My friend Alex Kjerulf today has a post about homework that I am in complete agreement with. He points to this TIME magazine story which, to an unschooling parent, is no news at all.
I already don’t send my kids to school, which we can do here in Canada. It’s called unschooling. BUT if for some reason my kids did go to school I would do what I have advocated others do and that is, I would refuse to allow the school to assign them homework. It is not simply the fact that kids are overworked. There are four other reasons why homework would be banned at my house.1. They learn nothing from doing it. It is not homework that reinforces an idea or a skill, it is developing a passion for something and then having the time to follow it through that does the trick. Homework is a waste of time.
2. Schools already steal six hours or more a day from a child’s life. If they can’t do what they need to do in six hours, it is not my child’s responsibility to gives them more time. It seems to me that homework is not for kids to learn, it’s for schools to shift the responsibility. Teachers don’t get marked on how useful classroom time is, but kids get marked on whether they did their homework or not. That means a lot of classroom stuff that isn’t working is allowed to continue as long as kids do their homework.
3. Homework is an infringemnent on family time. Many of the big media that would otherwise say that homework is important also decry the fact that kids aren’t spending enough time talking with their families. It is not possible to create an atmosphere of deep family connection when parents and the kids are all working three or four hours a night at home. You need many hours together, playing games, reading books, fixing the house together, going to movies, conversing and cooking for friends to have a healthy and balanced family life. Being together only on weekends is like getting a two day pass from prison.
4. Homework robs children of the time they need to develop real skills and passions. When I was in school for example, I taught myself music theory and theology during my grade 11 year. I wasn’t taking either of these subjects at school, and I set aside a lot of homework to learn them. I failed several exams at Christmas 1985 because instead of studying, I was writing four part harmony arrangments of Queen songs and reading Martin Buber. Both of those experiences have stayed with me long after I can even remember what classes I took at school that year, and both continue to be useful in my life.
So, as we enter another “school year” my radical proposal is that those of you who want that time back with your kids, claim it back. And once you’ve gone a year without homework, it might give you the steel to rise up next year and opt out of standardized testing (which in British Columbia you can do, you know…with the support of teachers too, who really know the costs of this stuff).
And don’t forget parents, you need to set the example. Leave work at work! It’s no good having kids come home expecting some family time and have you under house arrest by your boss too!
Update: Rob Paterson has taken up the call and there are some great comments in his post from folks campaigning to ban homework in Atlantic Canada. I weighed in on a second post he has made
Update: A commenter at Rob’s site pointed to a nice post from Brian Alger from a couple of years ago on this topic as well. There’s nothing new about this, obviously!
I am complete and full agreement. With the “agreement” signed between BC Goverment and Native Leaders in BC about the Education Agreement to create our own teachers, schools, and circulums, I am cautious of our own assimilated people basing our education off of colonial and settler “bank-teller” type learning. It’s like I say “I never let school get in the way of my education.”
I have a question now, can I guest blog this post on mine? You say it exactly what I am intending.
Yes D. Go right ahead…
I agree with an ever increasing amount of homework that today’s schools ladle onto our children. I avoided as much as possible and still managed to finish high school and a four year degree.
On the other side, practise makes perfect. Writing all those papers, from thirteen different psychology classes, have made me a better researcher and author. As a Buddhist, I struggle to appropriate enough time for my homework (as my meditation practice could be called.)
Practice makes perfect truly…
And I think one great teaching from Buddhism is about the true nature of practice. If people engaged in homework as an exercise in mindfulness, that would be one thing. But you never get marked on your meditation practice! (Except by yourself, and that becomes more grist for the mill!).
Here’s an interesting question: what if schools taught mindfulness about learning rather than homework? What if studenst were invited to go home and practice mindful reflection on their learning styles, their passions, their struggles and used their two hours a night for that? Wouldn’t that be more valuable than conjugating verbs in a language you have no intention of learning?
appreciated your ‘great cdn. homework ban’. I’ve had several occassions to encourage teachers over the years to trust the children to learn during school hours. I have been thinking about teaching mindfulness to my youngest son. He is learning ‘focusing’ as a way to relax at night and it is a real gift. Next step I think is to be conscious of the ‘observer’. Anyway, I was glad to be reminded of using our time together after school and it is good to know others are doing this.
