Wednesday, October 10, 2012

More on the homework debate

I would like to bring your attention to two items in the news. First, it appears that the president of France is looking to ban homework (French president vows to abolish homework in school reform). The second reports on the responses a writer received to her column on homework (Balancing Act: Column on homework overload brings flood of responses).

If your recall, last spring a group of parents and teachers in France called a homework strike to protest the practice of giving homework, despite the fact that it was already prohibited there (I don't recall all of the details and that may have been in reference to young children only). It is interesting that the issue has found its way into national politics, where different political parties may have different points of view. Here, despite our active educational debate, we appear focused on funding, evaluations, and issues of local vs. state vs. federal control. Yet, in the mix, no one at the political level seems to be questioning homework.

In the second article, the author refers to an article she wrote before about the stress parents experience including the demand that they supervise their children's homework. She claims to have received an overwhelming response from other parents who feel the same way. She notes:

"Almost all parents who wrote said they weren't opposed to homework. They just resented the volume of homework and the idea that their kids struggled to learn material at home that they hadn't been taught at school."

I know this is true, that most parents send their children to school expecting to support the school and expecting that their children will do their homework. I think the piece that is missing in much of what I read on homework is the issue of hierarchy. I've often said that an underlying problem with homework lies in the fact that homework is an anomaly that traverses the boundaries between home and school. By its nature, it is assigned by the teacher to be completed in the home. The problem is not the assignments per se as much as the way in which the practice supplants parental authority. I think we could reduce homework problems dramatically if we simply stated, with clarity, that parents are the final decision-makers in their homes. This would require some adjustments on the teacher's part, learning how to use a tool, homework, knowing that the parent has the final say. I'm sure teachers would adjust to these new norms and there would be less conflict. Most parents would still support the school, yet teachers would give assignments much more mindful of the volume of work assigned knowing there are limits to what can be done and that the parents are the ones who have the final say.

Visit The Homework Trap website

Dr. Kenneth Goldberg, is the author of The Homework Trap: How to Save the Sanity of Parents, Teachers, and Students, published by Wyndmoor Press.

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