Alfie Kohn has
written a thoughtful response to recent research that seems to support
homework. I commented on the study in my November 20 blog, and encourage you to
read Alfie’s article which is published today on Valerie Strauss’ WashingtonPost Blog. I’d like to add some personal thoughts to what he says and to what I’ve
already said regarding this study.

The study
focuses on homework in math and science. As it is, I happened to have been a
math whiz. I excelled in high school, majored in math in college, and entered
Columbia University’s doctoral program in mathematics before changing my mind to
study psychology. My oldest son is a math whiz, too. He excelled in school and
is now working as a software engineer at a well-known internet company. My daughter
could not get math at all. She graduated a college that was equally prestigious
to the one my son attended, and has gone on as a youth worker and budding film
maker. Without doubt, my son’s career choice is in greater demand, brings in
more income, and coincides with our national STEM priorities than the work my
daughter does. Yet, the realities are clear, both in talents and in preferences.

If we go to the
issue of homework, I would say my daughter did a lot of math homework in high
school, which in no way correlated to her math grades. Perhaps, she did more
because she had a math whiz father who could sit over her for hours trying to
help her learn math. I was not successful and her grades reflected my lack of
success. But if we go by time spent doing the homework, I’m sure she spent more
than either my son or I did, at least at the high school level. Yes, I did
spend many hours working on higher levels math when I went to graduate school,
although in college, my math courses were easy. I spent much more time on my philosophy
and psychology courses than I did in math.

So it makes
sense that math drills might bring standardized scores up a notch or two, but it
also makes sense that time spent on math homework will have no correlation to
the grades one gets.

I don’t know
that it matters at all for my daughter to have learned math. She is very good
at what she does. But if it did, it would not happen through educational
approaches that banked on at home drills to make something happen. It would
have to come from educational techniques developed by skilled educators (not proficient
non-educators like me), who found ways to teach math to people who simply did
not naturally “get it.”

If you think about, I’m a mechanics non-proficient
person. I’ve sometimes taken on some of my own auto repairs. I take pride in
what I was able to do, but, frankly, the work was not very good. It didn’t
matter. I don’t really care. My teachers did not care. Society did not care. No
one cared if I knew how to fix a car. But we had a shortage of auto mechanics,
I can guarantee you that the solution
would not have been to pile auto repair homework on people like me with the
hopes that I’d someday become a mechanic.
*****

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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