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  a little more than mere teaching
  Building a hate for learning
  Is homework bad for kids? Author Nancy Kalish tells Salon why she believes it inhibits learning, strains familes and stunts social development.

By Rebecca Traister Sep. 05, 2006 |



Homework. For many of us, the word still sounds like a drag. Nights spent hunched over algebra books, memorizing vocab lists and filling out graph-paper lab reports while the smell of burning fall leaves and a cool October breeze teased just outside our bedroom window. Homework was spinach: We did it because it was good for us, because it made us smarter, because it taught us how to study, because it prepared us for college, and because if we didn't do it we'd get detention.

But this fall, as students across the country load their JanSports with textbooks and start down the road to lower-back pain, a group of parents and educators are desperately trying to send a message that maybe nights spent cuddling the periodic table aren't so fortifying after all. This month, two books about homework and its discontents are on shelves: "The Case Against Homework: How Homework Is Hurting Our Children and What We Can Do About It" by Sara Bennett and Nancy Kalish and "The Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad Thing" by Alfie Kohn.

To hear these homework protesters tell it, recent years have seen an almost comical inflation of the work kids are bringing home from school. Kindergartners and first graders, those squirmy squirts who can barely make it through "Blues Clues," are being asked to do 30 minutes to an hour of studying a night, while middle and high schoolers are forced to slog through four and five and six hours of the stuff. And some of the assignments sound like something out of a Fellini movie: translating arithmetic problems into alphanumeric code and plotting them on a graph to look like Abraham Lincoln, building popsicle-stick replicas of the Pentagon and baking cakes in the shape of Roman ruins.

Salon recently spoke by phone to Nancy Kalish, coauthor of "The Case Against Homework." This Brooklyn, N.Y., journalist and mother of one said her eyes were opened to the scourge of homework when her daughter hit middle school. Kalish teamed with former legal aid attorney and mother of two Sara Bennett to research and write the book, which argues that homework is actually diminishing children's educational experience, turning kids off learning, putting strains on families, turning students into "homework potatoes" and stunting cognitive and social development.

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  Is this the kind of book that the left and the right are likely to respond to differently?
  Well, Time magazine ran a story about this issue last week and it was positive; the New York Post reviewed the book and it was negative. Homework has gone through ups and downs throughout history. In the early 1900s it was banned for a period because it was thought to be bad for kids' health to make them stay inside. The most recent step-up came in 1983, when there was a study called "A Nation at Risk" that specifically called for more homework. It was the first time that kids' achievement in school had been linked to the state of the global economy. Now, it has been proven that there is zero correlation between kids' academic achievement and the economy. At Penn State there are two guys [David Baker and Gerald LeTendre] who did research and discovered many countries that give lots of homework and do worse. The Japanese actually do less homework than we do. It's B.S. that there's a connection. But the belief continues to be put forth by business people and politicians, and of course by our lovely president, that basically it's all the kids' fault and we're not as competitive as countries who give kids more homework; that's why people think homework is such a necessary thing, that if we don't give homework, we're undermining our entire country.
  If that's the socioeconomic angle, how does it play out in family attitudes?
  It filters down to the parents, along with how hypercompetitive and tough it is to get our kids into college. In New York City and other places it's tough to get them into preschool, so there is an attitude that more is better. Parents mistakenly assume that a lot of homework shows that a school is rigorous, and if the school is rigorous it's going to give their kids an edge. I was one of those parents
  What changed your mind?
  Well, I was very lucky. Because now they start overloading kids in kindergarten, dealing with an hour's work each night. My daughter didn't get overloaded until middle school, but then suddenly she was doing four hours a night, which really was excessive.
  What were the ill effects?
  Her love of learning started to plummet. Her grades didn't dip, but her enjoyment of the whole process went downhill. At the time, I was doing assignments for parenting magazines about how to get your kids to knuckle down and do homework. I just assumed it was a good thing, and assumed schools knew what they were doing or they wouldn't put us through it. Then I met Sara Bennett, my coauthor, and I started to research it and found out the research doesn't back this up at all. All my assumptions were challenged. We've been going along with it because we assume homework is good for our kids. It turns out that it's not.
  Do you believe there is no correlation between academic success and homework?
  I had an eye-opening interview with Harris Cooper at Duke University. He looked at 180 studies on homework and found that there was only a very tiny correlation between homework and achievement in elementary school, measured either in grades or on achievement tests; a minor correlation in middle school; and still only a moderate correlation in high school. And after kids started doing more than two hours a night, [even the moderate correlation] plummeted. It's very counterintuitive. It's hard to get parents and teachers to accept; you think more has to be better. Not true.