It’s amazing to see the interest in this call. It seems to be touching a nerve and I’m hearing from people that deeply feel it, but haven’t figured out how to say it.
“Grist for the mill.” Amazing how something so easy as sitting quietly on a cushion can be so much like homework at times.
Teaching mindfulness rather than our current brute force approach to learning is an interesting concept. By definition, being mindful means being completely open to everything. It is much easier to learn a new concept or fact if you carry a postive frame of mind and you are focused on every moment. We have all memorized a phone number in one pass (for a attractive lady) but I still struggle to remember how to conjugate the past perfect of the Spanish verb “to have” (tener) even after seven years of high school and college classes and homework.
Note: Even the noun homework now has a negative connotation for most in this society.
Overall, I agree kids shouldn’t be sent home with extra homework.
However, some children who have yet to develop time management skills don’t complete the work that’s assigned in class and teachers have to keep them in at breaks or if it’s still not done- send it home as homework. Maybe ask your kids which kind of homework they’re getting. Then the “who’s fault is that” logic might actually prevent a lot of that homework from coming home. It’s not the teacher or school’s fault your kid can’t finish at school what 98% of his classmates can. (No, I’m not a teacher but the majority of my friends and family members are) Even if all “extra” homework was banned…it’s highly doubtful all families would suddenly spend more time together and be able to bond more. The families that already do will spend more…parents who are content to park their kids in front of the tv or playstation will sadly, continue to do so. That said, ban the “extra” stuff…but don’t expect that kind of move to change your kid’s life. That’s the result when when parents teach their kids the skills they need to really make it in life like self discipline, critical thinking and accepting responsibility for their own lives. Just like homework, no one else can do it for them.
It’s a common thought not being able to complete work in class is a time management issue. My experience is that kids have no trouble completing endless amounts of work if it’s stuff they are truly excited about or enjoy or is somehow meaningful or useful to them. No kid is going to feel passionate about everything that goes on at school. Some kids will love reading and resent being forced to do science experiments. Others will blot out everything except what goes on in the lab.
One problem with schools and with homework that is assigned as “extra” work is that schools focus on failure. If you are doing well in something you are given an “A” but you are penalized by having your time dedicated to stuff you are getting D’s in. The basic assumption is that if you are getting a D, you need to work harder or manage your time better in that subject. This approach hides the fact that you can only get good at somethign by managing your time well.
If work isn’t getting completed, couldn’t it also be that you simply don’t care about it? And there is nothing wrong with not caring about things, especially if in doing so you are clearing space to spend time developing your passions. People say we want kids to develop their passions, but in general, school focuses on developing what they are bad at.
Also, I’m not convinced that there is an absolute compelling reason for kids to finish work that assigned for them at school. How many teachers ask kids if they find class or homework valuable? What if the answer was “no?” How many are prepared to alter what they are assigning?
If my kid was asked to complete a mindless task which had no bearing on her learning, and she sensed that, I would have to take her side. I have no intention of creating a learning environment for my child where she feels like her time is being wasted for someone else’s agenda. So instead of laying the blame for work getting completed or not, I would ask the question as to whether the work that is going by the wayside is actually valuable. And if not, why the pressure to complete it?
Lastly, I think we can’t make assumptions about families and how they deal with extra time,especially if people haven’t shifted yet. But I know one thing for sure: if you DON’T let kids and families have the time, they will never have the chance to discover what they might also be as a family. It doesn’t seem a compelling reason NOT to change, to me. What if we tried something different and we liked it? And what if it felt better than doing all that homework or watching TV or playing video games? What if we found a way to do that again, and more of it?
Thanks for your comments Jill.
