The film currently being shown in many communities across the nation (including GFA), The Race to Nowhere, makes it hard not to feel empathy for the pressures that many adolescents, and indeed pre-adolescents, face from a variety of sources, one of which is homework.
Certainly hours of meaningless homework is soul-destroying and leads one to question its value. However, I hesitate to cast homework in the role of sole villain. Homework can be a valuable way to reinforce material covered in class or to read for the following day’s discussion in English, history or biology. It can provide an opportunity to delve into the intricacies of translating a language, or it can also be a time for quiet collecting of one’s thoughts and synthesizing a body of material away from the daily demands of class time. Clearly the amount of homework should be age appropriate and not make kids feel they are buried or overwhelmed.
More to the point perhaps is the over-scheduled child who goes from one activity to another, frequently eating dinner on the run, arriving home well into the evening, only then to start homework. Exhausted and often ready for a little “down time,” the child must then turn his or her attention to homework, and it is little wonder that homework takes the blame for all the pressures and strains.
In the big picture, we increasingly live in a global economy and our students compete with young people from around the world. This requires the ability to think critically and creatively, to apply our knowledge in ways and situations we may not have previously encountered and to collaborate–all skills and habits of mind that require work and practice. Homework can even provide some of that practice.
More than the homework issue, however, I worry that we are raising a generation of young people who lack resilience, especially in the face of adversity. They have tutors, coaches, and a whole host of helpers, and are rarely allowed to fail. There is actually great educational value in failing every now and again. Clearly no child should be nourished on a steady diet of failure; every child needs to experience plenty of success as part of a balanced and healthy life, but we cannot and should not protect our children from everything negative. In the same vein, some things are best left to children to sort out, allowing them to learn from both mistakes and successes.
Rather than casting homework as the sole source of so much stress, we must help students find balance in the multitude of pressures they face.
Creative Commons image by Anthony Kelly