The other thing Harris Cooper told me is that teachers are not trained in homework. They're winging it. I interviewed [Baker and LeTendre] and we interviewed people from Stanford and Harvard. No one has a course specifically on homework. We surveyed hundreds and hundreds of teachers, and only one claimed ever to have taken a course on homework. They are taught general "purposes" of homework: that it reinforces lessons, builds study skills. But teachers are not taught how to make assignments. We learned that only 35 percent of schools have written homework policies. Teachers are trying their very best. They want what's best for the kids, but they really don't have the tools that they need.

  What other tools are they missing?
  What happens in typical teacher's day, especially with ever-shrinking budgets, is that they have cafeteria duty, bus duty, after-school programs. They don't have any planning periods left. As a result they can't give homework assignments a lot of thought; they just use what's there. They still have these mimeographed worksheets that kids can't even read anymore. And a lot of these teachers are not parents. So they really don't know what it's like to make a first grader do homework, what havoc it's wreaking in households across the country. And competitive parents are afraid to admit it's a problem. They don't want to admit it to other parents, don't want to admit it to teachers, because they feel like they'll be saying, "My kid can't hack it." But teachers can't solve the problem if they don't know about it. Go in and tell the teacher what it's like in your house every night. Usually, if you say, "My kid is starting to hate school because she's overwhelmed; she has no time to come to the dinner table or have play dates with her friends," the teacher makes changes
  I have to press you on the point that teachers who aren't parents don't know what it's like to wrestle a 6-year-old into doing work -- don't they wrestle them into doing work all day?
  That's true, but one second-grade teacher told us, "Of course the kids are wiped when they're made to work all day, but I didn't realize what it was like when they got home and were made to do it all over again." She didn't know how much more tired they were going to be when they got home.
  What about the tough-noogies argument: Too bad if they're tired and don't like it, they've got to suck it up and do it?
  They stop loving learning. For instance, in first grade, a typical assignment is the reading log, where you have to write down what you read: the author and illustrator and the publisher and how many pages. Sounds really innocent, great idea, right? I can't tell you how many parents told us how many kids didn't want to read anymore because it was so tedious to write all that stuff down afterwards. It takes longer often for a first grader to write that information out than to have another book read to him. So maybe it should just be "Read with your child." Learning all this was like a light bulb illuminating things that on the surface seem responsibility building, study-skill building but, when you start to examine under the surface, aren't great. The sense that it builds independence -- when a kid can't face doing his homework without his mother by his side, that's not building independence!
  But maybe parents are overinvested in the work their kids should be doing on their own?
  Absolutely there are overinvolved parents who could be less involved with their kids' homework and don't know when to back off. But from our surveys we learned that parents don't feel like they have a choice. The quantity is so overwhelming that kids are not able to face it on their own without parental involvement. You have to ask your kids every single day, "How much homework do you have?" Homework is controlling their night. As a mother you're thinking, "Will we have time to have dinner together? Will we have time to go to the concert that little sister is in?" Homework is dictating everything. There's also an expectation that parents will teach kids skills. In San Diego there is a teacher who gives a math class for parents every Monday night to teach them the math that their kids are learning so that they can help.
  That actually sounds good to me.
  Sure. At first. But no parent should be in the position of having to teach their kids math. There is also this idea that homework is such a great way to get involved in the kids' education. But then you hear about some of these huge projects -- my favorite was the one where they had to bake a cake in the shape of a Roman aqueduct .
  Or the kid who had to build a reproduction of San Francisco's Mission out of penne ...
  Exactly. And this is where some overinvolved competitiveness comes out and you end up with a project that could be in Architectural Digest, not something a kid could do on his own. These projects should be done at school, where the parent doesn't have the ability to take over, a teacher has to accept what a 10-year-old can actually do, and the 10-year-old can be proud of his project because he did it himself. A mother from Westchester [N.Y.] actually told me she wouldn't let her kid bring in a project he had done on his own because it would shame him. It would be ego threatening. What have we come to that we can't accept what a third grader can actually do?
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  How does homework relate to class? The fear that a kid would be ego threatened sounds like a middle-class concern, as does the idea that evenings should be used to do enriching things besides homework. In poorer communities where there might not be as many healthy and enriching evening activities to take advantage of, mightn't homework offer a constructive activity for kids?
