Magazine article U.S. Catholic

The Case against Homework: Stuffed Backpacks Drive Kids Away from Learning

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

The Case against Homework: Stuffed Backpacks Drive Kids Away from Learning

Article excerpt

After spending all day in school, our children are forced to begin a second shift, with more academic assignments to be completed at home. This arrangement is rather odd when you stop to think about it, as is the fact that few of us ever do stop to think about it.

Instead of assuming that homework should be a given, or that it allegedly benefits children, I've spent the last few years reviewing the available research and talking to parents, teachers and students. My findings can be summarized in seven words: Homework is all pain and no gain.

The pain is obvious to kids but isn't always taken seriously by adults. Backpacks stuffed with assignments leave students exhausted, frustrated, less interested in intellectual pursuits and lacking time to do things they enjoy. "Most of what homework is doing," says literacy expert Harvey Daniels, "is driving kids away from learning."

We parents, meanwhile, turn into nags. After being away from our children all day, the first words out of our mouths, sadly, may be: "So, did you finish your homework?" One mother told me it permanently damaged her relationship with her son because it forced her to be an enforcer rather than a mom.

The surprising news, though, is that there are virtually no pros to balance the cons. Even if you regard grades or test scores as good measures of learning, which I do not, doing homework has no statistical relationship to achievement in elementary school. In high school, some studies do find a correlation between homework and test scores, but it's usually fairly small. And in any case, it's far from clear that the former causes the latter. And if you're wondering, not a single study has ever supported the folk wisdom that homework teaches good work habits or develops positive character traits such as self-discipline, responsibility or independence.

Some teachers know all this but feel compelled to keep assigning homework for tradition's sake, or because of pressure from administrators or, ironically, parents. Adults also may assume that kids will waste their time (read: do things grown-ups don't regard as sufficiently constructive) unless they're made to do schoolwork at home.

Still others believe--incorrectly--that more time spent on a task produces better results, or that because practice is required to be a good athlete or musician, it's also at the heart of intellectual growth. It isn't. You can't "reinforce" understanding the way you can reinforce a behavior. …

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