Is Homework Hurting Our Children

Boing Boing has a story about some women who have written a book called “The Case Against Homework.”

“Sara Bennett and Nancy Kalish 2006 book “The Case Against Homework” is a fine and frightening explosion of the homework myth: that giving kids homework improves their educational outcome. The authors start by tracing the explosion in homework since the eighties, and especially since the advent of the ill-starred No Child Left Behind regime, which has teachers drilling, drilling, drilling their kids on math and reading to the exclusion of all else.”

It sounds like an interesting book that I’d be curious to read. Not unlike most things in life there is a need for moderation. There is a point to homework, but there is also a point at which it loses its educational value and effectiveness.

One of these days I am going to have to blog about the over programming of children. As a kid I participated in many different extra curricular activities, but what I see now blows my mind. The children of some friends and family haven’t a moment of free time, in large part because their parents have them engaged in something all day long.

I don’t think that this is a healthy practice, but as I mentioned this is a post for a different day.

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  1. Tamara May 30, 2007 at 1:27 am

    I agree with many of the commentors.

    It is absurd to think that quantity equals quality. We all know that. For an English class the homework doesn’t need to be heavy to be adequate.

    In my classes the homework is basic but of use. Such as studying academic vocabulary; which our kids lack greatly and it keeps them from being on a level playing field in the real world. I also assign light reading. I mean, my kids aren’t going to read 20 pages a night. So if I give them small tasks, like read 5 pages and respond briefly. To me, that is a good assignment. It’s something they can realistically do in under 30 minutes. It’s something they can bring to class to discuss and learn from. The only other major homework would be essays. But, in my short teaching career, I’ve realized (at least with my low income and low reading and writing skilled students) that good writing requires support and encouragement, and unfortunately, they often get more from me than from home.

    It’s sad.

  2. Val May 29, 2007 at 10:39 pm

    I agree with you and the book every hour of a day for a kid craziness… it’s not healthy. Kids, like adults, need downtime. I like to plan activities, but not for every moment and taking them on the daily errands sometimes is just what has to be done.
    I remember growing up just fine, with playing outsides with the neighborhood kids and otherwise being shlepped around with my folks and I survived.

    kid aren’t allowed to be just kids anymore. Every imaginable type of lesson has to be offered – it’s got to be very overwhelming for most kids.
    Sorry… this is a sore subject, as I know some of these types of parents. makes the rest of us feel at times, that we are somehow depriving our kids of things.

  3. Jack's Shack May 29, 2007 at 3:20 pm

    The interesting thing about homework, though, is how much it is used to measure the quality of the school!

    I have an ongoing argument with some parents about this. They seem to revel in trying to outdo the other parents with comments about how much time their children spend on homework.

    Very sad.

  4. Kol Ra'ash Gadol May 29, 2007 at 3:26 am

    It’s interesting that this book came out now – several years ago I read the studies on which they base their claims, and have been anti-homework (even before I had kids) since then. The studies show pretty unequivocally that homework is not only not useful for elementary school kids, but that it’s counter-productive.
    For middle school kids, a small amount of homework can be of neutral (!) value (i.e. doesn’t help, doesn’t hurt) and for high schoolers, a small amount of homework is beneficial. (This is genrally speaking, of course).

    The sorts of things that homework is good for is to reinforce skills like foreign language acquisition and math, and the occasional science project. Most other homework is not of great utility.

    The interesting thing about homework, though, is how much it is used to measure the quality of the school! Parents, despite having less time to spend with kids to help them learn, demand more and more homework from the schools as if this proves that the school is of higher quality. Add this to the fact that kids have longer hours (many schools have added mandatory after school activities and community hours, but not counted them towards actual learning hours, and you have kids who leave in the morning (and God forbid they should have to take a bus and may leave for school up to an hour -or more- before school), sit througha full day with little opportunity for exercise (and don’t get me started on vending machines and corporate sponsors in the schools), get out of regular classes, but be required to stay for some mandatory activity for a few hours, and then return home from school by 6 or 7 pm, only then to start in on homework, and its no surprise that kids are developing unprecedented levels of stress -in elementary school.

    It’s nice to tell kids to read and ask questions. All to the good, but piling on activities that have been shown to be of dubious value just because it we’ve always done it is IMO cruel. Add that to the ridiculous parents who are filling up their kids’ hours with overly scheduled additional activities on weekends,and there should be no surprise about the kids who end up in college and literally have no idea how to handle free time.

