I seem to be in an “education-y” mode lately regarding blogging, but that’s because there’s some interesting stuff out there on the subject. At today’s American Thinker, Charles Sykes, who has written about education for about 20 years, challenges the conventional wisdom that our children are suffering from too much homework:

A generation of hyper-parents has larded their children’s days with band practice, piano lessons, soccer practice, volleyball, martial arts, dance recitals, and swim classes. For their part, teens find time to spend something like 6 hours a day using various forms of media; Xbox 360 sales do not seem to be suffering because kids are too busy to play video games and the malls have not been emptied of teens.

And yet the cry goes up that it is Mrs. Grundy’s history homework assignments that are destroying the innocence of childhood and wrecking the American family.

I both agree and disagree with Sykes’ thesis. It is absolutely true that American children are completely overbooked and this certainly makes it difficult, sometimes, to find time for homework. However, I think many of us parents believe that the after-school activities truly are important — they’re not just to keep up with the Jones. For example, I’m a huge fan of after-school sports programs, which I see as the necessary antidote to the sedentary life young people inevitably live in sprawling communities, many of which don’t even have sidewalks, where walking around and running are not an option. Also, given that the schools have abandoned the competitive sports model, a model that teaches kids to be good winners, good losers and good team players, soccer and other after school sports are the only forum in which they can learn those valuable life skills.

I also have a strong sense of not letting talent go to waste. My kids are both musically inclined and, while their school does have a music program, it doesn’t go anywhere near cultivating their undoubted talents in that area. Both have had the opportunity outside of school, though, to develop their musicality, and I just couldn’t, in good conscience, deny them that opportunity.

I think Sykes comes a little closer to nailing the homework problem when he writes this:

Of course, as any parent who has spent hours working on pointless dioramas and time-wasting cardboard volcanoes can testify, some of the complaints are not without some merit.

For me, that pretty much nails the issue.  I don’t have a problem with my kids reinforcing and honing newly acquired skills, but I have a tremendous problem with the time wasting.  Teachers waste time in class with a lot of stuff that has no place in an academic curriculum, whether it’s building a model mission out of a milk cartoon, all the while teaching a politically correct parody of California history; or dragging the kids to endless “green” assemblies, rather than keeping them in the classrooms to learn the basics.  The homework sometimes reflects this same skewed set of values.  It’s possible that, if the teachers were freed from all these political/union constraints, and were allowed simply to teach (a) they might have to rely less on homework to get done what couldn’t be done in class or (b) parents might see more value in the homework as an adjunct to an already solid academic education.

I do have one good word to put in about homework, which often isn’t mentioned even in the pro-homework debate:  Oversight.  It’s through my kids’ homework that I’m able to see how they work and where they have problems.  I’m able to step in and help, if necessary, or to bully them (gently) into tackling a problem on their own.  In other words, I find homework a very useful window into the classroom, into my child’s academic skill set, and into my child’s approach to work.


5 Responses

  1. My daughter attended one of the most-competitive high schools in the U.S.. She typically had 2-6 hours of homework per night and often burned the mid-night oil. She ended up going to a highly ranked business school with 2-years work of AP credits, scads of scholarship money and is now ranked at the top of her class. Yep…competition works but you need to teach kids the value and benefits of competition. This is how you elevate rather than diminish them.

    The Leftwing alternative is to diminish kids into obedient, helpless and dependent Eloi. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Time_Machine

    We have a lot of such Eloi living in our neighborhood. Still in their 20s and 30s, still unable to hold jobs, still whining, still dependent on their parents. Pathetic!

  2. Book – I agree with your point on oversight. It might be the school’s job to educate my children, but it is my duty. By doing the homework with them, I get to monitor what and how the schools are teaching. I can guard against indoctrination, correct errors in content and methodology, and include materials not offered by teachers. I find that I am much more demanding than any teacher any of my children have. It also allows me to teach the material. By doing this, my kids get to have the same material explained in a different way. This greatly increases the odds that it will stick.

    If anything, I am often concerned about the lack of homework. In certain subjects, like science and social studies, I often see nothing coming home. This makes me nervous because I don’t know what is being covered in class. This deprives me of the ability to gauge my children’s understanding of the subject matter. I don’t get to see interim scores (formative assessments, in educationist jargon). I also fear that certain theories are being fed as fact, such as man’s effect on global warming.

    Yes, doing homework every night consumes part of my life. Guess what? That was part of the commitment I made when I snuggled up with my wife.

  3. Does quantity matter over quality?

    Give me a phonics-based approach to reading over whole-word, and the amount of homework becomes irrelevant. If you’ve been a fan of Book’s for a while, you’ve read the horror stories of constructing dioramas that teach nothing.

    You can’t measure the quality of the education by the quantity of homework. I don’t have kids, but to those here who do, I bless you and wish you the best of luck. As Book said, use the homework as a window on the classroom, to determine the value of what they’re learning.

  4. Homework also teaches kids discipline, perseverance and, usually, how to think.

  5. Homework has gotten a bit out of hand. Having taught junior high and high school, I have found students to be overworked. Comprehension is more important than the quantity of work, and the necessity of play should not be forgotten in our highly stressful society.

    However, kids really do spend far to much time on the computer with video games. It’s hard on the eyes and not all that educational. Perhaps the solution lies in moderation with respect to homework and video game quantity.

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