Imagine yourself in a situation where, no matter what you do, you’re stuck doing things that are repetitive, just to prove to someone that you’re actually doing the work that they set for you to do. Now, imagine that you’re faced with a choice: the work they told you to do to prove that you’re doing your work, or doing the actual work. It’s a choice that students make all of the time, to their detriment.
In a wonderful article written by Alfie Kohn, he discusses the subject from a side of the story from which students are not allowed to be on: the lack of benefit. He makes claims in this article that, with the research that he’s done, that homework has very little practical value because it’s a kind of “shotgun approach:” designing one assignment for a variety of people, when these same people learn in as many ways as the class roster count. It’s a true shame.
He also brings up the concept of homework as robbing families of their time together, which is a valid concern. I, being a college senior myself, understand this fully, as my homework would gladly eat up three quarters of the time I have to myself every evening for family time, dinner, and personal projects, let alone my job on the side. I think that the problem that Kohn wants to illustrate is that we are not allowed to think freely after class; we are forced into a strict pattern of thinking like someone who we cannot think like, and as a sacrifice, we must give up our loved ones.
At the elementary school and high school level, I can personally see a potential argument for homework: it focuses a group of students who are forced to be there by law, and by providing these assignments they create a culture where doing your work can earn you the extra grade necessary to get a higher grade. However, Kohn again addresses this: homework can add to the frustration that school provides them and makes it so that they may not want to do the work. This is a definite concern, as most of the younger people I run into on a regular basis express their lack of concern about their education, or worse, their feelings of inadequacy to complete the work assigned, and therefore get discouraged or give up.
At the college level, it gets worse. It is as though teachers do not understand that we have paid for our education, and deserve to get a better level of care than is being provided for us. As another counterpoint, some college students work for a living, and have no time for fifteen assignments per week on top of research and readings. We have to sacrifice something on the altar, and for the people who don’t want A’s, it’s the homework. For those of us that do want A’s, it’s the readings; we don’t have the time for all of it, and Sparknotes makes it easier for us to defeat this problem without sacrificing too much.
I ask this question: if homework creates a culture where nothing gets done, and it’s not a district or school requirement, why give it?