  We talked to a lot of lower-income parents, for instance, kids in charter schools where they really pile on homework, and they are suffering in exactly the same ways as wealthier families. For any kid, no matter what the income level, there is a point where homework is positive and keeps them occupied, and then there's the point where it's too much work. A solution would be after-school programs that include not only homework but other things like play. There are neighborhoods that are so dangerous that when kids get home from school, parents say, "You can't go outside to play," and so they sit inside and watch television or do homework, neither of which is good for them. There should be good after-school programs supervised by teachers that have other things that kids are missing out on, like exercise, which ironically is so important to cognitive development.
  And homework is hampering children's playing life?
  The play dates that kids have these days are not running outside and playing games and learning to share and cooperate. The only play dates that they can fit in are ones where they sit and study side by side. There's not a whole lot of value in that. It's really sad. The kids are really suffering. [We found that] 9-year-olds are saying, "I wish I were dead"; they're developing facial tics, scratching themselves, gaining weight, which is a huge hidden result of homework. As adults, we're constantly telling ourselves to take time for ourselves, to balance, not to take work home from the office, and yet we're doing this stuff to our kids and they're not up to it; it's too much for them.
  So what is the ideal amount of homework?
  Some people will not want their kids to do any homework at all after reading this book. But we think that it would be great if schools were made to stick to 10 minutes per grade level per night total. So 10 minutes total for first grade, 20 minutes for second grade. When you got to higher grades, multiple teachers would have to coordinate. But that's a good thing because so much homework is of extremely poor quality, like spelling mazes and 40 math problems and the reading logs. If teachers knew that they had a total of 10 minutes per night per grade level, they'd think: What do I most want my students to learn tonight? What would be the most valuable way of teaching them that in a short amount of time? For parents, the message is that they don't know you're suffering until you tell them. Teachers are trying to do what's best for kids. You need to tell them what it's doing to your child's love of learning; no teacher wants kids to start to hate school.
  How will kids be prepared to do independent academic work in college if they don't have experience doing homework?
  Kids get into independent learning on their own. Everyone is afraid that the first thing they're going to do if they don't have homework is sit in front of the TV for hours. I'm sure that for a few kids, that will happen. But often what happens is they use the time to get into their own thing, into their music, into photography. They learn independently and apply themselves to things they're really interested in. So I absolutely believe they'll be prepared. I don't subscribe to the theory that we need to toughen them up because the world is so tough. Because when you follow that, they're toughening up kindergartners. I spoke to a kindergarten teacher in a small town outside of Orlando [Fla.] where they have eliminated nap time and snack time, and she assigns homework and by lunchtime the kids are crying. In the past two years, there have been more 3- and 4-year-olds and kindergartners expelled than ever before. It's so developmentally inappropriate to expect kids to sit still all day and then come home and do it again. They're acting out like crazy and getting expelled.
  But aren't some kinds of homework necessary? Maybe not the kindergarten homework or penne architectural replicas, but reading ahead to prepare for class discussion?
  Reading is absolutely valuable. The problem is, as my daughter would tell you, when you have a bunch of questions at the end of the chapter, kids read [the book] only for answers to the questions, so they're not getting so much out of it. Types of assignments really do make a difference. One assignment teachers give all the time is tons of math problems. First of all, five problems is enough. If a child knows how to do five problems of a particular type, doing 40 of them is very tedious and a turnoff. If a child doesn't know how to do it and does it incorrectly 40 times, he will have cemented the incorrect method into his head. If you have 30 kids in class doing 50 math problems, then that's 1,500 math problems that the teacher has to correct. No teacher gets to those 1,500 math problems. When kids fall behind, it's precisely because they're given so much to do and they are practicing incorrectly. As soon as you think about it, it all makes perfect sense, but nobody ever goes there. I think that's what we want to accomplish -- to get people to think about it and to not accept that it's just this God-given rule that kids have to do so much homework.
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  Comments on the article
  Flawed reasoning. Flawed research. Awful argument.
  First of all, I highly doubt that the Japanese do less homework than we do. Secondly, the quality of homework they – and all Asian students do – is more related to their coursework and helps them learn the material. Educators in the United States are torn between disciplining noisy kids and wanting to make learning more “fun.” We forget that learning, most of the time, is not supposed to be fun. Do you think that anyone, given the choice, would actually want to stay inside and memorize the multiplication table instead of going outside and diving into piles of leaves with friends? No, but we do it because it’s necessary. Because if you don’t learn the multiplication table, you’d be the idiot adult who doesn't know that 6x7 is 42.

