There is a recent item in the news of a research study that shows that homework can beharmful to kids after they suffer a concussion. As someone who is critical of homework and follows homework news, it would be easy to add this to a list of research that builds the case against homework. In reality, there is a lot of research that throws modern homework practices into question and there is some research that tends to support it. I would say, on balance, that the research supporting homework is weak. But that said, I want to resist the temptation of looking for more and more reasons to oppose homework and consider the broader implications of this study.
There are probably thousands of studies that could be done, and have not been done, which highlight specific situations in which homework might be harmful. Here, it is post-concussion; tomorrow it may be something else. I think a good study on kids with ADHD will show that homework demands for them need to be reduced. I’ve proposed that in my book, The Homework Trap: How to Save the Sanity ofParents, Teachers, and Students, but I haven’t conducted a controlled study. Yet, I would still advise parents of children with ADHD to resist the temptation to medicate children through the afternoon and into the night with the hopes that they’ll get their homework done. Rather, set reasonable expectations for your child, based on your knowledge of your child, about what must be done.
In the end, we are talking about parental judgment. Studies are fine as they inform doctors, psychologists, and teachers who may then go on to offer good recommendations for parents about how to proceed. But there is still that fine line between recommendation and requirement that is at the core of the issue.
When I was in my teens, I was hit in the head by a batted ball and lost consciousness for a brief period of time. I was sick and unable to function for about two weeks. My parents did not have to be rocket scientists or well-versed in the research on concussions to know that I needed to rest until I got better. As it is, the concussion happened during the summer so I did not have to go to school. But even if school was in session, I would have stayed home for a couple of weeks, and, hopefully, would have been fully excused from homework requirements. When I got back to school, the rational focus would have been on having me “catch up” in the sense of learning, not in the sense of performing and getting every assignment done.
So, in looking at this study let’s keep in mind that, on a day-to-day basis, it will have no applicability for most parents. The lesson is not restricted to concussions but relevant to the need for someone in charge (and that must be the parent) to make thoughtful decisions about what’s best for the child.
For more information on Dr. Goldberg's model, read other postings on this blog, visit his website, The Homework Trap, or read his book, The Homework Trap: How to Save the Sanity of Parents, Students and Teachers.