March 26th, 2007


The Homework Myth

I’m well aware that I may be poppin' open a can of worms here, but nonetheless…
My daughter’s 2nd grade teacher has just earned prominent hero status in my book – 
for questioning the value of homework.
There is no way, with my left-over laryngitis, that I could sing hallelujah loud enough right now.
Here’s the skinny. After reading The Homework Myth by Alfie Kohn, Ms. D decided that if all the traditional justifications for homework didn’t fly, then maybe it’s not such a hot idea to keep plugging along as before.
In her letter to us parental types, she declared that kids need a break afterschool (hooray!) and that she’d still assign monthly projects (in-depth efforts like family trees and book-report dioramas – hooray!) and that all her students should still read nightly but they should read WHAT THEY LIKE and FOR AS LONG AS THEY’D LIKE TO (hip hip hooray!)
She also said she wanted our input and feedback, and what she got was a deafening show of support. Who knew that we were a classroom ready to raise a revolution with just the slightest push?
Here’s the thing, I’ve always facilitated my daughters’ homework assignments because I want to support and respect their teachers’ efforts, and I’ve never found it to be so overwhelming as to warrant protest. But I am, in my heart-of-hearts, anti-homework. Seven hours in school takes it out of a kid. I believe those few, precious hours after school are for fresh air and exercise; creative endeavors and play; family chit-chat and cuddling; and reading for pleasure.

When we were kids, we rode bikes for hours everyday afterschool – no worksheets required – and we lived to tell about it.
Those larger projects we’ve still been promised – interviews, science fair projects, genealogy? They offer up rich opportunities for individualized critical thinking and exploration, and I’m on board all the way. (I still remember making a fabulous topographic map as a kid with rows and rows of chocolate chip mountain ranges. I got a little sick off of the sweetened coconut I used as snow, but it was better than eating paste.)
And reading? Look, I totally recognize the need to bone up on reading comprehension. My daughter’s been bringing home little mimeographed books all year that she reads and then is “quizzed on”. They’re fine – just this side of dull – and she’s gotten pretty good at them. But has anyone ever noticed those aren’t what kids want to read by flashlight at bedtime? That’s when Junie B. and BabyMouse and the Capital Mysteries Series come out. Technically they don’t “count” for anything, but you could have fooled me. 

Now, all our at-home reading is being returned to us and our whims. How delicious.
So I’m offering a deep bow and a tip of the ol’ hat to the divine Ms. D, for her willingness to think this through so deeply… to be flexible and creative enough to change course mid-stream… and to put her thoughts out there and ask for input. I don’t know that many teachers – or professionals in other fields, for that matter – who would be so amenable to opening up the thought process, risking controversy and change, and putting the effort into revamping a practice that’s become standardized. 

is how systems evolve – one classroom at a time.