I'm sorry, but some Americans can be such morons when it comes to education! I mean, think about when you’re trying to advance in your career as an adult, or when you’re trying to learn a difficult hobby. There’s ALWAYS homework when you want to learn anything! You can’t just put in time at work or put in time at the dance studio or music studio. You have to go home, take the charts and graphs from the company reports and try to understand them. You have to go into your living room or garage and practice those dance moves or piano pieces.

It’s that work ethic that we’re trying to instill in our kids when we make them do homework. If the homework itself is frivolous, well that’s the fault of the instructor who doesn’t know how to teach. This author does make a point that teachers need to be taught what kind of homework assignments to give – in essence, how to teach. I agree with that, but as other posters have pointed out, she also confused bad homework which is mostly busy work with all homework.

She also seemed to have done all her research in big cities in the Northeast, where the competition is overwhelming students and parents.

I live in North Carolina, and I've never had any problems with "too much homework" from the educators here. In fact, there was probably too little. I remember coming here from China when I was nine years old, and being shocked that they were still teaching fractions here in the fourth grade and that my classmates hadn't mastered long division. Long division? I mean, hello! We learned that in China when I was in the second grade -- when I was 6-7 years old!

Certain subjects, like science and math, history and foreign languages, absolutely require quality homework that would sometimes involve rote memorization and hitting the books every night to make sure that you understand the material. Trying to make the homework "fun" in these cases is just busy work and undermining your ability to learn. Honestly, how does someone make conjugation and the periodic table fun? They're not, so get over it.

This author, while explaining her theories on education, falls back on generalizations and anecdotal evidence and has nothing substantial to say other than sounding an alarm bell about how we're giving our kids too much work. I would have more respect for her if she could explain in detail the differences between rich families and poor families' approaches to homework, what kind of homework educators should use to teach the different subjects in school, and what kind of differences there are in the amount of homework across the country.

But as it stands, she did not in this rather benign interview. Sounds like someone didn't do their homework.

-- PJBabiba

  Kindergarten homework
  My son, now in first grade, did get some homework in kindergarten. He had two or three worksheets with numbers, letters, words, etc. on it and got it on Monday. It was due on Friday of the same week. Much of it was an attempt to get a parent involved with the child - some of the work required the parent to read a word or ask questions of the child, then record the answers or do some other action based on the answer. It was light work, although sometimes a bit challenging, and it was successful in the sense that my wife and I were able to keep up with the work and the progress our son was making, as well as identify areas he was struggling with (like writing "2" backwards). He has just started first grade, and I will be interested to see what happens with homework - I'm crossing my fingers that it is something reasonable as it was last year.

-- Don B

  Not all homework is "bad homework"
  Editor's ChoiceNot all homework is "bad homework"

As a teacher, I can see both sides of the issue. Unfortunately, as many other posters have pointed out in one way or another, the authors of this article have conflagrated "bad homework" with all homework.

"Bad Homework" is too much homework, like a zillion math problems a night, dumb stuff, like word searches, left-field stuff, like problems that students don't have the background to answer, and developmentally inappropriate stuff, like asking first graders to sit still for more than 15 minutes at a time. A good teacher avoids these things whenever possible, and instead assigns meaningful homework, like 10-20 practice problems or writing about a solution, or doing a lab write-up and drawing conclusions based on previous classwork. Meaningful homework, in reasonable quantities, is necessary, especially in today's day and age. This may come across in the book, but it didn't in the interview.

