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June 04, 2007

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Craig Silverman

We live a life similar to yours in our home. My son who is also 12 has to be pushed like a boulder up a mountain to get his homework done. With summer only a few days away we are ready for some family time that does not include frustration. He made the honor role this year in each and every term, but at what expense? My relationship with him gets strained and he is simply acting his age. Yes, he prefers to ride a bike, to go for a swim in the pool or a jump on his longboard to studying for a test on ancient Rome. So what! Talent and creativity needs to be nurtured and not driven out of our kids. They should be embraced for not taking "no" for an answer so that later in life they will still be curious.

laurence haughton

When the late Gordon MacKenzie would visit schools he asked that the artists in the room raise their hands:

"The pattern of responses never varied. First grade: En mass the children leapt from their chairs, arms waving wildly. Every child was an artist. Second grade: About half the kids raised their hands, shoulder high, no higher. Third Grade: At best, 10 kids out of 30 would raise a hand. Tentatively. Self-consciously. And so on up through the grades. ... By time I reached sixth grade, no more than one or two did so and then only ever-so-slightly -- guardedly -- their eyes glancing from side to side uneasily, betraying a fear of being identified by the group as a 'closet artist.'"

Sara Bennett

You and your son know intuitively what everyone should know intellectually--that there's no correlation between homework and academic achievement in elementary school and very little correlation later on. (And the only correlation is that students who do homework generally do better on teacher-created tests and teacher-given grades!) You can read more about homework at my website, stophomework.com, or in the book I co-authored, The Case Against Homework: How Homework Is Hurting Our Children and What We Can Do About It.

Jeremy Langhans

homework is so last semester.

Colin Kingsbury

Homework teaches discipline and persistence. Success in life is driven in large part by your ability to bite down and push through the tasks you don't enjoy, whether it's cold calls or sticking to a diet and exercise plan. It's a tiny minority of people who enjoy these things, and they're the real social deviants.

In my case, it was 5th grade when my parents decided it was time to get me out of public school. The place I ended up was like the Nightmare on Elm Street of homework, but I did a lot better. I can't say if I was happier there at the time, but there is no way I would have followed the course that I did had I stayed where I was.

laurence haughton

Sports, music, and art all teach discipline and persistence. So if that's the purpose of homework, it's easily replaced.

Jeff Hunter

I have talked to many educators. None of them has stated that the purpose of the homework is to "increase discipline." Most of them think it actually hurts the learning experience, but they are required by district and state policy to assign it.

The state of California says that the purpose of homework "is to practice skills previously taught or to have students apply their previously learned knowledge and skills to new problems." (http://www.cde.ca.gov/ci/ma/cf/documents/math-ch1.pdf)

This begs the question: why? This says what homework does, but it doesn't say why it has value. The implication is that the skills a kid is learning in school are important and that the best way to develop proficiency in those skills is work assigned for individual application.

I have worked on years worth of homework with my kids. Some of it is indeed important. But most of it is teachers seeking to meet the district requirement by assigning repetitions of work that was already covered during the regular school hours. I have sat with my kids as they literally went through hours of working and reworking the same problem. It has taught each of my kids to hate subjects that they started out loving.

Every employer I know of (and I would assume that you are no exception Colin) wants engaged employees who are passionate about their jobs. Most employers do not want employees who hate their work but persist through it anyway. It is a fallacy to believe that we are teaching our kids that the heart of innovative capability (and therefore their future job prospects) is best served by doing something you hate for an extended period of time no matter the consequences.

Sean Rehder

"What I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people think. This rule, equally arduous in actual and in intellectual life, may serve for the whole distinction between greatness and meanness. It is the harder, because you will always find those who think they know what is your duty better than you know it. It is easy in the world to live after the world's opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude." ~ Emerson

Colin Kingsbury

I'll go along with the idea that homework as it's implemented in practical terms today is counterproductive. However, I think it's a second-order problem.

The real issue is in low-quality teaching, in which I'd include systemic things like curriculum design as well as individual teacher performance. My experience, at least, was that in a low-quality educational environment, I was overwhelmed by a sense of general futility at the enterprise in general. It's hard to run the race when you don't care about the prize.

After being transplanted into a much better school, I did better not in spite of, but because of the increased workload and harder material. The material itself stopped just shy of anachronistic and we were taught math by working out tons of problems, geography by learning the capitols of every state and country, and history by memorizing dates and names. It was "old school" in the literal sense. Though we had to take some standardized tests for state rules, they would have laughed at the idea of teaching to them because most students probably could have passed the tests two or three years ahead of their grade. The students were socioeconomically above average, but not otherwise distinguished. A few were definitely hard cases, and yet they too came out a lot better than they went in. This was all without Ritalin or anything else.

My question here is whether treating educational malaise by cutting back on homework is like treating obesity with liposuction. Sometimes you have to treat the symptom in order to treat the disease. But I think it's important to know which is which.

John Sumser

The trouble, I think, is buying into the homework idea in the first place. It's no longer clear that societal rewards flow towards people who do their homework (particularly at twelve). My experience was that I had a choice. I could support my kids or I could support a system that asked for their souls and gave them precious little in return.

The surprise was that once I ceased to be an advocate for the system and took up my proper role as an advocate for my children, the homework seemed to get done.

It's a clever system that causes parents to act as prison guards for their children. Take your children's side.

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