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What Is The Purpose of Homework?

purpose of homework, homework

Homework -
American as Apple Pie

Educators (and people who don't have a child crying at 10 pm because they still have to write sentences with this week's spelling words) love to wax nostalgic about homework. You'd think that the Pilgrims turned in homework at the first Thanksgiving dinner. Folks get a misty look in their eyes, put their hands over their hearts and start humming the national anthem.

They did homework, their parents did homework, and, by gosh! even their grandparents did homework by candlelight after milking the cows! Homework is part of our national heritage! Americans have always done homework, and we have always LOVED it! Right?

Not exactly.

The history of homework in this country is surprisingly fascinating, but I want to know something:

Are There Any Homework Benefits?

Who came up with the idea of homework, anyway? If you stop and think about it, homework is a very strange concept. We send out children off to school and subject them to a laundry list of rules (stay in your seat, don't eat the paste, listen to the teacher). They sweat over tests, struggle with new spelling words, learn math that they will never use again. They write, study, memorize, divide fractions and jump through hoops.

One would think that after six hours of this kind of torture, our kids could go home, watch a little television, fight with their siblings, play outside and relax before dinner. But, no! It's homework. And, for many children, hours and hours of homework await.

Night after night of busy work, reading, huge projects, pages and pages of journal writing... What is the point? Does homework actually benefit children? Does it help them succeed in school/ Do they learn more, better, faster?

Homework is as American as apple pie, but should we be serving it every night for dessert?

It depends on whom you ask. Most families accept that at least some homework is valuable- and hope that homework has some benefits. "Some" is a tricky number. Your co-worker finds nothing wrong with his fourth grader spending five hours a night doing homework; your neighbor feels fifteen minutes is child abuse. We might as well agree to disagree because homework is in the same basket as politics, religion and whether or not toilet paper should roll face in or out- people have strong feelings and aren't likely to change their opinions just because you know best.

Those educators that are not in the classroom love the idea of homework. As far as they are concerned, the only thing homework doesn't do is... well, educators claim that homework does everything:

  1. Reinforces ideas and concepts that have been introduced during the day.

    Actually, we retain more information when we have had a break from it. This is why a great idea will come to you when you are doing something totally unrelated to it.

  2. Helps teachers determine whether or not students have mastered those ideas and concepts.

    Teachers can give students a few questions in class to determine if they have mastered an idea or concept. A teacher does not need to assign page of math problems to find out if a student understood the lesson.

    Also, a lot of homework is being done by PARENTS, not students, so teachers really don't know what their students know- until the test, that is.

  3. Keeps parents connected to the school and shows them what their children are learning.

    How about sending this information home in a weekly newsletter? Or, what about sending home corrected tests, class work and projects to parents?

  4. Provides students with an opportunity to study a subject in-depth and complete projects that cannot easily fit into the regular school day.

    Quiet as it's kept, students will study a subject in-depth on their own if they have time, encouragement and information (read: not too much homework).

    Consider, as well, extending the school day by an hour so that students have time to do "extra" work. Then, let them go home and be finished!

  5. Teaches responsibility and accountability.

    Can they be kids, for cryin' out loud? Why must they suffer now? Don't you think adults have enough (too much) responsibility and accountability?

    Instead of giving them thousands of hours of homework, let's teach our children to be responsible for telling the truth, doing their best, helping around the house. Let's show them that they must be accountable to themselves, their families, their countries.

  6. Prepares children for the demands of college and the work force.

    College and working are for college students and adults! Asking young children to do so much homework doesn't prepare them for the future: it ignores their stages of development! Forget being able to sit still and focus (a common complaint from parents about their children doing homework), young students simply cannot understand things before they are cognitively ready.

Those are the stated purposes of homework, and many of us have accepted them our whole lives. However, I believe that there are a whole slew of other, real reasons that we are so attached to homework.

Stay tuned!

Other Types of Homework...

Good Homework

Bad Homework

Too Much Homework

Zero Homework!

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