Monday, 23 February 2009

Homework sux

Until I read this article, I thought the anti-homework movement had only one member: me.

I hate homework. I didn't like it much as a kid, and now as a parent responsible for supervising my daughter's homework, I like it even less. (I have to admit, though, that my daughter loves it. She's been known to refuse to eat tea until allowed to complete her homework. Sheesh.)

I had two main reasons for deploring homework. The first was that it makes parents responsible for teaching their kids. This always seemed to me a way of perpetuating privilege: those kids with educated parents would do best, while those whose parents didn't have the education, time or inclination to help them would be disadvantaged. Or so I thought - according to the Stuff article, there's little evidence that homework offers much benefit for anyone.

My second reason was that the six hours kids spend at school each day seems quite long enough to me. Adults only work eight hours (in theory, at least), so to make a kid do six plus homework seems harsh.

Until I read the homework article, it hadn't really occurred to me that other families might find homework a stressful business. When I grew up, the job of supervising homework feel to my mum, because my father was at work - probably a fairly common arrangement. There were five kids in my family. That's a whole lot of times tables and spelling lists - poor mum.

Being part of my kids' learning is hugely important to me, but it takes the form of a whole range of activities. We read books, go to the museum, watch interesting stuff on TV or simply talk about stuff the kids enjoy. As a working mum, I'd much rather do this than squander my precious time with the kids by making them fill in homework sheets.


Brett Dale said...

I hated homework, thanks to one teacher who went over board, I remember way back, it was the last day before the August School Holidays, (I thought I had three weeks off) and he gave us this HUGE assignment, over the break, and told us it counts for 40% of our years mark, and he got quite surly when we told him it was school holidays.

Keely said...

I hate homework myself and usually tell the teachers I will not be forcing my kids to do more than spelling words and times tables practice, plus the usual encouraging reading. It doesn't always go down well and one teacher did try punishing the boy for not doing it.
Too many teachers use homework as a way of catching up what they didn't teach during the day. My opinion is that they need to reorganise their lesson plans if they have problems.
Don't even get me started on compulsory science fair projects which have to be done at home!

hendo said...

I am one of those strange people who enjoy filling out forms and I worked best when I was left quietly to get through things on my own, so although I complained (because I knew liking homework was not cool), I didn't really mind homework a lot of the time.

I do recall feeling vaguely that it was unfair, by the time I got to the business end of high school, that my parents couldn't really help me with my homework - but I had a lot of friends with parents who were teachers, and they would do things like mark practice essays etc. I just had to kind of direct myself.

It's something I look forward to trying to do different if I have kids - being able to help my kids or direct them to places that can help them (thank god for internet). My parents have their own excellent talents so I'm not angry about it or anything; it's just something I'll do differently.

Apathy Jack said...

As much as I feel dirty linking to myself, I interthought about this a few days back, so rather than retype it:

Anna said...

No need to let self-linking make you feel dirty, Jack.

Hendo, I was a bit like you in that I enjoyed worksheets and stuff - but always on my terms, and never when I was made to do them!

stargazer said...

i hated the kids homework, drove me crazy. primary school kids should absolutely not have homework - well, other than spelling & times tables which take repetitive learning. i found that homework would stress the kids out, especially when it was stuff they didn't recognise.

some homework from intermediate is ok, but oh yes, i hate science fair projects as well.

Deborah said...

I'm with anjum and others of good sense here - spelling and times tables, and reading practice. The things that just need to be learned by heart, or practiced, practiced, practiced.

As for other kinds of learnng, I agree with the cooking / gardening / museums / whatever thoughts, but I also think that kids need space to just be bored, to work out how to entertain themselves, to hang out in the backyard and ride bikes aimlessly and just be. The homework monster destroys that space.

Maia said...

I agree entirely. I've done a lot of looking after kids after school over the years and the things they get as homework are ridiculous and make me so mad. I've had general knowledge quizzes as homework, which is entirely about the resources that you have at the house.

But though the equity issues are huge, I think the time issues are even more important. Kids need to play and learn in their own way. They have to do school stuff for six hours a day if that's what they need. The last thing that they need is more of the stuff they're already doing for six hours a day.

Maia said...

You know what? I'm not even convinced on the spelling and times tables.

I was a terrible speller when I was a kid, terrible. It wasn't that that helped the spelling stick in my brain. Years later I was writing a leaflet with someone who I'd gone to primary school with, who had always been a good speller, and I knew words she didn't, spelling at primary school age didn't necessary mean anything (although ten years later I still felt the stigma of being the bad speller). The idea that the time to learn to spell is when you're a child doesn't hold for everyone. Neither does the idea that spelling has to be learned by rote (I'm fairly sure that most of my spelling knowledge came from reading).

Which doesn't mean that some children's spelling won't be helped by learning by rote, but other kids won't. The question is what do you do to teh kids who can't learn spelling by rote, at that time, by making them try and be tested, and fail each week, where that's just not how their brain was wired at that age.

