After my last post questioning homework for elementary school kids, we’ve done a lot more reading and researching on the subject. A lot.
Since the last fight, we took a stand — our first grader won’t be doing any more homework. While dropping him off one morning, she asked him for his homework folder and I calmly and politely informed her that we will not be doing homework. Her only response was “Oh, okay.” I’m sure it took her off guard, and I didn’t expect to engage her in any meaningful discussion, so her response was perfectly acceptable. I informed her that the most we will do is review his spelling words with him which can be done as a game, and its no real pressure on him. It can be done at any time, whether for dinner or bath, on the way to school, etc. Since we’ve stopped doing homework, we’ve found his attitude is infinitely better. There haven’t been any crying fits, he comes home and gets to unwind and play. He is once again our happy boy. I should also mention that he got 100% on his last spelling test and 85% on his latest practice test. He’s also getting near perfect scores in math and doing well reading.
Suffering in Silence?
This last weekend, one of his classmates had a birthday party and we had the opportunity to talk to some of the other parents. That was pretty enlightening. For me, the subject of homework is one of those where you know that others must be going through the same thing, but you are doubtful because no one talks about it. Well, we talked about it. Every parent that we talked to has been going through similar issues. Between parents who work, the 7 hour school day, getting meals, baths, and all of the other things that go with raising kids, they’ve been struggling and fighting to find time to do the assigned homework. Some of the parents are cramming the entire weeks worth of homework in on the weekends, others are keeping their kids up later than they should just to complete this homework. Its insanity.
The expressions and sighs of relief that were received when we told them about our stance on homework was quite telling. They’ve been suffering without saying anything because they believe that if everyone else can make it work, that they must be failing as a parent if they can’t also. Well, they’re not failing as parents, but the school system is failing them, at least in this regard.
I have the utmost respect for what teachers do, truly. They’re underpaid, undervalued, and take a lot of shit from idiotic parents who believe that their precious snowflakes can do no wrong. Whenever I’ve had to express my dissatisfaction at something, I try to be nothing but respectful and civil. I do not believe that its the teachers fault that these homework policies exist. These sorts of ideas come from the policymakers, and it is up to the teachers to implement them. Some implementations are better than others, and teachers do have a bit of leeway when deciding how to handle their class, less now than in previous years because of the standardized testing and the horrible “No Child Left Behind” tripe that threatens to remove federal funding from schools who don’t pass these tests.
So who exactly can we go to to try to change policies? There are so many layers of beurocracy here that I’m not even sure where to start. Should we start with the teacher, the principal, the PTA, the school board for the county, state, federal government? Who exactly was it that decided that homework should be assigned just like the regular curriculum? Or is homework something that has just crept back into schools largely unnoticed?
I’m also going to try to find out what would happen to a teacher if they suddenly decided to stop assigning homework for their class. Would there be disciplinary action taken against them? Keeping in mind that our son is in a private for-profit school, so there is no teacher’s union that I’m aware of. I also know that this is his teacher’s first year here, so she probably doesn’t want to make waves.
Do I go to the principal? I’m quite positive that we’re not viewed in the kindest of light by her due to certain conflicts we had last year on different subjects. But again, this is a for-profit school, and part of a national chain of them. I’m not sure that she has the authority to implement this type of change. Additionally, and this is a broad stereotype here, the parents who take their kids to this school fit into a select few categories, one of which views this as the “best education they can get” for their kids. Stopping homework would therefore likely be viewed as not providing the best, and removal of it would be blocked.
So is this a social issue? If so, how do you reason someone out of someplace they haven’t reasoned themselves into? I don’t want my son to be kicked out of this school as that would be devastating for him psychologically so I must proceed somewhat cautiously.
I will say this though, no more homework in our house has resulted in a happier kid and less completely unnecessary strife. This makes for happier parents, too, which help to make a happier kid, and so on.
As I mentioned in my last post, there are a number of studies that indicate that homework below middle school do not really help, but in fact do damage. I’ll be summarizing my own analysis of these reports and posting later.
The Issue of Sleep
In looking for the effects of homework on kids, a lot of studies on sleep come up also. I haven’t seen a single study yet that says anything other than sleep is important, and kids are generally not getting enough of it. Getting enough sleep is a huge factor in how well a child does academically and socially. Not getting enough sleep impacts their emotional well being and personal interactions with family and friends. It can be hard to see the effects, though. With younger kids, they may just appear to be slightly more aggressive or slightly less focused, but it may not seem like its because of lack of sleep. Even 30 minutes less per day than they “need” will have an impact, especially if its repeated over a period of time.
One of the parents I talked to this weekend mentioned that they had allowed their child to stay up “just a little bit later”, about 15 minutes or so, just so they could finish their homework. Remember that this is the parent of a first grader. When there isn’t a single study that shows that homework helps kids below middle school, why the hell are these first graders losing sleep over homework?
Solution to a Perceived Problem?
Humans are funny creatures. We tend to exaggerate things a great deal and have a compelling need to feel important and respected or liked by our peers. Add in what could be generally good intentions and you’ll find at least one person overreacting to any situation you can imagine.
Its possible that’s what has happened. In one article in particular they trace back modern homework to the perception that the US was falling behind because Russia launched a satellite before we did. Since then, homework has been piled on more and more. When I was in elementary school, homework was for completing tasks that couldn’t be finished in class. If you finished the work in class, no homework. More importantly, you were given time to do the work in class, it wasn’t an additional assignment.
At some point, some policy maker decided, with nothing but the best intentions I’m sure, decided that attempting to add more learning into each day would give our kids an advantage. The problem wasn’t really a problem. The way that the policy came about was providing a solution to a perceived problem that didn’t actually exist.
You can see this type of mentality in the way media outlets are reporting stories these days. Someone posts something on Facebook that someone posted that is controversial, touching, or insulting the various reporters try to elicit a response by telling you that this post already has “200 likes on facebook” or “has been retweeted 347 times”. Last I checked those numbers would be statistically zero considering the size of the user bases. Why mention it at all? But since someone is outraged about this then obviously someone has to do something.
I know this isn’t the same thing, but it is the same type of mindset. In the case of homework, I’m sure it has been something like this: One or a few people made a case to just the right people and that person reacted by creating policy. Their intentions were good, but it wasn’t necessarily the right thing to do. As people moved around and were taught by others, these ideas spread. Someone in the department of education has gone through their career believing that homework helps, so they set policy. They don’t need to research it because the know that its correct since it has always been a belief they have held, despite it being wrong.
So What Next?
As I said before, our household has no homework anymore. This will be okay for now, but it won’t last. I believe that my next steps should be to send letters (yes actual letters in the mail that are delivered by the post office) to various groups. This includes the corporate headquarters for my son’s school, the local school board, the county school board and the state board of education. I’ll send out as many as I can. Inside the letter will be a brief description of what I perceive is the problem with homework, as well as my sources for information (all the studies I’ve read).
I might also include the local news outlets as well, just to be sure that I get a response from at least one of these groups.
Lets see what happens. I’ll be sure to post the list of who I”m sending the letter to, the letter itself and my responses here. Stay tuned….