One would think that I would look forward to my first grader getting off the bus each day, and spending time together. I do and I don’t. Of course, I love to see him, but I also know what the rest of the afternoon has in store for us. Homework.
We are in a school district where homework is given every weeknight as the default. I thought I had the homework situation under control, but recently, the amount has gone up dramatically. Here is the list of what must be done at home each night, four nights a week:
One math or language arts worksheet (15 min)
One spelling book written assignment (15 min)
One sight words written assignment (15 min)
Practice math facts with flashcards (10 min)
Reading for Reading Log (20 min)
TOTAL: One hour and fifteen minutes
So, roughly a total of one hour and fifteen minutes each night. IF it all goes smoothly, without interruption. With interruptions, breaks, we’re looking at a good two-hour slog each night. Oh yeah, and a monthly book report that always involves building something and purchasing odd materials.
It’s. Just. Too. Much.
After my child spends 6 hours a day in school, plus another hour of bus time, I really don’t want him to have to do more homework. I want him to hang out, go to the park, paint, draw, play outside, or read for fun. Even the reading, which is part of the assignment, often gets cut down in our chase to get all of the written assignments done!.
I don’t like the mother I become when I am supervising homework. On the outside, I look like I am calmly supervising. But on the inside, I feel antsy and impatient. I’m watching the clock. I’m plotting how I, I mean WE, can cut corners. I’m trying to think ahead about how I can speed the process up without leaving my mark too obviously on the assignment. Sometimes I even feel anger at the assignments that come home, if I think they aren’t worthy of my child’s time (or mine). I feel disempowered and my home life imposed upon. If I could get away with it, I would fill it out myself.
So what to do? Well, I pulled out my copy of Alfie Kohn’s, The Homework Myth, to see what he suggests.
Many districts with default homework policies will vaguely claim that “studies show” that homework is correlated with school success. Kohn challenges this, saying that, at best, such studies only show a correlation, not a causation. Kohn also notes that such studies “confuse grades and test scores with learning.” And even where positive effects exist, they are very small. Finally, there is no evidence of any academic benefit from homework in elementary school, other than free reading.
So why is homework the default policy of many schools and school districts, even at the elementary level? Kohn suggests that the most troubling reason is that we, as parents, are too averse to asking questions:
One reason we don’t ask challenging questions about homework is that we don’t ask challenging questions about most things. Homework continues to be championed by policy makers, assigned by teachers, and accepted by parents, in part because of our cultural aversion to digging out hidden premises, pressing for justification and opposing practices for which justification is lacking…
Even if we do regard something as objectionable, that doesn’t mean we will object to it.
OUCH. I’m not sure about this part. Sure, I think our culture can be lazy at times, but I think the main reason parents don’t raise objections is because such objections can be met with defensiveness by the district. Sometimes you can cause more trouble for yourself and for your children by challenging the status quo. You know, pick your battles and all that. In other words, it’s quite rational, in my opinion, to just try to go along.
Ok, so are there any solutions in this book, for homework-weary moms like me?
Kohn suggests that homework should not be the default, but should only be given when it’s an activity that is suited to home as opposed to the classroom. He also supports reading books of the child’s choice. However, even on free-choice reading, he counsels caution on reading logs. He quotes Jim DeLuca, a middle school language arts teacher:
“The best way to make students hate reading is to make them prove to you that they have read. Some teachers use log sheets….other teachers use book reports or other projects….in many cases, such assignments make the students hate the book they have just read, no matter how they felt about it before the project.”
In general, Kohn suggests that at minimum, homework should be individualized to the student, designed by the teacher (as opposed to canned worksheets), and not graded. However, Kohn admits that parents have an uphill climb if they are in a district where homework is the default policy.
In the end, The Homework Myth is a fascinating read, but leaves an individual parent with little actionable advice.
And so, here I am, right where I started. Do I speak up that this homework situation is not working for our family? Or do I keep quiet?
What is your child’s homework experience like? What is your opinion on homework? Have you even spoken out about homework you thought had no value or was too much? What was the outcome?