Also--the author's take on the San Diego teacher who has a math class for the parents on Monday is probably totally off. The teacher is probably just trying to help the parents see what's going on in class. Connections between home and school often help student performance. It adds a sort of accountability on all sides, building bridges between parents and teachers. I applaud a teacher who is willing to give up even more of his or her free time to help build these connections.

And Emily--I'm an evil (physics) teacher who asks students to show their work too...not every long division step, but every stage that they go through. How can I help a student who gets the problem wrong if they don't show me what steps they did? I don't give full credit without it.

-- HW-sensitive teacher

  Editor's ChoiceDon't get me started...
  I am a parent and college instructor (in the humanities). I teach at a university that has a "strong" education program, meaning we churn out zillions of grade-school teachers. These students are the least imaginative individuals I have ever met. They would love it if I gave them crossword puzzles; they actually request study guides (from me! Yikes, like I am supposed to do it for them.) The discipline of "Education" is to blame for the issues raised by people in this forum. They teach systems which are pedogogically suspect.

As a parent, all I can do is stay involved and vocal. Last year, it took me an hour to figure out my kid's fourth grade social studies assignment. The book was convoluted and the assignment was based on a "system" of writing down sentences. It had nothing to do with reading comprehension. Unbelievable. Somehow the notion of "learning" is lost by many "educators" who are wed to process with little/no consideration regarding outcome.

The antidote, folks, is to share your values about education with your kids. I believe that reading and exploring make people smart. Some, who have extolled the value of homework, might want to raise accountants rather than authors. (Fine with me, bureaucrats need to be spawned...) To each his/her own, I suppose.

To Denfield (with the kid in the "gifted program"): Please question what takes place in this group. I have encountered way too many "gifted" college freshmen, little pups yapping and scrapping for extra points. They beg to write MORE, more volume for more points, no mention of becoming 'better'. How can one improve on the label "gifted"?

-- DeeOne

  Editor's Choice I liked homework
  Okay, not all of it. But it made me feel "grown up" to have it. It was an indication that school mattered, and an indication that I was now a big kid - I didn't get serious homework until I was in fourth grade, which I think is still appropriate. Younger kids should get more free time to play, and all kids these days need more free time period.

My parents were big on letting me do my own work myself even if it meant a lower grade. In sixth grade, we had to do astronomy projects. After each did our presenation, the teacher would publicly give us a grade. I went at the start and got an A minus. Everyone else came in with real professional projects and got an A. After we were done, the teacher asked if I wanted an A, too. It was really embarrasing.

Still, I think they were right. Kids should be given projects and homework that is within their ability. Besides, the way some subjects are taught, like math, are totally different. My co-workers with young children have complained that they can't make head or tails of the assignments, and these are college educated people.

  Ah, homework, I still have piles of it due
  I'm 48 now, and my only memories of homework in school are that I only did if for the courses in which I had an interest. I'm sure I handed in the math and chem stuff, but none of that has stuck. I do remember the evenings spent laboriously drawing maps of Africa and Asia, plotting the capitals, choosing colors for the different countries. Flash forward 30 years when I decide to get my Master's and guess what? There still wasn't enough time to get it all done -- the reading, the research, the writing. It's no surprise that I still had the habit of concentrating on the stuff I liked, and paying scant attention to that which bored me.

How about keeping schools open until 5:30? Whatever homework the kid can get done by then is all that he is called upon to do. The kids are supervised, parents don't have to scramble to get out of work early, and the study halls can be monitored by teachers for extra pay, or college or grad school students for experience. It's not a perfect plan, but it could be a start.

-- Chelseajoe

  Maybe it should be quality over quantity
  In 2001, I graduated as the valedictorian of my (public) high school in New York. Looking back at my academic career through the lens of college, I realized that:

1) I never did any homework unless it was graded, or otherwise a class requirement,

2) High school was really, really boring, and

3) I was totally unprepared for college academia.

Here's the problem: you actually have to do work in college, at home, in order to succeed in class. Not because it's graded (it often isn't) but because you can't learn all you need to in the short time you spend in class. High school taught me that homework and studying were mindless busywork that prevented me from living my life, and I learned this lesson so well that after a perfect 4.0 in high school, I came closer than I would have liked to flunking my first semester of college.

