The Homework Myth

The Homework Myth

An essay in two parts by Orson Scott Card on why Homework is not only a waste of time, but actively destructive. Part I, Part II. Excerpts:

We made laws abolishing child labor, because we thought it was criminal to deprive children of their childhood. Yet we tolerate burdening our children, not only with six or seven hours of schoolwork during the day, but also with a steadily increasing amount of homework at night, on weekends, and during holidays and vacations….

. . .It’s quite possible for students to get very good grades and score very well on standardized tests, while coming to hate the whole process of education and spending the rest of their lives avoiding anything that resembles reading or mathematics or study. Surely we would call that outcome a failure….

Homework wrecks families. That’s not a joke, that’s just a fact. For an alarming number of kids of all ages, their entire relationship with their parents has been turned into a war over homework.

An Endless Cycle. The first thing the parents say to their kids after school is, “Do you have any homework?” That’s not a parent-child relationship, that’s a foreman-millworker relationship. What’s your task? Let’s stay on task!

So the kids aren’t actually coming home, are they? School isn’t over. It’s just going to go on and on, in their own homes. They can never, never, never get away. Not on weekends. Not on holidays. Not over Christmas. Not over summer vacation. There’s always some assignment from school….

…there are many bright, eager learners who are turned off from school because homework that was not tailored to their needs intruded into every waking moment and turned their whole lives into a nightmare of never-ending work, under someone else’s control….

If a child has mastered the process, then surely five examples, done in class, will demonstrate the child’s proficiency. And if the child has not got it right, then what really happens at home when twenty or fifty problems are assigned? Either the student does them all wrong, thus “nailing down” the wrong process, or the parent has to try to teach the child what the teacher failed to teach in class. Is that how homework is supposed to function? In that case, it’s really just home schooling—with less time to do it in and only exhausted children to work with….

Believe it or not, parents actually have other things to do with their children to help them become civilized human beings. We don’t need teachers to assign us busywork just to get us “involved” in our kids’ education.

We’re already involved in their education. We were teaching them before they got old enough for school. We teach them all through their school years. We are their most important and powerful teachers of the core lessons of life, so those who are hired to give them their formal education really shouldn’t make us do their job.

Besides, the kind of parents who aren’t involved in their kids’ education also don’t help them do their homework. The only parents who help their kids with their homework are the ones who are involved in their education all the time anyway….

The default condition should be NO homework.

This borrows the computer usage of the term default, meaning the condition that prevails if nobody makes a deliberate change. Homework should have to be justified each time, not assumed….

Card presents an intelligent, funny analysis of why homework is a problem and what parents can do about it. It’s great for what it is. Of course, I think he’s attacking a symptom rather than a cause: again, it boils down to the model for education being one of standardized assembly-line production, with quantifiable results, as if children were interchangeable widgets. Still, it’s a good start. It asserts that parents are the primary decision makers and educators of their children. But a better solution to the grim scene he paints in his opening paragraph seems to be to reconsider the whole model, not just one part of it.

Join the discussion

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.