By Dr. Yvonne Fournier, Scripps Howard Columnist
DEAR DR. FOURNIER: We’re back from spring break and teachers are loading down my children with homework. This has been a problem all year, but the teachers are really dumping it on now. Is there any literature on this? What would you advise?
Once upon a time, homework was beneficial for children. Instead of being what it should be, it has become a joke in this country. There are parents who think the more homework a school dishes out, the better that school must be. Seeing the marketing benefit to this, many schools, especially private, have touted this in their advertising.
After 30 years of seeing what comes into my after-school program as homework, I am totally amazed that our children are learning anything. The quality of learning is the poorest I’ve ever seen. Children are memorizing and not understanding what they “learn,” nor are they being asked to demonstrate application of knowledge. They are certainly not developing critical thinking skills.
Another incorrect supposition that has permeated schools in this country is that “more is better.” Alas, we have sacrificed quality for quantity.
WHAT TO DO
There are three kinds of homework:
1. Stupid homework — Basically, this means piling on. This involves, for example, assigning 100 math problems for homework when 10 problems, carefully chosen, could test the same skills.
2. Destructive homework. An amped-up version of stupid homework. This demands that the child take on a “second job” after working at their first one for most of the day. This causes stress, mitigates family time, alienates parents from children and often causes the child to rebel at school and at home, thus allowing the system to label your child as defective. Example: Making a child — on an extensive, repeated basis — do work at home that just rehashes what he or she already mastered in the classroom.
3. Mind-wealth-building homework. This helps children develop critical thinking skills. It challenges them appropriately and results in a discovery of knowledge and capacity to set their own bar. Example: Assigning homework that requires independent research and allows the child to produce something unique.
Parents are finally getting fed up with the first two kinds of homework, and there is a movement slowly developing in the country against all homework as a result.
I suggest you read the book, “The Case Against Homework: How Homework Is Hurting Children and What Parents Can Do About It,” by Sara Bennett and Nancy Kalish. There is not one example I have read in the book that I haven’t lived through when counseling families in the last 30 years, yet I caution you: While this is a good book, there is a case for homework — when it is homework that develops recall of unmastered basic skills and develops the mind. Bad homework is simply a symptom of a bad system.
Make appointments with your children’s teachers to discuss the three kinds of homework and ask them what you can do to make sure your children are getting only mind-wealth-building homework. Talk with other parents, and suggest they meet with teachers on this issue as well.
In recent years, parent-led coalitions have had success in changing the system, so build a coalition of parents to lobby the school for change in the status quo, from doling out stupid and destructive homework to assigning the mind-building kind.
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