This weekend, my nephew could not fully attend to visiting his grandmother in the hospital because he had very important homework to finish. That’s right, this fourteen year-old high-achieving student needed to color a worksheet of an Aztec God for Social Studies class. Grandma would just have to wait! Coloring is apparently one of those “21st Century Skills” you hear so much about.
Although the positive effects of homework are largely mythical, there is plenty of evidence that is detrimental in countless ways. One under-discussed issue surrounding homework policies is just how much homework is time-wasting crap designed, as John Taylor-Gatto reminds us, to extend the surveillance powers of the school into the personal time and space of children.
Teenagers being asked to spend their non-school hours coloring know that the assignment is ridiculous and may feel the same way about you.
So teachers, why do you do it?
Is the moronic consumption of kids’ time based on a lack of imagination and slavish adherence to someone else’s curriculum or because “the devil made me do it?” The “Flip Wilson defense” is as inexcusable and unconscionable as the “Nuremberg Defense.”
If children cannot count on you to insulate them from the madness of the world, who can they trust?
I also wrote about coloring in high school in the 2003 article, “A Whole Lotta Coloring Going On.”
- The Homework Myth by Alfie Kohn
- The End of Homework: How Homework Disrupts Families, Overburdens Children, and Limits Learning by Etta Kralovek and John Buell
- The Case Against Homework: How Homework Is Hurting Children and What Parents Can Do About It by Sara Bennett and Nancy Kalish
Homework articles by Alfie Kohn:
- “Changing the Homework Default,” Independent School, Winter 2007
- “The Goldilocks Paradox,” American School Board Journal, February 2007
- “Rethinking Homework,” Principal, January-February 2007
- “The Tougher Standards Fad Hits Home,” Rethinking Schools, Fall 2006
- “The Truth About Homework,” Education Week, September 6, 2006
- “Abusing Research: The Study of Homework and Other Examples,” Phi Delta Kappan, September 2006
- “Down with Homework,” Instructor, September 2006
- “Kids May Be Right After All: Homework Stinks,” USA Today, September 14, 2006
- “Interview with Alfie Kohn”, Maclean’s, September 15, 2006
- “Rethinking Homework Surveys,” unpublished, 2009
Veteran educator Gary Stager, Ph.D. is the author of Twenty Things to Do with a Computer – Forward 50, co-author of Invent To Learn — Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom, publisher at Constructing Modern Knowledge Press, and the founder of the Constructing Modern Knowledge summer institute. He led professional development in the world’s first 1:1 laptop schools thirty years ago and designed one of the oldest online graduate school programs. Gary is also the curator of The Seymour Papert archives at DailyPapert.com. Learn more about Gary here.
8 thoughts on “Hey Teachers, Stop Wasting Kids’ Time!”
Well done, Gary. It’s such a shame that there are policies that dictate how much homework there will be where the content of the assignment is secondary. We’re just expected to fit the assignment around the time-structured mandate. In such cases, teachers make arbitrary assignments that really have no effect on learning, make no effort to check the work and give feedback and only serve to create a battlefield at home and often in the classroom as well.
I believe there are times when homework is warranted, but too often it is just assigned blindly. If a student can tell the day of the week by the homework assignment, then something is wrong. Below is the norm in our elementary schools, not the exception:
“Monday: Write spelling words 3 times each. Do 2 pages in math workbook. Read chap in science and answer questions at the end.”
Tuesday: Write a sentence for each spelling word. Do 2 pages in math workbook. Read Chap in social studies book and answer questions at the end.”
It’s not hard to stand by your convictions to not give homework in certain circumstances, depending on the climate of your school. In some cases, there is such pressure from parents to push their kids that if you aren’t doing what the other teachers are doing (handing out thick packets of worksheets every week, and homework such as above), you are left to defend yourself daily. This is what I went through the year and a half that I was back in the classroom before I finally went back into administration. I stood by what I knew was right and was constantly accused (by high-maintenance parents) of not teaching. It was just too exhausting. It left no energy, much less time, to really do justice to the teaching process that I so wanted to provide for my students. So much time was spent counseling these needy parents who just didn’t get it, and to be honest… they just won’t get it until most teacher and administrators jump on board.
Yell all you want about taking a stand, and “if not you, then who,” but this is reality. And I had to go back to the classroom, with a 20K cut in pay to see it firsthand.
Thank you for that! The first of this school year I was raked over the coals by parents for not assigning homework. Parents would send treating emails saying I was obviously not teaching because the had no evidence in homework. I stood by my no homework policy while teacher across the hall sent home packets of worksheets and received praise. By November parents were tired of homework & actually took my advice to ask their kid what they learned instead of relying on worksheets w/correct answers. Finally by end of year I no longer got the emails.
I think homework becomes a nasty habit of teachers. Beyond reading lit or a FEW math practice sheets, it’s pointless. The crap they send home reinforces memorization not learning and hurts more than helps in the long run. Plus, it’s stupid. No one wants to do it and no one wants to grade it. So duh be done with it.
I agree completely, stop wasting time.
i agree with your point entirely, except that I do not believe your example.
As if a 14 year old would have SO MUCH colouring to do, that he couldn’t visit the hospital!
Ah, homework. The age old argument. I’m with Lee. I get flack all year because my homework isn’t worksheets and mandated day to day work. Instead I give long term, start in class, do more at home, bring it to class to work more, homework. My kids actually give each other assignments when they are working on projects and need to meet a class deadline. If I do give a practice worksheet, it is usually only 10 problems and often individualized. In the meantime, the other teachers on the grade give pages and pages of worksheets. And I am the one accused of not actually teaching anything.
Teachers should also consider not assigning Powerpoint presentations and poster boards. My kids made both through Senior year of our very highly-ranked high school, with the expectation that they’d produce something that wasn’t much more complex than what they produced in 6th grade. Needless to say, it made them lose respect for the teacher.
I’m surprised that more parents don’t stand up with their kids and in the words of Nancy Reagan, “Just Say No!” Maybe there should be a “Just Say No to Homework” (and/or any irrelevant schoolwork) campaign. If the student owns the learning s/he and their parents should have say in the learning they believe will be of benefit and that which they believe is a waste.
Lisa, I am a parent who told my daughter, when she was stressed and wasting her time with homework, not to bother doing it. I would send in a note. My daughter, brainwashed by the school, said she had to do it…no choice. Not even a parent note would get her out of it. This is in high school. In elementary school and middle school, she just did it, no questions asked, no fights, no problems.
Evidentally we don’t need art teachers. Not when kids get assignments like this in social studies class. Is this supposed to be what they call art integration? Shameful.
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