Saturday, December 15, 2012

Getting Rid Of Homework Makes Some Sense

Today's Schools

If there is one area in which parents and children can agree is over homework's benefits, and whether it is necessary at all for academic achievement. An article by Louis Menard in The New Yorker says that the president of France, François Hollande, who has the power to do just that, is thinking about abolishing homework.
The French President’s emancipation proclamation regarding homework may give heart not only to les enfants de la patrie but to the many opponents of homework in this country as well—the parents and the progressive educators who have long insisted that compelling children to draw parallelograms, conjugate irregular verbs, and outline chapters from their textbooks after school hours is (the reasons vary) mindless, unrelated to academic achievement, negatively related to academic achievement, and a major contributor to the great modern evil, stress. M. Hollande, however, is not a progressive educator. He is a socialist. His reason for exercising his powers in this area is to address an inequity. He thinks that homework gives children whose parents are able to help them with it—more educated and affluent parents, presumably—an advantage over children whose parents are not. The President wants to give everyone an equal chance.
Homework is an institution roundly disliked by all who participate in it. Children hate it for healthy and obvious reasons; parents hate it because it makes their children unhappy, but God forbid they should get a check-minus or other less-than-perfect grade on it; and teachers hate it because they have to grade it. Grading homework is teachers’ never-ending homework. Compared to that, Sisyphus lucked out.
Does this mean that we would be better off getting rid of it? Two counts in the standard argument against homework don’t appear to stand up. The first is that homework is busywork, with no effect on academic achievement. According to the leading authority in the field, Harris Cooper, of Duke University, homework correlates positively—although the effect is not large—with success in school. Professor Cooper says that this is more true in middle school and high school than in primary school, since younger children get distracted more easily. He also thinks that there is such a thing as homework overload—he recommends no more than ten minutes per grade a night. But his conclusion that homework matters is based on a synthesis of forty years’ worth of research.
Leaving aside the political or economic arguments, which have some validity, there are other issues with homework. It might also be the poor quality of the homework that children today receive; as the parent of school-aged children over the years, I would have to agree that that much of what is considered homework today has dubious academic or learning value; much of it is just a waste of time and the kids know it. If the idea of schools or education is to teach academic subjects and societal values and skills, it becomes imperative that the homework assignments reflect that. Many do not.

Then there's the matter of boredom; children bore easily. Not surprising, children would rather be spending their time on fun, enriching activities than on rote learning.  We are living in a digital age, where much information is at our fingertips. Some homework is necessary to reinforce certain ideas it seems, but probably not as much as some pedagogues think. There has to be a happy balance between the two, one that intimately understands that children today are not the same as twenty or even ten years ago.

You can read the rest of the article at [New Yorker]

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