The Wrong Time for Homework

Thursday, March 10, 2016

A while back, I noted with interest an article by a parent who tried doing his high school daughter's homework for a week. Fast forward a few years, and here I am after our move to Maryland, where I was surprised to see my daughter receiving small homework assignments ... from her pre-K. (Her daycare in St. Louis did no such thing.) Holding a terminal degree and not receiving homework of any kind until about junior high, I have been dubious about the value of this practice. Indeed two articles I encountered this morning argue that it is probably counterproductive to give homework to children before about high school.

First, a piece in Salon goes so far as to call for an end to elementary homework:

Before going further, let's dispel the myth that these research results are due to a handful of poorly constructed studies. In fact, it's the opposite. [Harris] Cooper compiled 120 studies in 1989 and another 60 studies in 2006. This comprehensive analysis of multiple research studies found no evidence of academic benefit at the elementary level. It did, however, find a negative impact on children's attitudes toward school.

This is what's worrying. Homework does have an impact on young students, but it's not a good one. A child just beginning school deserves the chance to develop a love of learning. Instead, homework at a young age causes many kids to turn against school, future homework and academic learning. And it's a long road. A child in kindergarten is facing 13 years of homework ahead of her.
The article goes further to note that there are other opportunities for children to learn responsibility (and learn vital non-academic lessons), such as by keeping pets, that this takes time from in addition to transforming learning from an enjoyable experience into a very unpleasant chore.

This article is not the first I have encountered in this vein. Lenore Skenazy wrote another back in January, where she links this problem with a cultural "drive for success" which I am sure is part of a positive feedback loop with the government's higher education bubble:
Expectations surrounding education have spun out of control. On top of a seven-hour school day, our kids march through hours of nightly homework, daily sports practices and band rehearsals, and weekend-consuming assignments and tournaments. Each activity is seen as a step on the ladder to a top college, an enviable job and a successful life. Children living in poverty who aspire to college face the same daunting admissions arms race, as well as the burden of competing for scholarships, with less support than their privileged peers. Even those not bound for college are ground down by the constant measurement in schools under pressure to push through mountains of rote, impersonal material as early as preschool.

Yet instead of empowering them to thrive, this drive for success is eroding children's health and undermining their potential. Modern education is actually making them sick.
And by "sick," Skenazy means that manay are suffering from psychological and physical ailments. And this is on top of kids showing up for college wanting in their critical thinking skills. Fortunately, there seems to be a shift in the pendulum away from too-early/too-much homework, although many parents like me will have an uphill battle on our hands in the meantime.

-- CAV


Today: (1) Changed "a few months" to "a few years" in first paragraph. (2) Changed "show" to "argue" in first paragraph.

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