Sunday, November 29, 2009


This has been bouncing around in my head for a while now. Both homework, and why I haven't been feeling as passionate about stopping it recently. A while back, (before I started this blog,) I was very angry about how much homework we were being given when there wasn't...well, anything to support the argument that the other side could give me. The best argument I ever got was a condescending, "You know, there's never been a double-blind test with parachutes." (Note to debaters: being condescending, regardless of respective ages, levels of experience, etc., only makes the speaker look bad.)

What I have finally come to is this: I have reached a level where I am picking many of my classes. This means that I am 1) in the correct level, 2)interested in most of the subjects I am taking, and 3)getting more free reign, since the teachers know you have to have some interest to be in this level in the first place. This results in it looking like the issue is solved, since it has stopped affecting me as much.

Yet, still, I know it's happening. My classmates, my friends in middle school, all of them are being kept up late by homework.

(Note to people who wonder why these people aren't complaining: A)they are and B)they're swamped with homework.)

This thinking has also led to me thinking about what types of homework I dislike. Because, yes, homework can be useful--but nothing about homework makes it intrinsically useful. Some teachers think it is, leading to:

Homework for Homework's Sake
This is exactly what it sounds like. It is when a teacher assigns homework, not because the class needs to memorize something or the teacher needs to make sure that everyone is caught up, but simply because it is homework.
Negative Effect: Association. This solidifies an idea that all homework is useless in a student's mind, because this homework is useless. Should s/he run into any genuinely useful homework, how much of a chance will s/he give the assignment?
Common Justifications: The arms race argument ("Well, they're doing it!"), discipline, study habits

The infamous More of the Same. Especially common in so-called 'advanced' classes that just pile on the work, hoping this increased work load will make it look like more is being taught, or that it is being taught more thoroughly.
Negative Effect: It creates a learning environment in which everything becomes boring, because it is drilled incessantly until it becomes so.
Common Justifications: "[What if t/T]hey didn't understand it the first time!", memory, "They won't practice any other way." (If they already understand, they don't need to.)

Punishment Work
This is when a student does something wrong, be it missing problems on a test, answering a question wrong in class, or stumbling over a presentation. It may be given to an individual student who has done something wrong, or the entire class. I would like to take a moment to separate this from test corrections: Test corrections are when one tells the student to look over the test and figure out how to do the problems s/he did wrong. Punishment work is when, for every problem missed, the student must complete ten problems of the same type. Punishment work may also be simpler, such as writing lines. "I will (not) x..."
Negative Effect: Association, but even moreso than HWFHWS. This is not just something the student does not enjoy--indeed, HWFHWS may be fun if the teacher knows how to work the assignment. This is a definitive "You are doing this because you have done something wrong," and gives the idea that homework--and by extension, possibly all academic work outside school--is a punishment. If you are doing everything right, then you don't need to do homework.
Common Justifications: Discipline, study habits, Spare the rod and spoil the child, "They'll know better next time." (which is a kinder way to say "This'll teach 'em," as far as I can tell).

And then we just have homework in general. If there is not a place for less priviledged students to get access to computers, good art supplies, or whatever else one needs to do the homework assigned, then suddenly we have an ever-growing gap--or, almost as bad, we don't, because the homework has no effect. Or a negative one.

Suggested Reading (for those interested):
The Homework Myth by Alfie Kohn ( for some information/reviews.) [One interesting bit of information I found in this book was a connection to bloodletting. I seem to have misplaced the book, but he talks about a scientist who decided to perform experiments to see if bloodletting worked. It didn't. His conclusion? Bleed earlier, bleed heavier.]

And...I would give links on the other side, but every time I try I find someone who starts out by calling me (or rather, anyone with my position) a liar. About that insultingly. If someone can find a nice one, please share.

EDIT: Scratch the previous paragraph, the second comment on this very post is suggested reading.


  1. Hmm, I agree with you for the most part. I do, however, have one slight problem. I believe any work is better then no work. I work with foster kids, many of whom have severe learning disabilities or have simply falling far behind in school and their overall skills. Some children have fallen behind to the point of showing signs of autism because they've missed so much school they have not socialized with other people.

    To begin with, we have a rule. One hour of work every night. Typically this gives more then enough time for typical school homework of most grade schoolers. The extra time is spent doing something that everyone can get benefits from no matter what their age, reading. Kids get to pick out their choice of book (within reason, a third grade level book will not safice for a fifth grader for example) so that they have interest in what they are reading.

    Bottom line is that some kids enjoy it, most do not. However, reading and writing have continually improved the ability of some children we have had in perticular to hold a coherent conversation.

    Some kids have problems staying on track and will fly off to some other topic that had nothing to do with anything. Other kids have problems ordering thoughts in any logical timeline, thus making it impossible for these children to give a good summary of what they did at a visit with their parents or give directions.

    I can spew on endlessly about more benefits of even simple work like reading. I know you did not say that homework does not help, but I am simply trying to say that habitual homework can be helpful if it is properly directed in the right way on a per child basis (something that schools cannot always do). For example kids who do not understand algebra should not get algebra homework until they do.


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