The Case Against Homework

Ransom Riggs

There's a movement out there, among a disgruntled faction of parents, which argues that kids in America have been saddled with too much homework. A punishing, make-you-crazy-with-stress, anti-productive amount of homework. It's exactly what kids have been saying for years, but until recently, it seems, no one took them seriously on the matter. Now, in the last few years, there have been several attention-grabbing books written on the subject (The Case Against Homework is one, The Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of A Bad Thing another), and in some communities parents have banded together to demand that schools allow them to sign agreements that let their children opt out of homework altogether -- even through high school. Even some educators have come on board, like several schools in Canada that have eliminated homework before grade nine.

Oh, and there's a new documentary on the subject, Race to Nowhere.

Other stats, like a recent poll in which more than 40% of parents polled admitted to doing their kids' homework for them at least once, or the fact that so many kids are cheating in school ("200 kids admit cheating after professor's online rant"), also see my post from last week about the widespread use of "custom essay-writing" services, suggest that either students are becoming increasingly lazy and/or immoral, or that they are simply drowning under the load of homework they're assigned. Since no one likes to think of their kids as lazy and immoral, the latter conclusion is much easier to believe.

There are plenty of people out there who think this is all a load of rubbish. Jay Matthews, an education reporter for the Washington Post, opines:

Their biggest problem, which neither book addresses, is the common sense reaction of parents like me to their anti-homework interpretation of the experimental data. The formal research interests me, but it does not influence my thinking as much as my own personal experiments, conducted frequently over the 15 years or so of my own schooling. I remember what class was like on days when I had not done my homework. I remember what it was like on days when I had. The latter was a much more engaging and useful educational experience than the former. Neither book explains why that practical and personal research should be ignored.

As far as I'm concerned personally, I went to an over-achieving magnet school and took mostly AP classes, so having craptons of homework was par for the course. We expected it -- but the only time it ever felt like "too much" for me was in subjects I've historically struggled with, like Calculus. I think it's when the student is having trouble with the subject that homework goes from being a chore to being a huge burden -- and in that case, that student probably needs to be getting extra help outside of class to understand the material.

That's my two cents. What do you think?