of the mountainous pile of work he’ll give us that day. I’m in three advanced classes; English, history, and Spanish. Most of my friends are in all advanced, which means they have even more homework than I do. One of my friends goes to school, goes to sports practice and gets home by 7:30, then does homework until midnight and has to wake up at 6 o’clock in the morning to get to school on time. Another one of my friends told me she stayed up until midnight working on one essay. An essay! Essays should be challenging, but not so challenging that they take 3 hours to do!

Most of my homework, truthfully, is studying. I usually have at least three tests every other week. I have two next week, one Monday and one Tuesday. I’ve always done well in school, and now that I’m in high school, I have to work even harder to get the A’s that came so easily in middle school. I study all my class notes maybe for 20 minutes each. Then I have to do the written homework, which takes forever because I like to do a thorough job.

If something is worth 4 1/2 hours of my time, it should be useful, right? It should help me in some way. But homework has never helped me. In 7th grade I spent an hour a day filling out math worksheets my teacher gave us; they were essentially 50 of the same math problem. But I did it all, because if I didn’t, I would get a zero which would kill my grade. But the thing was, usually after the 5th problem I got the concept. So why should I have to do 45 more?

Every time I talk to one of my friends–which isn’t often, because we all have the same ridiculous amounts of homework–all I hear is, “I’m so overwhelmed,” “I had so much work last night!”, or “I forgot to study for the vocab quiz today because I had so much science homework last night!”.
It’s just terrible, how we never have time to do what we want to do. How I don’t have time to hang out with my family, see my friends, write, read, or do anything I love to do, because I have so much work every night. School should be about learning. And I am learning. But the 4 1/2 hours I waste every night does not help me learn in the slightest.

I’ve played hockey for the past year and a half or so, and I love it. But I recently had to quit because practices went on too long and I was up too late doing homework. I’ve always loved creative writing and I joined a literary club at my school–one of the few things I like about high school–and I had to skip the meeting yesterday because I just had too much work.

You have weekends, my mom tells me every time I complain to her about how much homework I have. The thing is, I don’t. I usually have Friday nights and Saturdays, but then on Sunday (which should be the day of rest!) I sleep in until about 10, exhausted from how little sleep I get every week, and then do homework on and off all day.

I’m 14 years old. I should be allowed to be a teenager! It’s so unfair. My friends who go to other public districts near me don’t have nearly as much homework. I hate it.

Thank you so much for speaking out and taking a stand. Everyone should know how useless homework is and how it just consumes the lives of kids who are still just that–kids. And we should be allowed to be kids.

21 thoughts on “From the Mouth of a Ninth Grader

  1. Reading your story Ninth Grader, I think back to my own high school days and I know it wasn’t much different 35 years ago. Good students work hard. But now that I’m almost 50, I don’t see where all that time spent did me much good. I was a shy kid and I could hide behind my mountain of books, but was that good for me?

    I never had summer school work, but I worked every summer in fulltime summer jobs. When (at age 41) I took 8 months off work after I adopted my baby, it was the first time EVER in my adult life that I was not working at a job or going to school. It was bliss…it was the best time. And somehow I don’t think that I did myself any good being a slave to teachers, then professors, then employers, all the while ignoring myself and what was going to make me happy. Our lives are bigger than that and we only get one shot, at one life.
    Maybe we’ll be able to turn this ship around in the next few years….I hope for your sake that you get a chance to be a teenager, somehow, sometime.


  2. One of the issues we need to confront is the Cult of Overwork. Just because you’re working hard doesn’t mean you’re accomplishing anything useful. The work might not be productive.

    If we threw out unnecessary homework, we’d reduce the volume by at least three quarters. But even if all the homework was useful, there would still be such a thing as too much.

    This issue comes up all the time in the comments posted by teachers. They’re always exclaiming over the hours they spend and all the work they do. I have the same questions for them. How much of that work is useful? How much is necessary?


  3. FedUpMom and Psych Mom- well said. I thought the purpose of an education was to better one’s quality of life. In the here and now, my daugher’s homework and school projects erode my family’s quality of life. The “subtext” of what the teachers seem to post is; “I’m miserable so my students should have to be too.”


