As a teacher, administrator, and education professor at the graduate level, there is no question in my mind that homework is over prescribed. The reasons for this are varied, but it mainly rests in the idea that what we are assigning kids to do has very little relevance left to the skills needed for tomorrow’s workers. The following are reasons that homework is given in too great a quantity.
When a teacher sends homework out the door with the student, the playing field is no longer as level a surface as it is in the classroom environment. For one student, homework might mean a quiet place to study at home, complete with their own desk, soft music, and a snack from mom, who is also available to answer a question or two. For another, it means having to first look after younger siblings, help mom clean office buildings, or work part time before the assignments can even be examined. Homework is the most unequal part of schooling. It is not that homework is unFAIR, just uneven. Teachers need to understand this concept more, and vary their method for collecting additional scores for the grade book.
Instructors who believe that their subject area is critical to human survival need a wake up call. While student DO need the basic skills, there are so many skills these same students will need that currently are not being provided by ANYONE. It isn’t just about technology, or being able to use the Internet. Communication has completely changed, and the ability to have editing done by a world-wide audience should change not only WHAT teachers are assign, but HOW the assignments are being completed. It is unrealistic to think that kids will sit down with worksheets, pen, paper- even just a word processor, and complete work that is meaningful and applicable to the future skills needed in tomorrow’s workforce.
Kids need time to be kids. One of the problems with the expectations in today’s kid culture is that parents schedule too many activities into their children’s lives. Free time is valuable. Unstructured play is beneficial. To cram activities back to back, even events that kids want to be a part of, is doing children an overall disservice. Instead, parents should plan gaps of free time and force kids to “unplug”, “unhook”, and “unwind”. The same is true for teachers. Filling a student’s work load up to the brim doesn’t make for better students. It is comical to see some schools where “honors” classes simply mean additional workload on the same topics, rather than inviting higher levels of thinking with less products at the end. If we don’t allow kids time to be kids, we will get more of what we are beginning to see now: Young workers who are burned out and disillusioned with the idea of college or career; middle aged folks who spend more time playing video and fantasy sports games, than they do at their jobs; and those who do not possess the patience to climb the ladder of success at a reasonable pace, paying their dues like their predecessors, but rather demand top positions without the experience to go with them. Let kids be kids, instead of raising the academic bar higher and higher for younger and younger learners.
In essence, homework is really only a symptom of a much larger problem. Kids can complete massive quantities of paperwork, but the quality, and ability to USE what they are being taught is decreasing. By leveling the playing field, making work more relevant and realistic to the ever changing skill set, and allowing kids time to be kids, a renewed passion for learning the right way will follow.