Gone are the days when school children across America had to trudge through several inches of snow to make their way to one-room school-houses. Likewise, fallen by the wayside is the use of the three R’s as the primary curriculum for this nation’s schools. A rap across the hand with a ruler is no longer used as a method of classroom discipline. Many of the traditions and standards of education have become antiquated and outdated. Perhaps the next casualty of societal change should be the widespread use of homework as a learning tool for today’s children.
Education and society as a whole have grown increasingly more complex. Society bears little resemblance to what it was just a few short years ago. Children today face an entirely different school day than that of their parents and grandparents and the children of decades ago. National and state standards require a much more rigorous program of study for today’s student. As a result, the curriculum is greatly expanded with many concepts being introduced at a much earlier grade level. In order to accommodate the expanded curriculum and mandated standards of accountability there has been a major decrease in the amount of recess, play and non-structured time for the average school-child.
The average student now participates in a variety of after-school activities. Football, basketball, choir, band, and cheer have been joined by soccer, dance, volleyball, softball, baseball, golf, quiz bowl, cross-country, academic decathlon, and a variety of other activities that place tremendous demands on the student’s time. Activities not related to school but also demands student time include little league baseball, softball, football, and basketball as well as dance, cheer, motorcross, and church activities. Factor in students who also work part time and you have a group of children who usually have their evenings filled with extracurricular activities. In today’s society we have students who spend their day in school and their evenings occupied with extra-curricular activities. Often the student doesn’t even arrive at home until nine or ten o’clock in the evening.
The student that arrives home late after a long day at school, followed by an evening spent in an extra-curricular activity is faced with few options in regards to homework. He/she could spend a considerable amount of time completing the homework assignments and end up going to bed exhausted in the early morning hours. The end result is an exhausted student who is not likely to be in the best condition for learning in class. The child may or may not do the assignment or at best only give a half-hearted effort to do the work. This student would likely suffer the consequences in the form of a lower grade or in some cases, punishment in the form of detention, added assignments, or other similar negative consequences.
Even very young children are not immune from the effects of homework. It is not uncommon for first and second grade students to have a large amount of homework. The drive for accountability has created a school environment that places a premium on instructional time. Recess has been gradually eroded to the point the average elementary child has only ten to fifteen minutes of unstructured play time per day. In many school districts recess has been eliminated altogether. Add a large homework assignment each evening and it raises a significant question; when do kids get the chance to be kids?
Another significant question is what do kids do when they reach a point that they don’t understand how to do an assignment? Politicians, school administrators, and teachers say that parents need to get involved and help the child. That answer assumes the parent knows how to do the math problems, algebra, etc. How many parents have worked through a math problem with their child, found the right answer only to have the problem counted wrong because it was not worked in the process the teacher and the text required? Parents may not have been exposed to certain scientific principles or even have a background in how to diagram a sentence, among other current classroom skills. Too often, parents helping their child results in a process where they are using information and skills they learned over a quarter of a century ago.
An example of how homework has lost it’s usefulness in today’s schools is a recent orientation at a junior high school during the first week of school. The Principal, who had more than twenty years of experience, was beginning his first year as Principal of that particular school. He spoke to an over-flow crowd of parents and children who had filled the gymnasium to hear what the new Principal had to say. He spoke of the high goals he had set for the school and was greeted with applause for his ideas. He then spoke of homework as a great learning tool and said that his teachers had been instructed to make sure every child in the school had two to three hours of homework every night since this was an outstanding way to build character. There was no applause on this point, only loud murmurs of disbelief and anger. This illustrates the clash of an outdated approach coming face-to-face with the reality of today’s life style.
Other options should be available to allow the students to rehearse their skills rather than continuing on with this dinosaur of the past. Since the great majority of the school day is now devoted to instructional activities this is where the great majority of rehearsal activities should take place. Having this work done at school rather than at home provides a great many benefits. First, it allows the child who has spent the entire day engaged in academics to have time to be a kid, to explore other interests such as extracurricular activities, interests and hobbies which have an educational effect in that it broadens the child’s horizons. Another benefit of having the homework done in class is that it allows the teacher to be the person that shows the child how to solve the math problem, or discuss the real meaning of the history or literature question. This allows the person trained to teach these concepts to do the actual teaching; not a parent who may not know the exact process the teacher is looking for. Additionally, this approach should greatly reduce the stress the child suffers from spending the great majority of their time after school on homework. If the child goes to school more rested and relaxed the next day the more likely he/she will be able to grasp the concepts being taught much more quickly.
Without a doubt, it is time to rescue today’s children from yesterday’s educational practices. Let’s take schoolwork from the home and put it back into the school so that trained professionals can fine tune these skills in an educational setting. Let’s give the students in today’s schools the opportunity to be children. It’s time to put homework to rest with the other educational dinosaurs of the past.