  4. That really is too much homework. I’ve been sharing the Bill of Rights of Homework, which Sara posted recently, with all my colleagues in a public school in South Jersey, not too far from you. My middle daughter is a senior at Central High School in Philadelphia. She transferred there after ninth grade at a private school in the burbs, where she had a similar workload to yours. At Central, she has had about 2.5 hours a night, which she can handle. It’s still primarily busy work. I have an eight grader applying to Central, CAPA and Masterman. You’re probably at one of those! If your parents go to conferences or PTA meetings, they should share the Bill of Rights. It’s from Rethinking Homework, by Cathy Vatterott and is posted on this website.


  5. I have a ton of homework… I used to play the guitar but can’t anymore because I can never practice and don’t have time for lessons, I use to Run for like a hour a day, and now I can’t or participate in the soccer and basketball i used to….. I have at least 5 hours a night, on weekends I spend all of Friday and Saturday on homework, and on Sunday I get up and go to church then come home finish homework and go to bed, or else I’d end up with like no sleep ever.I started my homework today at 3:30 PM, and I didn’t eat dinner or take any breaks, and I stilll have at least an hour more after this break, and tonight I’m lucky :)….. usually I’m up till 12 or 1, and I get up an 5…. Alll I ever do is homework, another thing that stinks is that is we miss a PE because we were sick we have to ake it up at school after school, and I don’t have time with so much homework, sometimes I’ve stayed up all night on homework, did I mention I’m in Seventh Grade, my friends from school who have school year b-day parties don’t even have parties cuz no one at my school has time….
    (you can contact me there)


  6. There have been teachers on this blog who read stories like mine and Lily’s above and conclude our situation is very very unique. One teacher told me so and suggested we switch districts. Okay, I’ll give her some slack on the suggestion, she couldn’t have known our situation, but my daughter is not in a base or neighborhood school so we can’t just switch districts. The public school option for us is to leave the magnet and go to base.

    But this incredulity teachers express. What planet are they living on? They really have no clue, or are they just putting us on? How can schools assign homework and be so uninvolved in how it’s executed? They want to see it done but never ever question how it went? The cynical side of me says, why should schools bother? When you get this much free labor, you keep your mouth shut, right? Why rock the boat when you’ve got a good thing going. I’ll bet you teachers will be the first to protest Obama’s longer school day plan. After all, we all know the day is already lengthened. With free involuntary labor.

    What is astounding is how many school officials deny that what Lily describes is a reality. The students at my daughter’s school have written school newspaper articles on depression and sleep deprivation. When they interview school officials, the standard line is, it’s the kids’ faults.If only they had better time management and less extra curriculars, asserting it’s those two issues and not homework overload that is causing our “high achieving” teens to become depressed and sleep deprived.

    Never mind that kids get conflicting messages all the time to begin with. Colleges say, take the most demanding classes your school has to offer but make sure you retain your love of learning. We want to see tons of extra curriculars, accolades and awards but make sure you get sleep. They keep talking passion and the kids are bleary eyed and just trying to survive. In short, high schoolers are told to take the hardest courses and as many extra curriculars as possible and then blamed when they do just that.

    We’re sensible in our household. Limit the APs and don’t over schedule. Truth be told, I’d rather my daughter did more after school activities and a lot less homework. She needs the former far more than the latter. It gives her socialization, team work, a passion, an art form, an outlet.


  7. Very well written and well-put. Me, a 14-year-old and soon-to-be freshman, completely agree. I have been getting 2-3 hours each night and the teachers said it gets much worse in high school, and I can’t believe it. My mom says in her generation she usually got thirty minutes to an hour tops– even as a senior! It’s a good thing I read this as I think any late middle schooler or high school student can relate.
    I’m so glad I found this website too. Already I’m a full-fledged supporter 🙂

    PS. You must have liked English, considering you’re an amazing writer. Keep up the good work.


