Homework doesn't make the grade

April 24, 2007, midnight | By Simon Kanter | 16 years, 11 months ago

For students of all ages, the stress just isn't worth it.

For as long as anyone can remember, there has been homework. It has become an unquestionable constant in our society, a concept so etched into the minds of our collective conscious that it's hard to imagine life without massive take-home packets, book work and essays. But what if we did?

Just think: families spending time with each other, students building social and educational connections outside of the school realm and middle and high school students getting more than six hours of sleep. Currently, all of these pursuits must take second chair to homework, the indomitable force that reigns over us and extends the school day for hours after the last bell rings.

For decades, parents concerned about their children's education have asked "How much homework will my child get? How hard will it be?" But rarely have they asked the question that should be echoing through the halls of our schools across the nation "Should we have homework at all?"

Alfie Kohn, a parent and anti-homework researcher, dares to ask the question. His answer so far: a resounding NO.

In his book The Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad Thing, Kohn cites that no major study has ever proved anything other than a weak correlation between amount of homework and academic performance.

In other words, all these studies were able to show was that to some extent, the more homework students were assigned the better they performed in school and/or on standardized tests. What these studies fail to prove is that homework was the direct cause of this correlation. Since none of the studies prove that homework was directly responsible for the good academic performance in the cases studied, they technically do not even qualify as research.

The only thing that homework improves, Kohn says, is a student's ability to do more homework. A great example is "homework for practice," a favorite among math teachers, in which those students who already know the subject material are merely doing busywork and those who don't know are reinforcing improper techniques. It is this kind of circular logic that is used to validate homework. At some point the circle must be broken.

The tricky part of Kohn's theory is being able to use it practically in today's educational system. Very few classes come to mind as ones that could do completely without homework or projects. Kohn cites anecdotes of AP US History teachers who have phased out homework from their curriculum, but one or two cases of success can not affirm this theory for every classroom across the nation. His homework-free system would be especially hard in a place like Montgomery County public schools, where parents think their children are getting a poor education if they bring home less than three hours of work a night. Also, curricula in this county are so strictly regulated that there is almost no room for variation.

For this reason, this nation's status quo on homework needs to be completely torn apart and rebuilt. As a broader part of education reform, Kohn says that kindergarten through grade 12 should be about learning how to learn, not learning facts that they can repeat on tests.

Taking the facts out of lower education is the first step towards creating an open-source learning experience, in which every class every year is different from the next and the students get to decide what they want to do and at what pace. There would be no standardized tests – learning is based around getting kids excited, not cramming them full of knowledge until they burst. With a few exceptions, taking homework out of our education will not be possible until these conditions are met. Yet we still should try, if only to show that homework absolutely should not be taken for granted.

Simon Kanter. Simon "The Food Guy" Kanter is the silliest person you will ever meet. Though his true joy in life is posting recipes, Simon finds time to spend patting himself on the back for his witty remarks, breeding Trogdors, stealing markers, staplers and other convenient appliances, … More »

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