A lot of homework isn't all that necessary in high school. Why? Look at the amount of time you have for learning. In high school, I was at school from 7:20 AM until 2:30 PM every day. That's seven hours every day. (I also played sports, so I had practice after school until 5:30 every day. Another three hours--do the math.) Having to do homework on top of that is like taking a part-time job on top of a full time job, and it'll just burn you out. But keep in mind: after lunch, that's a little over 6 hours a day just for academic learning. 32 hours a week.

But in college, I could take AT MOST 16 credit hours per semester. We weren't allowed more. So that's only 16 hours per week of classes. I HAD to spend time out of class. But I actually had time. If I approached college like a full-time job, that gives me 24 hours a week for homework. Imagine piling almost 5 hours a night on a high-schooler. And that number goes up if I, like most other students, take fewer than 16 credit hours.

If I could have been prepared for college, it would have been because someone showed me that doing homework could be beneficial, and if you're in the top 20% of your school, that usually isn't true. Hating homework makes you a bad college student.

  Nancy Kalish: Do you homework!
  I am not a fan of homework -- but neither am I a fan of sloppy research and interviewing. Inquiring minds want to know: what is the basis for Ms. Kalish's homework formula? What courses of study benefit from homework? Just how does homework relate to academic performance? How much time do the Japanese spend in study (homework notwithstanding)?

I began reading Rebecca Traister’s interview with great anticipation. I want substance about this issue, not bromides. But here all we got was mushy statements about “love of learning” and red-herings about penne palaces. While I think that the author is correct that homework is (among many other factors) overwhelming education, there is little in her interview that would help me win an argument in a school board meeting.

Finally, statements such as “But no parent should be in the position of having to teach their kids math” are just plain embarrassing. First, if M. Kalish had done her homework, she would have attended to her number agreement between pronoun and referent. Secondly, if parents imagine that they are not in “the position of having to teach their kids math” they must not feel math is work counting on.

-- rlwesty

  Home 'work' <--- there's the problem
  I'm a teacher, teacher educator and parent - just to get my biases out on the table up front! I've taught in Australia and Canada and worked with teachers in the US and South Africa and Papua New Guinea.

One part of the problem has been identified by Alfie Kohn - and I hope his book, which was mentioned in the article, will be reviewed on Salon. He has pointed out that 'work' is entirely the wrong metaphor for what students do at school and at home, and gets us locked into all sorts of silly patterns, including the busywork, competitiveness and 'more is better' attitude. When we remember that it's about *learning* - when everyone involved understands that, and all our activities are directed toward students' *learning*, rather than toward the completion of 'work' (and associated work ethic beliefs (or neuroses)) - then what happens at school and at home becomes productive.

Another related issue that was mentioned in the article but hasn't been taken up is parental expectations: when I was a classroom teacher I often tried to give a relatively light but carefully planned homework program, and generally had parents coming to me concerned that their children weren't receiving enough homework (read, as much as the children of their friends). We're in this self-perpetuating cycle, and books like this one are at least part of the pill that at least attempts to drop us out of the homework Matrix, spluttering and newborn, to think about a new mode of living and learning.

-- Bravus

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  K-12 needs to be restructured.
  Even though I'm still a young 'un, my memories of elementary school and middle school are pretty fuzzy. I can't remember how much homework I had per night, and I certainly can't remember how it affected me. However, I do remember homework's role in my high school experience. Even though I was in honors and AP classes, most of my homework was frustrating busywork, or things that should have been done while in class. It seemed like teachers assigned us homework either because they felt like they should, or because they didn't get to the material during the period. Neither are good reasons for assigning homework.

I'm not coming down on the teachers. Most teachers I know are struggling to stay afloat. The school day simply isn't structured in a way that promotes learning. For starters, the school day starts way too early. Studies have shown that children and young adults can't function at their highest levels early in the morning. Personally, I know that's true -- I was always terrible at math, but I was especially terrible at math at 7:19 in the morning! (That's when my first period class began. Oh yeah, it sucked.) The school day should be pushed back so that it starts later, and ends later. A later end time would also make it more convenient for parents to pick up their kids after work, instead of leaving them to come home to an empty house. Also, I don't see why we can't have a longer school day as well. Kalish's statement that students in Japan spend less time on homework may or may not be true, but it's certain that they spend longer days in the classroom. This would allow teachers to pack more into their lessons, instead of leaving students to make up what they didn't get to when they go home.