    As a former pulpit rabbi, I saw kids all the time who were potentially interested in youth group, but in the end were simply not able to summon up enthusiasm for one more activity. Unless it could provide community service hours. They didn’t care whether they might meet friends there, or have a good time – those things simply weren’t on their radar.

    I think it’s terribly sad how overburdened our kids are, and I have to say, I don’t see that schools are doing much good with all this extra work they’re piling on. Before I was a rabbi and before I was a rabbinical student, I was in grad school, and taught undergraduates, and I have to say their thinking skills were not great. Their writing skills were not magnificent. And they were completely infected with the idea that opinions and assertions were as good as facts. How about schools stop trying to do everything and focus on a few key things: reading, writing, math and logic (formal logic would be great, but even just argument skills would be welcome) with enough breaks throughout the day so that kids don’t start showing ADHD symptoms from lack of outlet for normal energy. American and World history would be nice, and a strong -untainted by intelligent design or creationist account – dose of science. Forget the extra-curricular activities – let the kids organize them themselves, let them go ice skating and play soccer for fun, for God’s sake.

  5. Jack's Shack May 29, 2007 at 3:16 am




    If homework doesn’t make our children think I begin to wonder about it.


    I see a need for homework. There is value in it, but there must be a balance to it.

  6. Tamara May 29, 2007 at 12:43 am

    As a newer teacher, only 2.5 years, I’ve seen this argument in English conventions and many workshops. I have mixed feelings about it.

    First, I had homework. Homework was good. It was a way to apply what I learned at home. It was a way for me to perhaps dive deeper in a quiet more nurturing atmosphere than a public school. However, when it came to math, I was lost. Homework brought me to tears. With a single parent home, and a parent who had their hands full, I didn’t always have someone there to hold my hand during homework.

    Today’s students, at least in urban and low income areas, don’t have the support at home and I don’t think it’s just to blame the students. Many of my students, and yes we do talk about these things, tell me they have no books in English at home, their parents in many cases didn’t finish school themselves; with these circumstances at home, there isn’t much support. What ends up happening when I assign large or small homework is it doesn’t get done and the students end up being set up to fail.

    Anyway…that’s my two cents. I probabally could ellaborate more…but I’ll go now 🙂

  7. Stepping Over the Junk May 29, 2007 at 12:13 am

    P.S. Another thing on homework…I just wish there was more time in the day for it, that’s all. Worksheets, worksheets, worksheets. I would rather there be fun projects…once a week my daughter (6) writes two pages in a journal for her homework and she loves it. I wish there was more homework like that! Indstead of worksheets. Because that is what makes her really think!

  8. Stepping Over the Junk May 29, 2007 at 12:10 am

    I allow my kids one extra curricular activity per half year. One in the fall. One in the spring. NOTHING over the holiday time (Nov til Jan) because things are SO crazy. And I don’t sign them up for anything in the summer except maybe some swimming at one of the coves nearby…we’re at the beach as much as possible, they are with their dad every other weekend and then off on two week long vacas with him, and then the summer is over. So I keep it simple.

    As for homework, it is ridiculous how much time it takes…I know there is value to it but my daughter in Kindergarten has about 20 min a night and she can barely make it through it because she is so wiped out from the intense structure through the day at school. Ugh. Also, my kids go to bed at 7 (as most kids their age should) and their friends are up until 9 or 10…my kids barely have time to do their little bit of homework and eat and take a bath and play a little before going at it all over again the next day.

    I suppose I should write a post about this issue.

  9. Michael May 28, 2007 at 8:03 pm

    Jack, I think you’re right about homework.
    I have a 4 yr old, and a 21 month old; every moment can be educational for them, but nothing formal is needed. Raising them has definitely been an eye-opener.

  10. Jack's Shack May 28, 2007 at 6:09 pm


    I am weighing whether I am going to leave your comment up as it really bears a stronger resemblance to a post than a comment.

    For you to decide what I may teach seems unnecessarily autocratic. And egomaniacal.

    Oy. So many issues with this. The narcissism in this comment kills me. This section below is too much.

    I teach in a public school. If I am hired by my community to teach its students, then I will teach them according to my lights, which the community better have investigated and determined to be bright and beneficent.

