Perspectives on Homework

Alfie Kohn Quote Re: Homework

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

5 Responses

  1. Being new to home schooling, it’s reassuring to see that it appears I’m on the right track. I have not been giving my child homework, other than to complete work she should have done while school “was in session.” The only other work I’ve assigned is to try and get some reading in on her own. My daughter suffers from ADHD and biploar disorder (I also believe she is dyslexic) and it was very disconcerting to realize that the school system had just been pushing her through. For a 7th grader, she is lacking in a lot of basic skills and I’ve been focusing on that. Although there are still some difficulties, I believe her attitude is changing. She said for the first time she understood things she was being taught. She lives with her two moms and I was not as involved as I should have been. I’m going to look at getting her tested for dyslexia and work on making learning something she can enjoy instead of dread. It’s only been a month and there are still some growing pains, but I believe we’re headed in the right direction. As they say, “baby steps.”

    1. Dear Ruben, Thank you for your response. You are definitely on the “right track.” It can also be a good idea to have your daughter set her own expectations of what she wants to and can (should) achieve in a day. Then she can track what she was able to get done. The sense of achievement, especially when she has taken a lead in this will be much greater. You are also right to have her go back to any areas where her foundational knowledge is missing because she was pushed through certain key learning. This will really help her once she is working on high school level work. This is the time to get those foundational skills in place.

      A recommended resource for you as you continue your reading may be the ADHD magazine. There is a lot of really useful material in this magazine which is free online!

      Let us know if we can help you with anything else.

      – Bev Munday, Director of Education

  2. My daughter is naturally inquisitive , as all kids. She use to attend a school which nurtured their curiosity, not control it by asigning homework. Instead, they would encourage them to play. They would actually tell the kids “your homework is to play”. Their only request was to abstain from video games and television. As they got older and learned how to read and write they were told to bring in questions or comments about their experiences with whatever task they chose to get involved with. Text books where used by high schoolers but was not the only source.
    Anyway, due to financial reasons, we were not able to keep my kids at the Waldorf. After two months at a prep school, my daughter was overwhelmed with the amount of work and speed in which they had to perform. Not only was she not happy, but expressed the fact that she wasn’t learning inspite of her excellent grades. At this point we realized homeschooling would be the best option for her. No regrets. She absolutely loves it and finds it more rewarding.

    1. Elizabeth, Your daughter’s experience is a very common one. So often we equate children having good grades as synonymous with learning, where this is not always the case. It seems she has worked that out very early on – good for her! I am glad that you were able to find another solution that allows for her to follow her natural curiosities.

      – Bev Munday, Director of Education

  3. Dear Bev,
    Thank you for your freeing out keynotes about overhomeworking or just homework. The fact is life is a hard work time for everyone to be realistic about what one can achieve or not in each one’s poo, rich, clever or less clever means and/or skills. Having the sensation of more or less freedom in the effort one has to endure to achieve goals for struggling in life in a fair way, its awareness itself, does not erase a truth: one, _ above all, those, like myself, poorer, less gifted, _ has to work a lot a lot a lot a lot in everyone to overcome difficulties through our existence. Call it homework, night work, evening work, 2 am activity, whatever will never deny the sacrifice life will be demanding more to some persons, less privileged, than to others, and a conference, more or less free, will never replace the possible boredom (or later enthusiasm) in math million exercises, latin or tough grammar. Sacrifice is after all a pleasure and there is a lot of hypocrisy on this education topic of full freeing out pedagogy: one announces not to do to be released but will pay expensive private lessons to compensate so called freedom later on. Life is discipline, with or without constraint, constraint is a joy, joy is joy, each person is a need, each need a challenge, each challenge a tear, each tear a sigh, each sigh a joy, each joy a loss, each loss the universe. cristina. I wish you all a hardworking more or less sunny day!

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