Top 10 Reasons Homework Should Be Banned
Homework is one of unique evils that all of us can relate to. Whether it plagued our evenings or weekends – or, for those unfortunate enough to be homeschooled, every waking hour, – for each of us homework evokes an individualized and vivid set of memories. Mine tend to consist of horrendously early mornings spent either trying to disentangle apparently impossible mathematical equations, or frantically scribbling a series of unsubstantiated (though passably well-articulated) ideas and interpretations for a humanities assignment. On a particularly bad morning, I’d have to do both.
Looking back, constantly leaving my homework until the last minute was no more than a matter of course. For a guitar-obsessed teenager who would invest more time in the PlayStation than in any given chemistry or biology textbook, homework was always going to take a back seat, as it did amongst my peers. Indeed, I look back with fondness on friends whose constant failure to even attempt the set homework was matched only by the constantly poor excuses they offered to the teacher: ‘some homeless guy on the bus’ (who presumably had a profound interest in long-shore drift) ‘stole it’ remains my personal favorite.
As a teacher my relationship with homework has taken on a new dynamic. Working in Italy, I am obliged to set (and of course grade) increasingly large amounts of homework: most of which is completed by my female students, little of which is even attempted by my male students. While the dynamic has changed, however, my view has not. Homework does not help. Instead of contributing to learning, it only threatens to blacken the association young people have with education. Here are 10 reasons it should be banned.
10. It encourages conflict
The sheer fact that the Internet is abound with websites trying to resolve homework-related conflicts and advising parents on how to get their children to do sit down and do it clearly highlights its inherent dislike by children. Parents are, however, in a difficult situation when it comes to appeasing the school and enforcing its completion.
For those who believe in the educational benefits of homework (see the concerned parental response above), there isn’t too much of an issue. For those who don’t, however, and whose children attend a school that sets it in large amounts, they find themselves in a position where they are obliged to police their children and ensure it gets done; going against their own principals and presumably those they would undoubtedly like to instill in their children. These homework apologists may recognize the fact that homework to a large extent serves to compensate for the failings of the school system. As we’ll see later, work that doesn’t get done at school – often through no fault of the child’s – is set as homework. The idea that it is the child’s responsibility to make up for this, however, is one that parents have to feel comfortable with before they can preach to their children about doing it.
We’re shortly going to look at the negative health effects homework can have on children. Before doing that, however, it’s worth suggesting that one of the most insidious ways in which homework damages children may be psychological. Not only does it put children off learning through the boring nature of the work, but it also has the potential to create negative cognitive associations between learning and conflict in general – especially where there are family arguments over the amount of time and effort spent doing it.
9. It favors the few
Speaking at Paris’ Sorbonne University in 2012, the incumbent French president François Hollande suggested banning homework outright; the place for learning, he suggested, should be in the classroom and not at home. This part of Hollande’s address was entirely in line with his liberal principals. As president of France’s Parti Socialiste (Socialist Party), Hollande recognizes homework as an anti-egalitarian instrument that benefits children who come from wealthy backgrounds, who have healthy working environments that are conducive to learning, and who have parents willing to lend time and energy to helping them.
France is an excellent comparison for the US, for its education system is broadly similar: the school day lasts roughly from 8:00 a.m. – 16:00 p.m. though with the difference that most students have Wednesdays, Saturday afternoons and Sundays off. With children of both countries spending a similar amount of time at school, this means that Hollande’s proposal could readily be implemented, if not at least seriously debated, in the US. So why is it not?
The reason is that homework favors society’s elites, and these elites want to maintain the status quo. It favors the children of the wealthy and educated not by educating their children, but by ensuring they tick boxes, achieve grades and are taught competition. There will always be parents who’ll ask for more homework to be assigned and who’ll rally against attempts to curtail the already almost impossible workload, confident in the belief that stunts to their children’s development, their short-term suffering, will be compensated by their future prosperity. Homework encourages competition, and parents will pay to get the edge with private tutors. Trust me. I’m one of those tutors.
