Oh homework. It and I have quite the love-hate relationship: Back in school, I went from liking it to hating it to just barely tolerating its existence. Of course when I went to university, I pretended to like it because homework is 100% inevitable in post-secondary settings: For every hours I spend in class, I was expected to do at least 2-3h outside of class. That increased during my master’s work.
In pubic education, homework for many years was to a degree expected. Kids spend at least 30min after school practising what they learned in the classroom. For many subjects, like mathematics, homework is seen as essential to a child’s learning. Is that still true today?
Like many things in the education system, homework can be a subject of intense debate. Today the CBC released an article about a Winnipeg teacher, Jeremy Ritchot, who flatly refuses to assign his students homework. This teacher usually teaches grades 3 and 4, which are the grades when homework starts to become expected as opposed to the exception. To quote from the CBC article:
“Last year and even years prior to that, I’ve had kids that were panicking and stressed out and anxious because their homework wasn’t done,” Ritchot said.
It’s been a challenge to phase it out. Ritchot has increased the amount of work being done in the classroom so students don’t have to take it home. But he’s kept it fun and.already, he’s noticed improvements.
“Now I find they’re much more energetic. The participation level has increased tenfold, I would say. They’re less stressed. They’re more rested. And they’re better able to learn when they’re not bringing that baggage in with them,” Ritchot said (CBC News 2016).
In the debate brewing in the CBC comments’ section, as well as the CBC News Facebook page, there are arguments on both sides. For the anti-homework crowd, they believe that homework robs children of their childhood, and doesn’t let them be kids once school is done. Instead of going outside to play, and doing other extra curricular activities, they have to sit at home and do more arithmetic and reading. Furthermore, they point to examples of burnout in most adults who do work once their work day is done and to Finland where homework has been eliminated and have the highest grades in the world.
“It’s not an opening bid in a negotiation,” says Quelch. “It’s simply me stating, ‘These are the terms.'”
She came up with this policy three years ago when her daughter was in Grade 1 and came home with one too many packages of what she calls photocopied busywork.
“I used to just laugh when homework was sent home during JK and SK (junior and senior kindergarten). But now, I just say, ‘No’. It was a real relief when it stopped.”
For the Quelch family, it’s about work-life balance and protecting precious family time. Both parents are working, and when they get home at the end of a busy day, they’re exhausted, and they don’t want their daughter’s school to dictate how they spend their time together.
There are two exceptions to the no-homework rule. If her daughter is goofing off in class and doesn’t get her work done during class time, then she will have to do it at home. Or, if she is struggling with a concept and needs extra guidance, then Quelch asks the teacher to provide what she calls “meaningful homework” Luksic 2016).
On the pro-homework side, they point to short term childhood over long term adulthood. This long term usually begins in middle and high school grades, where homework is more than likely required, and post-secondary schools where homework is permitted. Homework is necessary to practice the skills learned in the classroom, and is needed for a well rounded education.
“We’re trying to give children more opportunities to learn by giving them more strategies,” she says. “If a child doesn’t know more than one way and they’re nervous, they have no other way to fall back on. You need practice to become proficient. It’s proficiency rather than memorization.” – Lynda Colgan, professor of education at Queen’s University.
Proficiency is all well and good but at some point you can’t get away from straight memorization in order to become proficient at anything. I may not be understanding fully what professor Colgan is saying but I get the distinct impression that old fashion memorization has no value in her view. Other “strategies” may have their place but I fear these strategies only serve to muddy the waters and make it more complicated for students to learn basic math skills. It doesn’t seem to be working for my daughter (LeBlanc 2011).
They say the answer is not to get rid of homework, but to encourage children to learn time management and balancing life between school, play, family, and other things. After all, high school isn’t getting rid of homework and post-secondary institutions aren’t either. How is at least six years of no homework going to prepare them for it?
In some ways, I am on the fence with this debate: I can understand both sides, and I can see holes in them all. Yet, I am still for homework because I do think it has a place in school. Instead of arguing why, I will do is comment on the holes I see in the arguments.
What is Childhood?
I agree, that childhood should be childhood. I think children shouldn’t be exposed to adult-oriented content in media, shouldn’t be in the middle of adult situations like fights between their parents, and they should be allowed time to play. However, there is more to childhood than play time. Childhood isn’t an end in itself, nor is it a verb, but noun used to summarize the stage of development of the human being after infancy. The human being, as a child, is destined to become an adolescent and finally an adult.
To that end, there are many parts to being a child: growing in height, education, physical activity, play time, and eventually growing into an adult. When children go to school, they do not become robots that are solely there to learn and then become children when they leave. They are children, and part of their childhood is going to school.Homework, or lack of homework, does not change their status as children.
Where is the Balance?
What I noticed about both sides of the debate is there is no real balance. Well there isn’t a real balance to me: On the one side it is little work, and all play and then on the other side it’s all work and little play. In there I saw a third side: Fill up with all kinds of other things to do, and both school and play suffer.
Too much work isn’t good. While I agree children will have to face stress and anxiety in life, the answer isn’t to put on their shoulders stress and anxiety only adults can handle. To that end, homework assignments should be towards better learning, practising what was taught in the lesson, and/or completing that wasn’t done in class. Children should not go home with assignments that will take them hours to complete, and even then it isn’t finished.
For kindergarten, I don’t think homework is needed. Grades 1-3 should be light homework, and based on the age of the children. 4-6 should have more homework, since the middle school and high school years will definitely include homework.
Too much playtime isn’t good either. Life is not all play! Raise people who think it is and they will be eaten alive come time to emerge as adults in post-secondary education and/or the work force. Know what else isn’t good? Too many hobbies/extracurricular activities. Why do most of his students not like homework? Because after school they go to choir, they play sports, they have guitar and dance, they have to go to church youth group, and the list could go on.
Where is the balance? It isn’t achieved by either/or mentality, but both/and.
Why is school under attack?
I will say this loud and proud: School is a positive thing in a child’s life. There are so many children around the world who would do anything to sit in school and learn all day. Yet, in the comments of the articles I mentioned and in the comments on Facebook I read again and again the negative attitude towards school, homework, teachers, and all things education.
Education is the western world’s pride and joy: Our young people can learn to read, count, understand history, understand culture, socialising, responsibility, and practice makes perfect. All these things we learn, and clearly are starting to take for granted, are luxuries all over the world. It is not a perfect system, and there is always room for improvement, but it is not a bad thing in and of itself.
Who forgot Practice makes Perfect?
Practice makes perfect. This is true in sports, music, and education. Subjects like math, analyzing literature, writing a good essay, and even understanding scientific concepts require practice. Not all of that practice can be done in a school day.
Homework gives another means for students to practice the skills they learned. It can help entrench, and reinforce. Balance, yes, but balance isn’t eliminating altogether. In fact that’s the opposite of balance! Just like a pianist and football player need to go to practice, the child in the classroom needs to practice what they have learned.
Homework isn’t all good or all bad. In a balanced life, it can be a positive means to reinforce what was learned in the classroom. Why? Because practice makes perfect. School isn’t bad, but one of the good parts of being a child in the western world. It is a blessing we all have and should be treated as such, instead of being frowned upon because it “robs children of their childhood.” Childhood is not a thing, nor verb, but a noun and an adjective describing the years of a human being where they are growing to becoming adults. School is a part of childhood, just like playtime is. The two aren’t mutually exclusive, and in a balance life one won’t rob from the other.