Wednesday, November 21, 2012


There's an article in the Huffington Post about cheating in school. I wrote a comment with my thoughts about how homework policy entices parents to "cheat" because they do not have enough decision-making if they feel the work exceeds what their child can or should do. A reader replied to my comment drawing an analogy to industry suggesting that children who are given homework relief won't be able to function when they grow up. I wrote a reply.

I'll reproduce my two comments. I won't reproduce his here only because that could be a violation of copyright law to republish what he said without permission. If you are interested in his exact words, follow this link.

Here is my first comment:

Good article. I would emphasize the issue of homework, and focus on the distinction between rigor and load, and the importance of parents and teachers modeling honest behavior. I would also point out that the recommendation that teachers keep these points in mind when assigning homework leaves out the all-important concept of parents keeping these points in mind when "accepting" homework. I emphasize accepting because, although we typically focus on cheating in high school and college, the building blocks start in elementary school, and the fact that parents are usually perceived as helpless to decide whether or not to accept homework assignments starts the foundation in which cheating gets modeled. The parent, who should be the head of the home and is the person most responsible to protect the child, is often faced with a dilemma when the assignments appear excessive, in general or excessive for that particular child, yet the grading is out of that parent's control. The parent does not mean to "cheat" but the parent has limited choices, when the choices do not include telling the child to just not do the work. I think the comment about getting rid of zeros goes a long way to help out, but still, it is critically important that we respect the boundaries between home and school and recognize that, at least for children prior to high school, it is the parent who must have the final say at home.

Here is my reply to the comment made on my comment:

Thanks for commenting on my comment. I agree that the purpose of education is to prepare kids for adult life, so if I thought current homework policy achieved that goal, I would agree with you. Unfortunately, the opposite takes place. Unrelenting pressure to complete assignments that one cannot get done in a reasonable amount of time teaches the opposite lesson, to dislike school, to rebel against authority, and in many cases prepares the child for a dysfunctional life.

The industry analogy falls apart when we look carefully at what happens to certain kids. In industry, there are guidelines that prevent one from working beyond what they are paid to do, yet a child can be forced to work hours on end for mediocre grades. In industry, you have organizational structures that give authority to middle managers to implement the goals that higher ups give, and they have the opportunity to give feedback their bosses feedback if the job cannot be done. Further, those middle managers do not have additional and separate roles with their employees with different levels of authority (as parents with children do).

I’m a psychologist who sometimes tinkers on the weekend doing home repairs. Give me a piece of “easy to assemble” furniture and I’ll labor for hours carefully reading the instructions. Give it to my neighbor and he looks at the picture on the package and quickly puts it together not needing the instructions at all.

I’m like that in math. My classmates were not. Certainly, kids need to learn math. But to assume that they will benefit from spending hours every evening trying to get those problems done, ones that I thought were fun and only took me a few minutes to do, is misguided. In fact, some of those kids might be better prepared for adult life if they had more free time to work with their hands, with their parents having the freedom, as we do for adults under federal law, to put a time limit on how long they had to work. When you don’t give parents that power, they feel boxed in a corner and that’s when cheating becomes an option.


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

 I recommend giving copies of the book to the teachers at your child's school. Discount purchases are available through Wyndmoor Press. Single copies can be purchased at Amazon.

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