Monday, April 30, 2012

Why Homework Just Doesn't Work

The general purpose of this blog is offer some laughs and entertainment.  However, I'd like to use the forum to hit on a more serious tale and topic this morning.

I am not a fan of homework.  I won't turn this into a term paper overly defending that stance (we would need to establish an understood definition of homework for that).  My position is based both of research data and professional experience.  I find most teachers are shocked when told they should not be giving homework, but few offer strong argument why we should continue to so.  Basically, because we've been doing it in the profession forever, and because most of us did it when we were students (no matter how unpleasant or ineffective), we should continue to do it.  This obviously isn't sound logic.  Oh, and I'm yet to find a curriculum that has "responsibility" included in what students need to learn (research evidences this doesn't work either by the way).

I currently have a family that sends four children to our school.  To our best knowledge, three different men are the respective fathers, but none live at home or are involved.  They're poor.  Mom drinks.  The children range in academic ability.  More importantly, they range in behavioral needs.

My teachers verbally express sympathy for the children.  "I wish I could just take this kid home."  is the sort of comment I'll often hear.  They then slowly ruin the only consistent relationship the child has by fighting the homework battle with them.

Throw out all the other issues with homework.  Kids like this can not complete homework!  They have nowhere to work.  No resources.  No support (unless an older sibling helps).  They will not come in the next day and say "My family is so poor I have no kitchen table to work at." or "My mom's new boyfriend was over last night and they played music and screwed real loud till 2 a.m."

Instead, they'll do what any of us would do- attempt to maintain some dignity in a life that has very little.  "I forgot."

Over the course of a year, teachers (understandably) lose patience with this.  Then the ostracizing battle begins.  By the end of the year, it's usually irreparable.  The teacher can't stand the kid, and the student has begun acting out.

Why are we letting it get to this point?  Fairness?  Do we really believe that even if we insist on giving homework that our top students will be damaged by offering differentiation in the homework process?  If that's the concern, couldn't we limit the issue by limiting homework to silent reading and math practice?

Last week we learned that a first grader (age six) from the aforementioned family was found in the parking lot of her apartment at 3:00 a.m. trying to read by the street light.  Her mom was inside drinking.  This was apparently the third time this has happened and the family is now being evicted.

Homework isn't the cause of those problems, but I think an argument can be made that it becomes another source of stress, inequity, and embarrassment for children who have enough to go around already.  Rather than making school a place kids like this can't wait to get to, we often turn it into a place where they'll face conflict with an adult upon arrival each morning.

This tale is hardly unique.  I have hundreds like it (as do most of you surely).  Please give pause to your use of homework and it's effect on all of your students.   If you are using homework to strengthen a child, make sure you are not having a reverse effect.  

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