In high school, the best class I ever had was my AP US History class. Mr. Cozine was a former college professor, and he taught our class as if it were a college lecture. He'd lecture in class and moderate discussions, then assign a paper every month. That's it. No handouts, no silly collages, no busywork. We as high school seniors felt that our intelligence was being respected. As a result, we were willing to do the things he asked of us. And, because of the class's structure, we weren't shocked by class structure in college. I think that more teachers and administrators need to treat high school as preparation for college and the real world.

-- TRM

  Few children choose to independently apply themselves to learning diligence and study skills
  As an undergrad, I volunteered at an academic tutoring/resource center on my campus, and once helped give a presentation on time management skills. The first question we got from the audience of students (even before the presentation began) was "How long is this gonna take?"

There are so many students who come to college and are completely unprepared--they can't write simple paragraphs or essays, they have poor reading comprehension, they can't listen and take useful notes during lectures. These students usually feel overwhelmed and frustrated, and often drop out after one semester or less. Are these college students suffering from unreasonable amounts of homework? No. It is ridiculous to think that we should tell future lawyers, doctors, engineers, or any professional that they should just do as much study and research as fits comfortably into 5 hours. In these situations, it doesn't matter how long you spent studying, or how hard you worked---it is only your end knowledge that will make you successful. Mostly, these students just don't understand how to study effectively.

If children don't learn how to deal effectively with homework, then they will be unprepared for college and for work. Good time management is not quitting after a set amount of time, it is learning how to acheive a goal by using time effectively. It seems to me that setting time-related goals rather than task-related goals is a bad idea. If you tell a child to work on math for an hour and then stop, in most cases they will just waste time until the hour is up, completing very few problems. If you tell a child to finish 20 problems, then there is more incentive for them to work efficiently so that they can complete their task and move on to other things.

Unless they have a learning disability that requires special intervention, a child who is frustrated by homework probably just needs to learn how to work more effectively. In some cases, this may mean recognizing that a stupid, busywork assignment does not need to be completed, in favor of working on more significant homework tasks. However, in most cases, students will probably find that a collection of homework assignments that seemed overwhelming at first is actually quite managable if they make smart use of their time.

No one wants to see their child upset and worried, but kids have to learn to deal with stress---not just to avoid it. You are doing your future college-student or job-holder no favors if you allow them to quit when their homework gets hard.

-- Molly

  An important subject
  And the letters that are coming in are already showing why--every word these authors have said is dead-on, but the "tough-enough" crowd is already out in force. (Incidentally, irate high school teachers: the authors aren't saying the students in your particular class are doing too much homework; they are saying that elementary and middle school kids especially are doing too much. And the ones they are talking about are the ones who are doing it. You haven't refuted the authors if you find a kid somewhere who blows it off.)

When I was a kid, I think my mother helped me with home work about three times in 12 years, and went to the school about the same number of times. The year I graduated from high school, national SAT scores peaked and began a long decline which ended only when they jiggered the grading and inflated all the results. When my friends all began to have kids in the 1980s and 1990s, the mothers were down at the school constantly for this, that, and the other, and they were sitting at the table with their elementary school children working on homework every night. It's outrageous and it's counterproductive.

Every child without exception has an innate desire to learn and to gain mastery over at least some intellectual material of some type. School systematically kills this--or tries to. It does not have to be this way. The other key point is mentioned briefly--children need to be playing a lot MORE, and a lot more of the play needs to be PHYSICAL. Not just because exercise is another Yuppie value, but because it is of such inestimable importance in developing a sound mind.

The brute equation of lots of homework with lots of character is a holdover from Salem, Massachusetts c. 1690. Not surprising the current administration is down with it.

-- G. L.

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  There is plenty of time in school
  The maddening thing about homework is that kids have already wasted countless hours in school. Teachers aren't lecturing, demonstrating, and holding discussions for 8 straight hours every day. When I was in school, we had movies, busywork, review after review of the same material... teachers could have easily allowed one or two hours for independent work to be done at school.

