Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Hot About Homework

I just finished reading an update from a friend on Facebook about her daughter.  The little girl is in kindergarten and she's already struggling with huge amounts of homework being given every night.  Yes, that's right...to a kindergartner.

One of my biggest pet peeves about people's reasoning in general is the ever-present excuse of "Well, it worked for me," or "Well, that's how I was raised/taught/(whatever)."  It's a lame excuse even in good situations, because it shows absolutely no critical thinking skills or reasoning.  It only proves that we as people tend to fall into the patterns of behavior that we experienced ourselves as children.  So--hint--don't use it.  But over and over again I've been privy to conversations with a wide variety of people who believe that because they were taught or raised a certain way then it's okay for kids now.  Here's what's wrong with that reasoning (beyond the fact that it's just plain lazy and silly, as explained above):  first, we KNOW better now.  Just like we used to think leeches were a great way to get rid of sickness, we know now that they're not and don't use them to bleed people dry.  The same can be said for education, parenting, or any other topic--our knowledge base has grown.  Research has been done, studies have shown repeated results, and it's our jobs as parents and educators to be familiar with them.  In addition, our culture and society is always changing and more complex than it's ever been before.  Would you really want your child being taught to use a typewriter while everyone else is on their laptops?  We have to keep up with the times and best practices, period.

Which brings me back to homework for little ones.  Could someone please explain to me what in the world is the point???  The most common response I get for this is that it "teaches children to get into the habit of being responsible for their own learning".  I don't know about you, but I'm definitely smart and creative enough to find ways to do that without wasting paper on a useless ditto sheet.  Children are responsible for their own learning, period--it's not like we perform some Jedi mind trick to transfer information into little brains.  Kids have to be curious and want to learn, which is inherent in their nature if a skilled teacher taps into it. I've even heard stuff like, "it makes them responsible in returning things to school."  Well, not really.  Some kids learn that lesson, but others have parents who take care of it for them.  Besides, if you want to teach a lesson in responsibility, work on civics, not on homework.  Service learning projects--projects in which children learn to care for and support the community--can't be beat in teaching not only responsibility but interconnectedness and relationships to others. Just my opinion.

Another excuse I hear is that it "reinforces" whatever concepts have been taught.  But teachers, consider this:  are you sure that's what we want to happen at home?  Many children don't receive assistance with their homework, which means that for the ones who have already figured out the lesson, it's a pretty rote practice that doesn't enrich anything.  For the ones who haven't caught on, they're reinforcing the wrong way of doing things.  If they don't understand it, do you really want a six-year old to sit down and try to figure it out himself on a piece of paper?  Generally, they're not going to get it, and God help you if they get it wrong...they've just spent time figuring out the WRONG way of doing things.  And it's an incredibly frustrating role for parents.  I'm a teacher, and for years I was constantly having to teach myself the lesson my kids were learning by reading some teacher handout on the subject and then attempting (usually begrudgingly, out of frustration) to assist them in figuring it out.

Then there's the grading.  Do you grade or not?  Even if you just CHECK to see if the homework is done, recording credit for completion, you're engaging in practices that are inherently unfair to young children.  Who knows whose parents are helping them and who isn't?  Do you know what each child goes home to each evening?  If Claire is getting one parent answering everything for her while June is going home to parents who are apathetic for whatever reason, how in the world is it fair to punish June for her life circumstances at age five?  In reality, that's what happens.  And if you are actually foolish enough to take a grade on homework, please realize that you are NOT assessing anything more than how much parents help their children with their schoolwork in many cases.

The final reason I've heard for homework is that it "keeps parents involved in what their children are learning".  Look, all sorts of parents are out there.  Some are going to be super involved in everything their child does and others won't ever step foot into their child's school.  Homework does nothing of the sort.  If a teacher wants to communicate with me, let him or her do it through newsletters, emails, phone calls, meetings...you know, information that I can use.  I've already completed elementary school and if I wanted to teach it, I'd be homeschooling.  My biggest concern about this idea is the pressure on parents to teach the methods and strategies taught in school.  Parents definitely play a strong role in their children's views and values about education, but they are not trained educators.  In an effort to increase parental participation and honor parents, I fear that we have "dumbed down" the role of the teacher and frustrated many parents into giving up on assisting the school altogether.

When kids have homework (especially a bunch of useless regurgitation of information), they miss out on valuable time to experience the world without adult pressure breathing down their backs.  They miss out on the opportunity to pursue their own learning and feed their own interests, whether that's playing sports or digging worms from the backyard.  More importantly, family time takes a back seat, and often family time becomes "homework time".  How much quality do you experience with your kids when someone else is setting your agenda five nights a week?  That's what I thought.

Until parents and teachers together are willing to stand up and put a stop to this nonsense, homework--and lots of it, for some children--will continue, and so will posts from my friend about the hours her five-year old is spending doing it.



  1. i am teaching in a school that LOVES homework. my kiddos have reading every night (first grade) and a weekly math practice, but other than that they have no homework unless they play around in class and dont get their work done.
    i was approached by several teachers saying i was doing them a disservice by allowing them to get out of the habit of responsible studying.
    im sorry... but studying in FIRST GRADE?! beyond studying for spelling words that makes absolutely no sense. kids can barely read let alone study for a vocabulary or a test over the plant parts.
    i know the head hancho teachers think i may be the devil, but my kids are focusing on what is important and enjoying their learning rather than just dreading the homework all day.
    and when they do get homework... they are excited to share what they have learned with their family. something like find an insect, create a map of your room, or find something that starts with a soft C. they love that more than a worksheet of practice any day.

  2. Great post! I do not understand the point of homework at such a young age, either. I have some friends whose children are in the public Pre-K this year, and those children are bringing home homework! Pre-K!!

  3. M-Totally agree with you! When my son was in first grade, he came home with a calendar of weekly "homework" that consisted of things like talking about the weather, taking a walk together, finding objects starting with a particular sound. We were supposed to pick three each week. I liked that because it was short and sweet, kept us involved together and was meaningful for all of us.

    Amanda, it makes me incredibly sad to hear about pre-k kids doing homework, although it's becoming increasingly common. Somebody, put on the brakes already! It's interesting to me because I hear teachers say parents expect it, and parents say teachers do. Realistically, I think it's more what the districts expect as well as testing accountability standards, and the ridiculous fear that kids can't retain what they learned during the day overnight!