Every kid complains of excessive homework, but these days many parents have joined the chorus of “More may not be better”. We’ve all become slaves to the prevailing notion that the primary focus of childhood should be getting top grades, taking AP classes, and building your college résumé while ignoring skills like social-emotional intelligence, critical thinking, and the arts. Grade school has become predominantly about high school prep, and high school about college prep. 56% of students consider homework the primary source of their stress including kids from grade school through the college years.
There has been a belief driving this issue; the creed that education can be improved if there is more of it, i.e. more time in school, more testing, and more homework. There have been a number of intensification movements in education over the past 100 years. The launch of Sputnik by the Soviets in 1957 caused the country to fear that we were falling behind the Russians in the race for space. The Nation at Risk report in 1983 showed that we were falling behind other countries in nationalized test scores. We were afraid Japan was going to take over the US in the 1990’s, and then the No Child Left Behind program further pushed the notion that what was needed to overtake our competitors was more content and more testing. The amount of homework expected of kids rose with each scare.
Research has shown the following results about homework: there is no correlation between doing homework in grade school and academic achievement; a slight correlation in middle school but after 1 hour it goes away; and there is some correlation with homework in high school but it decreases after 2 hours of study. Pediatricians in the first half of the 20th century felt that homework posed a threat to the emotional and mental health of children, and that after school, kids needed to go outside and play. Unfortunately, unsupervised, unstructured down time is at a premium these days even though we know that’s when kids learn best and produce their most creative thoughts. Even worse, the majority of kid’s unstructured time today is spent on electronics.
Students and their families need to be permitted to have more freedom to structure their own time and explore their own interests. Childhood is the time to find out who you are and what you love to do, and this is learned best by having the autonomy and time to explore passions at your leisure. We need to change our ‘end in mind’ when it comes to childhood and education, including our definition of success. I encourage you to connect with other parents and advocate for less homework and a more balanced family life. Unlike the government, I trust that you will know what’s best for your own children and how to use the time you have together at home.
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