Kids are exhausted and miserable because an 8 hour school day sucks the life out of them. All day they are policed by adults, forced to sit quietly and listen in

uncomfortable chairs. They are not even free to use the bathroom without a pass.

Then, they get home, and after wasting all that time at school, they have to spend their free time doing the brain work that *should* happen in school.

I remember the absurdity of my junior year of high school. I would spend eight hours yawning and daydreaming in school -- then I would spend 5+ hours reading and writing and thinking for my homework. The school day seemed useless, while the learning took place at home.

College works because there is a reasonable balance between class time and independent work. A one hour class, twice per week, is enough time for instruction -- then students have plenty of time to work independently and still have a life. I'm convinced that teenagers should be on this schedule by high school. If we must have an 8 hour school day, let them spend half of it on homework.

There is NO reason why students should spend 8 hours at school plus 5 hours at home. Would you want a 13 hour work day?

-- Kelly

  The question is the type of homework, not the fact of homework
  I am a math tutor - I run my own tutoring agency, and have had hundreds of students pass through my hands. I see all kinds of homework; heck, I even assign some. If a kid has just learned to solve equations, it's probably good for them to do some equations at home, just for practice. Sure, they can do the equations in front of me, but then the parents will be paying me $40/hour to sit by the kid and not do anything - and why do that?

But some of the homework assignments I see are not designed to promote learning - they're meaningless, mindless busywork. And that's the problem - not the fact that the kid is getting homework, but the fact that it's such mindless busywork. There was the kid whose teacher gave her 84 pages of homework to do in a week - yes, 84 pages of math homework, it's not a typo. And the homework was all over the place - about 30 different topics that had nothing to do with each other. Why did the teacher do that? She took over the class in mid-year, and she "wanted to know what the kids knew".

Then, there was the 10th grade kid whose geometry teacher assigned them the project of making a Platonic solid - basically a crafts project that had nothing to do with geometry. And then, she told the kids that they couldn't keep their work after it was graded - she would just throw them away. She gave some kind of rationale for it, but I forget what it was. Think about how much disrespect of the kids' time and effort this expresses; it took my student hours to get this project done, and it was going straight into the wastebasket?

Reasonable homework is a good idea. Mindless busywork and pointless torture is not.

  Demanding statistics and 'facts'... precisely what is killing public education. Parents, school boards, government agencies, all constantly demand 'accountability', and yet the only people ever held 'accountable' are the classroom teachers. There is no punishment for the parents who never bother to involve themselves in their children's lives or school; none for the principals and superintendents who would rather run their teachers into the ground than see test scores stay static instead of going up, up, up; none for the state and federal level policy makers, the vast majority of whom have never seen the inside of a public school classroom; and none for the students, who bring their attitudes and issues with them every day, with the teachers expected to play parent for 8 hours without having the right to DO anything to ensure order. Everything is data driven, with schools being run like a corporate drone factory, cranking out 'product' by using 'processes' and 'feedback'. What do we do with all this data? Praise the administrators if it is good, flay the teachers if it is bad. Just like the business world.

Why do we lag behind other countries? The reasons are legion, but one of the biggest is our continual worries about the 'self-esteem' of our children. If you have a student who loves working on cars, who is GOOD at working on cars, and who works on cars every day after school in his dad's or cousin's auto shop, why is he FORCED to sit through 4 years of high school? I'm sorry, but he has no interest in Chaucer, or the Moghul Empire in India, or trigonometry, and he will be bored, disruptive, and disengaged when having it crammed down his throat. Going to a 'vocational school' will hurt his self-esteem? How, exactly? Does it not hurt his self-esteem MORE to struggle and struggle through coursework beyond his ability, with all of his peers watching the struggle? We have stigmatized working for a living in this country, and our schools are filled with the results. I have seen students who knew what they wanted to do, and already knew how to do it, being held back for a year or even two years, just to satisfy the myth of the 'well-rounded' high school graduate. Four years of high school will benefit the aspiring accountant, but ask that accountant to reproduce the Shakespeare sonnet they memorized in 10th grade and you will get the same answer as you would get from the guy fixing your transmission.

-- noillusions

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