Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Comments on French Homework Ban

NJ.com has an editorial entitled "French Proposal to Ban Homework is Dunce Move." I provided the following comment on their website:

Calling this a “dunce” proposal is a fairly simplistic response to a highly complicated issue. Here are my thoughts:

1.       The notion that homework is persecutory to the poor has been well-documented even before President Hollande took his stand. Etta Kralovec and John Buell made a compelling argument about this in their book, “The End of Homework.” The fact that many individuals at the lower rung of our social hierarchy believe in homework is not surprising. We respect different points of view. But scholarly studies give support to what President Hollande says.

2.      Turnaround schools in impoverished areas are almost always characterized by a reduced dependence on homework. I’ve followed numerous accounts of inner city school success stories and, to a tee, they bank on what goes on in the school, not what the children have to do when they go home.

3.      You don’t have to be poor to like President Hollande’s approach. Many conservative and affluent families have opted for homeschooling, not just on religious grounds, but to protect the sanctity of their homes. The reality is that homework traverses the boundaries between home and school, vesting huge authority in 30 to 40 different people, teachers, over the course of a child’s life, over the authority of the parent. I don’t doubt these teachers are thoughtful and sincere, but it is still an example of overreach and an assault to parental decision-making and authority. This issue often goes unnoticed because homework is not a problem if, in the particular case, it is not a problem. But when it is, parents find themselves in an unusually helpless position as heads of their homes. Conservatives, who resent government intrusion into the family, should think about how that relates to the no homework policy.

4.      Teachers are not trained to give homework. A cursory view of a typical catalog for any school of education will highlight that there are no courses called homework. A review of the workshops in a standard teacher professional conference will show an absence of meetings on homework. The public does not realize this, but teachers are giving homework and weighting it heavily, even though their own teacher training spends little time studying the issue.

5.      France had a ban on homework in the elementary schools before President Hollande made his pronouncement. Last spring, there was a teacher-parent organized strike in France because teachers were overriding and not adhering to what was already official policy at the lower grades. This has not made the news.

My major and only criticism of President Hollande’s decision lies in the fact that it is a top-down decision and runs the same risk that many of our own top-down decisions about improving education have had. The issue of educational philosophy should be coming at the teacher level, just as the issue of teacher evaluations should occur at that level. In that sense, both France and the United States have it wrong trying to effect change through political mandates rather than through professional forces. The Finns are the ones who really have it right. They invest much more time and energy into teacher training. Their teachers are more respected than ours tend to be. Their system of education receives accolades around the world. And, interestingly, Finns assign very little homework.


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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