Monday, February 19, 2007

Regarding "The Homework Myth"

It always cracks me up when people ask me if I give my kids homework. When I say no, they often look alarmed, and I get the impression that they think I'm being a neglectful parent.

The fact is that while I don't assign homework, I have always worked toward the point (usually around 10th grade) where my kids are given assignments that are due in a few days or a week, and they are responsible for getting the work done on time. But since they have ample free time, being homeschoolers, it's never been a problem.

Still, they do not have nightly homework; apparently, an increasing number of formally schooled children have that in common with my children. In his book The Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad Thing, Alfie Kohn suggests that an increasing number of parents and educators (and especially educators who are also parents) are realizing that there are many negatives to homework, and no evidence that homework is a good thing.

He quotes teachers who stop assigning homework and find that their students become more engaged in the classroom. One said now that he has stopped assigning homework to his students, "students come in all the time and hand me articles about something we talked about in class or tell me about a news report they saw. When intrigued by a good lesson and given freedom (from homework), they naturally seek out more knowledge."

Kohn acknowledges that many parents don't like forcing their children to do homework assignments, but are afraid to question the status quo at their children's schools. Meanwhile, other parents may see homework as something more valuable than other activities a child might spent time on after school. Kohn comments, "...let's confront our worst fears and consider the possibility that some children will simply goof off at least some of the time they're home. What if this is true? We need down time after work; why should kids have to be productive until they drop off to sleep? What if they want to hang out with their friends? What if they prefer to spend some time alone after being with other kids all day? The assumption that this is unacceptable should lead us to question the pitiless regimen of academic improvement to which so many people are so eager to subject them."

Kohn ends his book by quoting educator and mother Katharine Samway, who decided her child's family life and his emotional health was being hurt by an overload of homework: ""There have been too many evenings when I have allowed teacher-imposed obligations to supersede our family needs and interests." She found herself thinking, 'You have our children for six hours, five days a week. Can't we have some time with them to do whatever we choose?" And so she resolved to say to her son, "'No, you can't do your homework until we have returned from the show/returned from the bike ride/finished the ball playing/read the book, the chapter, or the poem." If the school's priorities were askew, that didn't mean she had to accept them. Family comes first, she decided. Children come first. Real learning comes first."

It's nice to see others come around to our way of thinking, isn't it? :)

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