I’ve seen a couple of articles floating around the internet about homework over the last few weeks. This is not totally surprising — it’s testing season, we’re approaching graduation season, Spring Break is happening, the school year has reached that “we’re in the flow, but it’s turning into a bit of a grind” part of the year, and EVERYONE has an opinion on homework (including me).
Mostly I think it’s important to talk about homework. I think we should talk about what it’s for, how it’s used, and how it can be better.
I shared this article from Salon on my personal Facebook page.
Along with these thoughts:
So far, we don’t do homework in my house. Admittedly, my daughter is in kindergarten, so it’s not a big deal and she doesn’t get graded for it. But kindergarteners (and to be totally honest all the kids) sit in chairs all day at school, and it’s hard for them. I really think that after school kids need to be playing, running, developing their other interests, and playing with their friends.
Yes, we read. And sometimes we use the homework sheet as a place to get ideas (there was this really fun game with coins and counting a few weeks ago that we played for days).
But I’m not going to fight with my daughter about it. I’m going to hold the line about important things like not hurting her sister and brushing her teeth, but I’m not going to use my energy to fight over something that probably isn’t going to make school better for her.
Also, as a workaholic myself, I really don’t want this for my kids. I want them to know that they can take days off, they don’t have to feel like they need to constantly contribute to work, and that there are times that are just off.
It’s really important to me that my daughters know that “we don’t have to work all the time.” I want them to know that we can take days off, that there is time enough for all the things, and that I firmly believe that they will be better able to do their best work at school if they don’t do a whole bunch of school work at home, too.
Then, because easy answers aren’t all that easy, the universe (via Anne Helen Petersen’s weekly newsletter) send me this article, which paints a very different picture of homework.
“The Cult of Homework” by Joe Pinsker in The Atlantic
Pinsker points to research that it’s not any specific amount of homework that’s good or bad, but the type that we should be more flexible and creative with. He cites teachers that assign work and give students flexibility of when they do it, allowing them to develop time management skills. Another teacher provides optional extra worksheets for students who would like to do it. Another group of students used their after school time to build a trebuchet. These all sound like enriching ways to use homework as an opportunity to deepen and expand learning.
I think those are very good points, and in a totally different universe from me arguing with my six-year old about whether or not we’re going to practice sight words after school.
I think a lot about what I want for my daughters’ (and all their classmates’) education: I desperately want them to love learning, to know themselves, and to be whole people. And learning at home can be a part of that.
When I graduated from college, I imagined myself as a disembodied head — totally out of balance because my brain was full of knowledge, but my body was out of shape and neglected. I’d only been feeding my mind for (honestly) the past 12 years of so. I feel like a big reason that I was drawn to taekwondo training and felt motivated to open a Martial Arts Studio with my husband was because I felt like I needed to put myself back together again. I didn’t really want a desk job where I could continue to ignore my body for another 40 years while I climbed the corporate ladder.
This is a point that I feel is really missing from both of these (really well done) essays about homework. We measure whether or not the homework is working based on student test scores and graduation rates…but we don’t track things like “student happiness” or “mental well-being.” Those are important factors in a child’s education, and I think we should focus more on those things.
It reminds me of a Freakanomics podcast I listened to about six months ago called “How to be Happy” in it host Stephen Dubner explores the United Nations World Happiness Report and the characteristics of happy societies, and how we can focus more on well-being than economic growth or low unemployment. It also reminds me of Anne Helen Petersen’s wonderful article about Millennial Burnout. Part of the reasons millennials (as a group) feel burned out is that we kind of prioritized school, studying, and achievement to the detriment of everything else.
This is definitely something that I think “I could be totally wrong about this.” But like I said, everyone has an opinion about homework, and my opinion is: when we think about homework and our kids, we shouldn’t just be thinking about next week’s spelling test, the end of year test, or the SATs. We should think about the relationship with work that we want our kids to have, and we should know that we need to show them how to be whole people…not just educated kids.