  8. U.S. students consistently score lower than students in two thirds of the developed world in standardized tests. One notable difference between US and international students is that we spend far fewer hours in school on academic work and far fewer hours at home studying. Homework may not always be meaningful or constructive, but getting rid of it is not the answer. We need to fundamentally change the way we learn and the way we think about learning. The average American High School student is severely sleep deprived AND the majority do not graduate college ready (even from upper middle class exemplary public school or expensive private schools). If we get rid of homework, will you sleep more? I wouldn’t. How will you make up the deficit between your education and the student across the Pacific who spends 20 more hours per week on academics? I don’t have the answer. I just thinking the idea that we are working too hard is dangerously myopic.


  9. I could not agree more! I’m in seventh grade and am in all honors classes. I spend my whole afternoon doing homework, starting right when I get home and finishing after dinner time. I simply can’t take it any longer. Our schools are not allowing us to have a childhood. I can’t spend time with friends or family with a workload as crazy as this. It’s depressing me and its hard for me to find something I look forward to – even the weekends are all homework! Life is precious; I think we are wasting it.


  10. I’m in 10th grade and oh boy, if there’s hell, than it is this. I don’t spend any time with my family and friends all because of homework, endless homework. I want to sleep and relax, but I have no time because of all the homework. It is horrible. I can’t do it anymore. And next year I have the IB program… I feel like I am becoming a zombie. Homework is pointless. That’s it.


  11. As I read through this particular page, I noticed something very interesting, especially noted by “HomeworkBlues”: the notion that teachers are slave drivers with “free labor” and such. What I would like to mention is that teachers also have to work because of homework.

    Grading papers, putting in assignments, and aligning assignments with the required curriculum are just some of the many tasks that teachers go through with homework. This would lead one to believe: Why? Why would teachers put increasing pressure on themselves and their students with additional homework? The answer is simple. Teachers are trained professionals who take years of their lives to understand the inner workings of school, from the Kindergarden to Graduate School.

    Don’t you think they know best when it comes to education? Considering how much school has changed since most parents were in class, doesn’t it make sense that a teacher would increase stress on himself, his pupils and parents for a good reason? Its because nightly homework assignments create habit.

    This habit continues throughout one’s life. And since most of brain development occurs before the age of 10, teachers are rushed to create the habit of nightly studying that will benefit students throughout college and beyond. People who fight the idea of homework in the name of stress do not understand that the stress will increase dramatically if this does not occur. The stress of college and possible graduate school, job finding, and even working will all increase dramatically if said habits do not occur, because students will not be used to the work that is required to be put in in order to be successful.


  12. Dude, the college and graduate school systems are based off the same mind-set that created homework for primary and secondary school students. Ask anyone you know with a job and they’ll say that if THEY had to do work outside of their normal hours, away from the place they normally do it, they would either want way more money or they wouldn’t want the job.
    Look into John Taylor Gatto’s work for a broader perspective on the history (With sources.) of how the Prussian model of education came to be the norm.


  13. AussieGriffin, though I may not necessarily agree with your views, I do respect the intellectual response. Thank you for that. But your analogy regarding work as a job versus education simply does not fit, because education is more than just work in a class room. It is about extending what you have learned. Through a job, your work after hours means nothing but more money. But through school, that work means more applying and practice of information, which is very beneficial. Secondly, I find it hard that one would criticize the US university system as being to reliant on homework, considering the wild success of American schools (11 out of the top 20 colleges in the world are in the US). I do believe that said education system is working around the world, but is not being backed up by our primary education, and banning homework will not help.


  14. I’m in 9th grade as well, and I am only 13 years old. I honestly think that you aren’t receiving enough homework. I receive about 6-7 hours a day, especially from my Honors Physics class. I’m in the USA, but I still think you should get more homework. It is for the better, try downloading some worksheets online, it will help you get used the massive amounts of homework. I agree about being a teenager and what not, but part of being a teenager is homework (actually the majority is) being in relationships are for the stupid people and they won’t learn anything, hold that off till you graduate from college… Just remember, you aren’t alone, and if anything. people are suffering way more than you are, and you are over-reacting. Good luck later in life.


  15. To the above 9th grade with the impossible handle: You seem very industrious and hard working. I applaud you for your conscientious efforts and diligence. But you’re making some fundamental assumptions and mistakes. I cannot blame you. You are only 14 or 15.

