By Bev Munday, Director of Education
Alfie Kohn, education theorist and author of The Homework Myth, has described homework as “a case of all pain and no gain” and said, “The disadvantages of homework are clear to everyone: exhaustion, frustration, loss of time to pursue other interests, and often diminution of interest in learning.”
Like many who have experienced traditional education and have struggled to see the relevance of homework to learning, I can attest to Kohn’s assessment. My personal experience as a student, teacher, and parent have given me three important perspectives on the subject.
As a student growing up in England in the 1970s and 80s, I don’t remember having any homework during the elementary years. If I did it was reading, which I loved anyway. The only homework I really had in elementary school was imposed by my parents as test prep for my upcoming entrance exams, which all children took at age 12 to decide whether they would go to the local public secondary school or to the selective grammar school. However, despite all of the test prep in and out of school for six months, I failed my exams.
In my years at the secondary school, I excelled in my studies and again had some homework, but I don’t remember it taking too much time or being overly stressful, unless it was math! The best homework I had, though, was what I did with my dad, which was not an assignment set by my teachers but rather real-life, hands-on stuff. As a manager for the BBC in London, my dad had to work out how many camera and lighting crews each studio and program would need each week. He had huge sheets of paper that took over the dining room table, and over a period of several weeks, he asked me how many lighting and camera crews I would put in each studio. It was wonderful because it was real!
Later, as a teacher in the late-1980s, homework had become more expected in schools, and I always struggled with assigning it. How much to give? What to assign? How was I going to find time to grade the homework quickly? What would happen if the homework wasn’t done? What would I do when I knew the parents were doing the students homework for them? By the mid-1990s, I was expected to assign my 3rd graders at least 30 minutes of homework in a different subject every night. It was exhausting finding relevant, interesting homework that students could easily complete at home in the stipulated 30-minute timeframe. Parents would complain, students would complain, and I just wanted to say, “You don’t have to do it. I am only assigning it because that’s what is expected of me!”
Then, I became a parent, and when my own children began receiving homework in the early 2000s, the assignments were a source of more arguments and tension for my husband, children, and me than anything else. The homework was exhausting and competitive, and I honestly don’t think it made an ounce of difference to my kids’ education. My youngest is a freshman in high school now, and there seems to have been a bit of a shift toward less homework generally being assigned. With so much pressure on students today, the less homework she has the better so that she can rest and relax, play sports, and hang out with her family and friends.
Clonlara School’s Homework Policy
At Clonlara School, we believe learning begins with curiosity, and we encourage our students to engage in learning that is real and relevant to them. When students’ interests guide their activities, the result is greater excitement, stronger motivation, and deeper learning experiences. For that reason, Clonlara DOES NOT require homework, and it is only assigned in the following circumstances:
- It is not busy work or “homework for homework’s sake”; rather, it pertains to the student’s interests or is directly related to their current projects.
- It is work that makes sense for the student to do outside of school time. For example, they did not complete their work during the day because they chose to participate in another activity or concentrate their time on a different project, piece of work, or subject; they work better at home in certain subjects than other subjects; they work better in the afternoon or evening than in the morning when the work is covered at school; or their project can only be done outside of school time, such as watching a political debate or participating in a community event.
- It is the student’s decision to work further on what they started during school because they have a particular interest in the subject.
Many families come to us with stories of being overwhelmed, and numerous studies have shown that homework can be harmful to children, producing anxiety in parents and students, alike. At Clonlara, we believe that having time at home with your family is very important. It is the time when you get to talk to your child without the stress of which workbook page must get done tonight or having your child say, “I didn’t understand what my teacher was saying.” Your time at home is short enough as it is, and instead of spending it on homework that has no relevance to your child’s learning, we encourage all of our families to spend time together in activities that lead to a deeper connection and relationship.
How has homework impacted your family? Please share your perspective.