River Dad ~ When Homework Attacks!

When Homework AttacksWhat is the purpose of homework? I do not ask that to be argumentative or damning or tree-hugging. I truly am curious about the expressed purpose of homework. I seem to recall, back in the Pleistocene Era when I was in school, that my teachers said homework was intended to drill the lessons into my developing brain so that the concepts stuck and they could move on and teach something new the next day. I had other teachers say homework was a way for them to gauge how much of what they’d been teaching me during class had sunk in. One teacher told me homework was God’s way of saying He didn’t like me.

Now that I am no longer in school, I no longer have to do homework. And yes kids, life without homework is everything you’ve dreamed: peaceful, joyous, fulfilling, even rewarding at times. And now I have kids, and they are doing homework. One would think the Circle of Life was complete.

[blockquote class=blue]I know parents who have confided in me that homework has brought their child to tears more than once. That is, in my opinion, a travesty. [/blockquote]
But there’s a difference between the soul-sucking homework of my youth and the soul-crushing homework of my children. For one, my kids seem to have more of it. For two… well who cares, my kids have a lot more homework than I ever had. My children come home from school, remove their debilitatingly-heavy and hernia-inducing backpacks from their shoulders, pull out what seems like an entire ream of paper they need to work through (this in the supposedly paperless era of the internet), drop their heads in resignation, and get to work.

There is little joy for them in this daily ritual, and sometimes I have to turn into Mr. Harsh Slave Boat Captain to ensure they concentrate on finishing their homework rather than, you know, playing outside or something.

I don’t relish bringing out my whip, but sometimes it’s all that will motivate them to quit their whining and get back to work. My son routinely comes home with homework in four or five different subjects — each of which can take over half an hour if not more. If he starts when he gets off the bus, he can sometimes finish in time to go to bed before having to get up again the next morning. Now I’ve got nothing against pulling all-nighters, I’ve done my share, but I wasn’t eight at the time.

Thinking back to my own childhood, I recall going outside and playing after school. I remember having friends and seeing them in places other than classrooms. I seem to recall feeling a sense of joy when school ended for the day, rather than the angst which routinely overcomes my children once school ends, because they know it is now time for homework. Homework was something I did for maybe an hour after dinner (or, once a week, right after school so I was free to watch Battlestar Galactica before bed). As I got older and into high school, homework was something to be done at 6:50 in the morning either on the bus or in the school library before the first bell rang.
It did not overly infringe on my childhood.

Yes, we had book reports and five-paragraph essays and other things we had to do at home from time to time (and this being pre-computer revolution, we actually wrote them by hand, which is one more reason why my generation has much stronger fingers than our children and why we will always dominate them in thumb-wrestling), but spending all day doing homework was the exception, not the rule.

I know parents who have confided in me that homework has brought their child to tears more than once. That is, in my opinion, a travesty. When that occurs, it’s a very good bet the only thing the child is learning is just how much he or she hates school and homework and Mom and Dad and being a kid in general.  It’s getting increasingly difficult to be outwardly positive to my kids about the value of all of this homework, when inside I’m heartbroken.
All this being said, let no one think I am for abolishing homework entirely. It’s important for kids to practice new math concepts and read and do some spelling at home.  But I would ask educators in our districts and elsewhere to evaluate their homework policy and the volume of work it’s creating for kids.   Please make sure there is real value in the assigned tasks beyond cramming in curriculum as test prep.  Consider allowing kids to demonstrate understanding of a concept or idea in the way that makes sense to them – not in seven different ways – and reward them for that.

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About the Author: David Neilsen