    Nowhere do you state a valid reason for homework, other than working hard and suffering because it’s less suffering than what one would expect in other countries. You also make a faulty assumption that a heavy homework load equals more learning and learning doesn’t take place without heavy homework. That is a flawed assumption.

    Speaking for myself and my family, I have detailed on this blog numerous times all the learning that fell by the wayside on the alter of homework. My daughter has graduated high school but I’d like to recount to you her passions and commitment to learning. She was (and still is but I shall write in past tense to demonstrate her childhood) a ravenous reader, a math whiz, who loved books and science and math puzzles and building (future engineer) and art and museums and free performances (we educated on a shoestring budget, thus punching holes into arguments I’ve heard here that we are the whiny rich) and hikes and lectures and art exhibits…I could go on and on and on.

    Tedious mindless homework doesn’t facilitate learning as much as it breeds compliance and submissiveness. The accusation that those parents here who have the nerve to question the emperor without clothes will produce selfish unproductive sloppy lazy children and future adults doesn’t hold water. The notion that only schools can raise healthy young people if we could just get these pesky parents out of the way is so erroneous it would be hilarious if it weren’t so sad.

    P.S. I love your “can’t not” play on grammar. It’s a spoof, right? Because if it weren’t, another installment in my “would be hilarious if it weren’t so sad” series.


  16. I am a 14 year old Freshman in Michigan. Like it says in one of the comments above, teens are constantly told to have plenty of extra curricular’s, a 3.8 GPA (preferably higher), jobs, and anything to make us stand out to the GOOD colleges. I am attempting to do just that and my life has become a wreck. I am taking the max number of honors classes (3 – English, Geometry, and Biology), am in a debate club, and a club called GSA. Since my soccer season has ended and I am not in gym this semester, I am trying to run on the treadmill for an hour each night. Trying to stay in good health with my schedule is completely useless. Knowing that I won’t have time to run every night to stay a healthy weight, I skip breakfast and lunch even though I’m so hungry I can’t focus. Not to mention, I am trying to get a job to help pay for my college tuition, because there is no way that my family can afford the full cost + room and board to an average school. I don’t even want to think about the cost of going to say, Brown, or any of the other Ivy Leagues. But with the crazy amounts of homework teachers are giving how will I have time for a job? To keep myself healthy? To do tons of extra curricular’s? Or – here’s a crazy one: when will I have time to enjoy life? It may not sound important to schools, but having time to enjoy ones self IS essential. With all the homework I’ve been getting, I haven’t had that luxury and it has had a tremendous effect on me. This year I’ve been in a deep depression that I have been trying to overcome. I don’t want to get out of bed anymore. Why would I? It’s hopeless to live in the illusion that someone could be the superhuman teachers want you to be.

    So the question is – is the extra pointless work we receive worth our health, sanity, and happiness?


  17. I’m a 14 year old freshman in two honors classes (English and Biology) and in one advanced class (Geometry). Between the massive amounts of homework and teachers that can never seem to explain anything even when you ask after class, I can barely keep up an approximate 3.5 GPA. And adding on extracurricular activities and the fact that my parents are split up and I’m always switching between houses and families, I rarely ever get to see my friends outside of school, let alone my boyfriend, who goes to a different school. Relationships are extremely important to me, because connections between people help get you places in life. Ever since October, however, I’ve developed extreme general anxiety and even some social anxiety- which for me, a theater/art kid, is extremely unusual. And as of late, I’ve fallen into depression over not being able to see even my best friend. I don’t think school in general should stop me from being a teenager. I don’t think it should stop me from being sane. I don’t think it should stop me from being happy.


  18. And that’s EXACTLY why I gave myself a 30th birthday gift by buying a secondhand copy of THE CASE AGAINST HOMEWORK! I even highlighted the facts and relatable notions and wrote in the margins insightful, up-to-date notes (especially COMMON CORE) and my anecdotes and memories from my public school days, despite me being a mainstreamed student with autism myself. You’re one in a growing number of reasons (as in homework overload-weary people) why I can’t put that book down, let alone reread and add to or highlight the text – it’s ALL TOO RELEVANT FOR ME!!!


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