(I think incidentally what was going on for me is that I had real trouble writing and so the act of writing took so much out of me that there wasn't enough space in my brain for spelling. As soon as I started using a type-writer I suspect my spelling got much better).

Same with tables, some kids are going to understand them better if they're learned by rote. Others if they learn how numbers work. That's the thing with homework (although it's also true with school), it requires kids to learn in the same way, and there can be huge variations in how people take in information, how they learn skills, and times that this is appropriate.

Madeleine said...

Parents responsible for educating their kids? How terrible. Call the UN.

Next people will be claiming parents are responsible for raising their own kids!

Anna said...

Whatever method is best for learning spelling or timestables (and I'm not sure), there's actually no reason why it can't be done at school.

I feel particularly concerned about the children of refugees and migrants, and children with special needs. In both cases, specialist teaching may be required to equip these kids with the skills they needs for a primarily Eniglish-speaking mainstream school system. Expecting parents to do that is a bit rough.

I was interested in the comment in the article that kids might be better off cooking a meal or doing something like that. The waning of certain skills in our society is often bemoaned - the ability to cook cheap nutritious meals, financial literacy, etc - but finding time to teach your kids these things isn't that easy. I get home from work, and I've got a very brief window between tea time and bed time. Any 'formal' education done at that time comes at the expense of informal learning and family time, which makes me a bit cross.

Plus, left to their own devices, kids will often formulate learning interests of their own. The theme of our family weekend was cicadas - the kids found them, talked about how they make noise, why they have fake eye patterns on their bodies, and got a dead one to put under the microscope. It was gross but interesting!

The ex-expat said...

Anna, on the other hand there are plenty of parents that think that if the child isn't doing homework then obviously the the teacher isn't doing their job properly and their precious child is just a heartbeat away from failure if they aren't doing SOMETHING educational at all times.

What these parents (and for that matter schools) tend to forget is that a child can learn plenty from helping with the herb garden, cooking, mucking around with water, movies, listening to music, sports and even *gasp* free play.

Madeleine, part of the reason that we have schools is a recognition that not all parents have the time, ability nor inclination to educate their children but their children should have the same opportunities as those who do.

Madeleine said...

I am not anti-school. All my kids have attended school at various points and one currently is in school.

I just have a problem with the concept that it is not the parent's but rather the state's responsibility to educate children, with this statement in particular "I had two main reasons for deploring homework. The first was that it makes parents responsible for teaching their kids."

If a family chooses to send their child to a school then that family is choosing to delegate their responsibility to educate their children to the school. If a family chooses to homeschool then they are not delegating their responsibility. It is totally the family's choice as to what method of education their child receives.

The state does not own our children, the state is the back-up plan for when parents fail their kids, not the first port of call or the primary caregiver to which the parent is secondary to.

muerk said...

I'm anti-homework too. It eats into time when I think children should be having free play. Our boys get a bit of homework at their primary school. Spelling, maths and reading whatever they like and that seems reasonable.

Thankfully we haven't hit the school project horror that I remember from my youth.

As to getting kids reading, here in Greymouth we get the "Summer Reading Challenge" and local businesses donate bikes and books and vouchers and what not for kids to win if they read every day and go to the library twice over the summer.

Also Grey Main Primary has their school library open during the holidays for kids to keep borrowing and reading.

Anna said...

I have no problem delegating part of my responsibility for my children to people who have expertise that I don't. When my children need dental care, I'm quite happy to delegate that responsbility to a dentist - it seems more humane than getting the pliers out. I don't think that conceding you're not an expert makes you a deficient or disinterested parent.

E-E, I think you're right on the money about parental expectations, esp the fear that if kids aren't getting homework they may be at risk of failure. The evidence doesn't appear to support this, but I've got a lot of sympathy - everyone wants the best for their kids, but it's difficult to know what 'best' is or how you can ensure your kid gets it.

The best out-of-class learning arrangement my daughter ever had was at her first school. She was/is a very keen learner, so her teacher and I got together and worked out stuff we could do at home which supplemented her in-class activities. Fun for all parties!

Angela Norton Tyler said...

Your last sentence, "As a working mum, I'd much rather do this than squander my precious time with the kids by making them fill in homework sheets," is brilliant! This is what I go on and on about day after day with parents, teachers and any one who will listen! The best learning does not have to come from school, and it does not have to come in the form of a worksheet. Sign the Homework Mmanifesto

Anonymous said...

I always ended up either doing my homework at school or ignoring it entirely, six hours a day of learning was more then enough as by them time i got home i was almost falling asleep from exhaustion!
The best way to promote learning is to have a relaxed atmosphere and i think homework goes against that..

Anonymous said...

I'm surprised you thought you were the only person who disliked homework. There are a few books about it, including mine, The Case Against Homework: How Homework Is Hurting Our Children and What Parents Can Do About it, and I run a project Stop Homework, which also has a website Take a look and see what other parents are saying and doing.