8. It doesn’t test anything
Without wanting to be completely utilitarian, it’s our duty as educators, parents and general enforcers of homework to question the merit of what we’re asking our children to do. Homework is about memorization not education, and there is a case to be made that if you were able to do the homework it never needed to be done, whereas if you weren’t able to do it, you haven’t learnt anything so the whole exercise was pointless.
Here are a few such examples of pointless homework. In a recent tutorial, a 16 year-old Italian student of mine had to write a two-page critique in English of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner – a poem so archaic that even I as a mother-tongue English speaker struggle in parts. I’m not for one moment questioning the value of studying literature, but writing an essay on Romantic English literature when your spoken English is too elementary to accurately verbally communicate seems like a waste of time. In the end, to justify my pay, I dictated it.
In another tutorial, a student’s homework was to translate a page of dense grammatical explanations (meant for advanced adults) about the third-conditional into Italian; an exercise that astounded me not only because of the dastardly difficulty and pointlessness of the task, but also because my students English-comprehension was so low that it soon became apparent that the nervous boy sitting before me had absolutely no idea what he was reading. His mum, however, had paid for this ‘tutorial’ and expected results. So within the allotted time we struggled through together, fulfilled the homework’s crazy criteria and merrily learned nothing.
7. It covers what teachers couldn’t get through in the lesson
One thing that teachers won’t like to admit is that, with so many arbitrary targets, rigid curricula and time constraints on those in our profession being set across education systems worldwide, high homework rates are inevitable. In fact, the last 23 years have seen an increase from two hours 38 minutes to three hours 58 minutes in the time spent doing homework each week: something that all-too conveniently mirrors trends in governmental target increases. Unfortunately, when it comes to content, instead of encouraging reflection on the topic covered in class, or curiosity-led research into further facets of the subject, homework tasks often constitute new material that could not be covered in class.
Not only does this mean that we’re unable to tailor homework to the student’s specific academic needs, but it also means that the homework material has often not been pre-taught – something that makes the more conscientious in our profession feel incredibly guilty as we feel we’re letting our students down.
The prevalence of this practice is confirmed by data, which shows that the amount of homework set by teachers is relative to their level of experience. Indeed, as revealed in a 2007 MetLife study into US schools, only fourteen percent of teachers with over 21 years experience assign more than an hour’s homework a night compared to 14 percent of teachers with between zero and five years experience. This, in part, must be explained by the more experienced teachers’ ability to condense their lessons to fit the curriculum – a good working-system for achieving grades, but one not suitable for education in its own right.
Short of introducing an outright ban, a more effective system at least would be for us to invest more time coordinating amongst ourselves to make sure that we’re neither setting too much homework at the same time nor overlapping on test dates. Anyway, that’s all I have time to say on the subject. There’s grading to be done.
6. It takes time away from a child’s development
There was a period during America’s Progressive Era (1890-1920) in which education was viewed as a means to cultivate the creative, artistic and emotional aspects of individual children rather than to encourage uniformity and vocational preparation. A return to this view of education is popular among many parents and educators now, however rigid testing systems – along with increasing amounts of homework – are likely to ensure that this doesn’t happen for some time.
Children landed with lots of homework are often compelled to make a choice; invest more time in extracurricular hobbies and interests or continue to satisfy the requirements dictated by the school. Of course, there are extracurricular activities deemed suitable: and special mention, or even dispensation, may be given to students who excel at a particular sport or instrument (often because of the prestige they bring the school). Students whose hobbies do not fit into these narrow categories can expect no such dispensations. It will be a long time, for example, before reading one’s way through a literary canon, making Airfix models, socializing with friends; even playing videogames (some of which have been recognized as having enormous educational potential) are accepted over commitments such as a football match or cello recital when it comes to the hierarchy of excuses for uncompleted homework.
It doesn’t, of course, have to be this way. Precedent could be given to indulging in creative arts outside school. In Finland, homework is kept to an absolute minimum, children are encouraged to play outdoors – even in the biting winter – and they are internationally considered to be some of the happiest and highest-achieving children. While we continue to push our dogmatic beliefs about the benefits of homework, however, it’s unlikely our children will be considered in the same category.