    This is claptrap clothed in finery but the emperor is still naked.

    Yes, it can be done, and no union will support a dumb teacher.
    That is patently false.

    These Republican tactics sound good to simple-minded fokes

    Do you pepper the children of simple minded folks with political discourse disguised as teaching.

    This is just such nonsense.

  11. chan May 28, 2007 at 5:53 pm

    An open letter to Cory D.—

    As a kid of teachers, I’m surprised you’d so swimmingly pitch tent with the StopHomework camp. Full disclosure; I am a teacher. Not a Trotskyite, but an anarchist-atheist English teacher who –gasp—gives homework. Some say a lot of homework. In fact, I give homework precisely because I want to interrupt my students’ lives as much as possible.


    It is every teacher’s duty to erase the distinction between play and work, between learning and doing, between daydreaming and wakeful endeavor. Homework is an archaic term, and it occurs to me that you may have been befuddled by it. Let me clarify something by example. I ask my students to do three kinds of assignments.

    (1) Read. While your argument (that kids need “a childhood’s measure of doing nothing, daydreaming and thinking”) sounds righteous, you need to weigh some facts that Bennett’s statistics don’t consider. It’s, like, hella easy to watch TV or play Wii. I’ve got a 7 year old, and I’ve watched him like a zoologist. He will invariably follow the path of least resistance. Yes, I did worry that it was just him. For about 4 seconds. Conversations with other parents (and more… um… “field time” with other 7 year olds) bore out my theory: Kids slack. Kids cannot be left to simply daydream, since commercial forces have a bigger impact than a socialist Canadian born in the ‘70s might realize. If you don’t force a kid to daydream, someone else will, because they get paid shitloads to do it. My thesis advisor in college – a chicken-farming poet named Robert Creeley – taught me that those who suckle the nurturing teat of literature ought never be ashamed to push books on kids, and that has been my guiding principle as a teacher. If my students aren’t forced to read David Berman poems, they’re totally gonna watch American Idol. Daydream? Pfft. More like get subsumed by hegemonic Capitalism. But you can call it “daydreaming” if it makes you sleep better. Me? No.

    (2) Question people. At the dinner table, ask you family __(insert thought experiment here)___. This is a common assignment. I chuckle to myself when I picture 128 kids toying with a fork-full of brussel sprouts and asking their parents “Is the universe friendly?” Or, “let’s cut our pizza like a pie chart of how long the Greeks, the Romans, and the United States claimed themselves to be the world’s superpower… but before we do, which piece of pie would you want?”

    (3) Make something better. This assignment has a million permutations, but in general, the idea is that no project is complete. Ever. That essay on Mankind’s civilizing impulse as illustrated by T. C. Boyle’s “Jubilation” and The Epic of Gilgamesh? Find another story/song/picture that completes the triptych. That mimicry of Thoreau you wrote? Make it a satire. Your Dadaist treehouse? Work it!

    I oppose the Bennett/Kalish movement for two reasons, neither one of which is as radical as you might think. First, the teachers I know are pro-intellectual, anti-NCLB educators for whom standardized testing is a non-issue. They do not give test prep homework because they teach far beyond a standardized test’s parameters. Maybe that isn’t true elsewhere, but it ought to be, and I assume it is only Bennett’s cultural superiority complex that keeps her from waging that war. Second, I oppose any political group dictating curriculum and pedagogy to teachers. By joining their crusade, Mr Doctorow, you cast a very wide net of officious legislating that (seriously!) seems very out of character for someone who tends to champion intellectual freedom. For you to decide what I may teach seems unnecessarily autocratic. And egomaniacal.

    I teach in a public school. If I am hired by my community to teach its students, then I will teach them according to my lights, which the community better have investigated and determined to be bright and beneficent. If my lights are dim – and here I’d entreat you to break ranks with the company you’ve chosen and resist the tenure argument – if they prove too dim to teach, then freaking fire me. Yes, it can be done, and no union will support a dumb teacher.

    Please reconsider. I don’t care what you do – become a teacher, campaign for higher wages for teachers, assert that Capital has no authority over children, whatev – but please don’t unthinkingly wage war on teachers. There are a million things wrong with education, starting obviously with heavy-handed micromanagement from unfunded mandates like NCLB. These Republican tactics sound good to simple-minded fokes, but don’t be one of them.

    Chandler Lewis
    Suffern, New York

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