[…] Two weeks ago I blogged about an article that says that homework is bad for school kids. My canadian friend Chris Corrigan commented how he “unschools” his kids and wrote more about it on his (excellent) blog. […]
Go back to 6th grade, homework sucks and i hate it!! Ban it and burn it plz ban homework!!!!!!!!!!!!! Plz i cant do things love becuase of a gay piece of paper!!!!
The following statement included in the Great Canadian Homework Ban is completely false: “Teachers don”™t get marked on how useful classroom time is…”
Teachers are evaluated often by their administration who observe the teacher’s classroom management, the teacher’s lesson planning, the teacher’s competence. etc. I am a teacher who choses not to assign homework, because I don’t believe it is a useful tool for the students in my class. However, I am insulted when teachers are lumped into one great category in a complaint about homework. I find the statement about teachers not being accountable for their classroom time ridiculous. Teachers are always held accountable for their use of class time.
It sounds to me like the author has had a bad expereince, or two, with a poor teacher. The responsibility falls on the parent to communicate with the teacher and voice his/her concerns. You are your child’s biggest advocate, if your child’s teacher is not doing a good job, then talk with the teacher and the principal. If you don’t see results, then move your child to another class or school.
How foolish of you to lump all teachers together in a blanket statement that is not at all true. How silly that you have decided that homework is good for no one. Every student learns differently. In the same way that I treat students as individuals, and know that some students benefit from having homework assigned and others don’t., you should also recognize that teachers teach in different styles. If you don’t like the style your student’s teacher, if they are failing your student, then by all means do whatever it takes to get your child in a quality classroom. Don’t assume you know how teachers are held accountable for their time, when it’s obvious you have no clue!
Hey Dan…thanks for comments. Many of the teachers I have spoken with about these issues have agreed with me on homework at least – as you do – and some have disagreed, but that’s okay. It seems to me that the overwhelming evidence argues in favour of moving away from a standardized learning methods and empty assignments for all kids, just as you point out.
I am not lumping all teachers together into anything. As you can see, if you read to the end in my original post, I am 100% supportive of the teachers own statements about standardized testing in British Columbia. My statement that “teachers aren’t marked on classroom time” is a statement about the relationship between kids and the school system. The huge amounts of stress experienced by familes who struggle over meeting the demands of school outside of classroom time are not reciprocated in general by a similar level of accountability It’s the structural limitations of the system I am talking about. I can’t see how being evaluated on classroom management and lesson planning can give anyone an accurate picture of whether learning is happening or not. Many teachers I know would pass with flying colours on tests of their classroom management andtheir lesson planning, but they fail to ignite the spark of learning in kids or to find ways to meet kids needs. On the other hand the reverse is true as well. Shoddy classroom management might still result in a creative and respectful learning environment.
Teachers are not held accountable for their class time by students – this is the point. They are held accountable by administrators. In a deep and lasting learning relationship, students and teachers work together. I can think of a myriad of learning relationships I have and that my kids have that are truly reciprocal. The teacher is evaluated by the student. If the student is no longer learning anything, they move on, go and find another teacher. Most elementary school kids don’t have that option. Most high school kids who take that option are branded as “drop outs” when in reality the are pursuing a deeper learning path, and they need positive support to do so. There are no bad learners – only people learning irrelevant stuff
If I am to be blamed for mass generalizations, tag me for making sweeping statements about the education system in general, not about teachers There are always exceptions. In my experience the likelihood of creating or stumbling upon an exception far outweighs the work involved in getting the system to be more flexible. And so I have simply chosen to be a part of a learning family that experiences the world in an entirely different way, as life learners, and my invitation has always been to others to join us and see what we can create together.
Thanks for stopping by
[…] I didn’t champion the Great Canadian Homework Ban this year (although everything I wrote last year still stands) but my kids and I enjoyed a nice not-back-to-school week.Â My six year old son and I spent Thursday down at our local golf course hitting buckets of golf balls into an azure blue sky, while the smoky blue mountains of Vancouver Island shimmered in the distance.Â All the other kids were back at school and the adults were back at work and we had the whole place to ourselves.Â Enjoying September days like this is one of my favourite side benefits of having a life learning family. […]
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