No More Homework, No More Books


Scott McGrew

No More Homework, No More Books

Those of you who don’t have children probably don’t realize it, but we’re just about to hit a major yearly milestone: summer vacation from school. The old joke is that parents can’t want for school to start again, but I think that may just be an outdated cliche.

You see, I’m as excited as my children are that the school year is ending, and for the same reason: homework.

I do LOTS of homework. My junior high aged son brings home loads of it, and it has to be corrected before he turns it back in. While correcting an English assignment is easy (son, the word “you” is not spelled “u” – this is not instant messaging), correcting social studies means you have to actually UNDERSTAND what it is you are correcting. What’s the difference between the Upper and Middle Kingdom in Egypt? Do you know? Me either. Wikipedia is my friend.

Math of course is the hardest, for two reasons. First, I’m a writer. There’s a reason I’m a writer and not a mathematician – I sometimes feel like I can’t add two numbers together to save my soul. I was in a bank a few years ago when a teller tried to break my $10 bill into four $5 bills. Yes, you read that correctly. I am so self-conscious of my math handicap that I stared at the money thinking “that can’t be right.” Hesitating, I asked if she had counted correctly and she said she had. Still thinking that four $5 bills does not add up to $10, I stood uncertainly at the counter until she finally said, “oh, wait.”

I tell you this story so you understand my pain when my 12-year-old brings home the math problem about the train that leaves the station at so and so o’clock. When you’re a parent, you have no choice but to buckle down and learn, once again, how to do story problems. And divide fractions. And solve for x.

That would be tough enough – but kindergartners have homework too. My 5-year-old brings home less complicated math, it’s true. But still it’s one more bit of work for me. This on top of working a regular job and cleaning the house and making dinner before the wife gets home. “I cook and clean and work my fingers to the bone!” I can hear myself saying.

Why do kindergartners (kindergartners!) have homework in the first place? It’s your fault. And mine. All those reports in Time and Newsweek that claim our kids are “behind” the rest of the world? The end result is more homework. Voters and taxpayers say “we need higher standards!” So the schools up their standards and toughen their tests. However, there’s no extra time in the school day, so teachers drop subjects like art and music to concentrate of the fundamentals. Still, that’s not enough, and the rest is left to homework and parents.

There are a number of studies that say this simply doesn’t work. Author Alfie Kohn has gotten a lot of attention with his book The Homework Myth. A different book, The Case Against Homework points out studies that show absolutely no correlation between the amount of homework assigned and how well the child does in school. In other words, what you want – smarter kids – and what you’re getting – more homework – is not working.

And of course, studies say homework is more likely to be done (and corrected) in stable homes with educated parents. The kids who don’t have two parents at home – or parents who are always at work because they’re trying to feed their families – just suffer that much more.

Teachers are as frustrated as parents. Those new “standards” are so specific, teachers are essentially checking things off a list – called a rubric – that is handed down to them by the state. Remember your favorite teacher from school? He or she probably had some special activity – only in Ms. Smith’s class do you get to have reading circus or go to the zoo or whatever. They don’t do that anymore. There is very little time for “unique” teaching when you have to check off the state requirements.

My most dependable source on homework (particularly amongst kindergartners) comes from a fellow with a PhD in education, the former Illinois School Superintendent of the Year with 40 years experience in school administration. He says “kindergarten should teach you not to stick beans up your nose, and not much more.” On homework he told the New York Times “We tend to give more homework than many of the other countries, especially Germany and Japan. We have this almost-religious belief in homework. Is it producing anything? Maybe we ought to give less homework (my emphasis) and make it more focused.”

In all fairness, I should point out this fellow is also my dad. And he made me do all my homework. I do recall bringing home a “word search” as homework once and watching my dad – who keep in mind was my teacher’s boss’s boss – nearly burst a blood vessel.

I can hear you saying “it’s important to make sure our children are first in the world.” And I agree with you. However, there are a number of studies that say what you worry about – that our children ain’t learnin’ – is a false assumption. I’ll leave that for another blog entry.

In the meantime, I’ll be singing that old children’s rhyme “no more homework, no more books…”

Scott McGrew
NBC11 Business & Tech Reporter

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