by Dr. Susan Chilvers
[This subject came up again re: the article that was published in the NY Times on 3/12/14 entitled “Homework’s Emotional Toll on Students and Families” By KJ DELL’ANTONIA]
There is a bright eyed six year old at The New School who bounces into the class every morning usually toting a complex Lego model he made the previous evening and then drags his feet when it is time to leave to go home. He frequently sports a t-shirt that reads “homework is not in my vocabulary” and enjoys the reaction he gets from adults and older children. Well homework is in my vocabulary more than I care to say because the fact that The New School (ages 5-14) has no homework hits a chord with just about everyone and the reactions vary from, “But how do they keep up if they don’t have homework—those New School kids must be very behind” to “what a relief, I hate doing homework!” Since it comes up in just about every conversation about school and since I commented in a previous article that homework was not the silver bullet many people think it is, I will try to answer the question, “why not?” Perhaps the best way to do this is to address the reasons given for homework. Firstly, it is thought to be necessary for students to practice what they have learned in school or complete work that there is not time to do in school. I would argue that if students are taught things at an appropriate time in their development and given time to consolidate what they know, they will not need endless practice at home. Teachers frequently only have time to check small sections of homework, e.g., one or two math problems or simply see it has been completed without reading reports or essays and giving feedback. Unfortunately, with the pressure of tests, teachers are often forced to “teach to the test” and have to assign sections of the curriculum to be studied at home in order to meet the deadlines.
Another argument for homework is that it really tests what students know because they are on their own, not with classmates who might help them, plus parents can see what they can do. The reality is that parents are doing much of the homework either because their children don’t understand it, or because it is just taking too long and robbing them of family time or simply because they want them to get a good grade. Homework seriously limits family time when a movie watched together, a family board game or outside activity would be so much more beneficial.
So my vote is for no mandatory homework—ironically, New School students often work at home—their own choice because they have so much they want to do so home and breaks are self-chosen natural extensions of their learning in school. They explore unique ways to present material and demonstrate critical thinking—a commodity said to be prized in the working world but sadly not necessarily nurtured in schools.
And one last word—no homework means less early back and neck problems for children who are not toting 20-30 pounds back and forth form school every day in their backpacks!