Friday, September 5, 2014

Should Schools Ban Homework? Oh God Yes!

The topic of homework, yea or nay, goes around every so often. I've been prompted to blog on the topic because I just read a CNN article "Should Schools Ban Homework?"

 A comprehensive review of virtually all academic studies on the value of homework can be found here. The conclusion is that the value of homework seems to be so minimal that it should be assigned judiciously and moderately, at best.

I'm a Latin teacher at a public high school in New Jersey. I concentrate my instruction on teaching topics and giving students practice in the classroom. I have not traditionally given much homework.

Why? Well, because I primarily prefer to instruct a topic and then immediately observe a follow-on exercise in which the student demonstrates acquisition of the new skill.

Why not instruct a topic and observe student acquisition in homework? Well, because on a daily basis, I see that the homework my colleagues assign is routinely just copied by students, who are smart enough to make enough changes and even include some errors so as to conceal the activity. 

Why are they doing this? I will suggest they do this simply as a survival mechanism.

If every teacher in my building gave as much homework as some of them, these kids would have to spend six hours outside of school to complete it in a meaningful fashion--every day.

As the CNN article points out, when are these kids supposed to run around and enjoy the sun? When are they supposed to enjoy a relaxed dinner with their family? 

Again, if all of us gave as much homework as some of us--and these kids didn't find ways to divide the labor and copy the work--we would crush the life and soul out of these young people. 

I don't mean to completely dismiss the value of assignments too big to be completed in class and which, therefore, imply some out of class work. What I am certainly decrying is the routine assignment of homework on a daily basis which seems to be work merely for work's sake, especially when the negative impact on the grade for not doing it is not at all commensurate with the learning outcome achieved by doing it. One should not be able to outright fail a class merely by not doing homework.

Despite the stress put on educators in the current anti-teacher climate, I still love my job. I love it for several reasons. For one, I adore my subject, Latin. I can't help but pour my enthusiasm for this topic into my instruction. And I hope that energizes my students as well.

But the main reason I love my job is the satisfaction of seeing, year after year, that I make a difference in the life of these young people. Yes, indeed, their English vocabulary is enriched by a grounding in the Latin language (and that's a sufficient outcome). But that's not what I'm talking about. 

I have seen how my passion for learning and the pedagogical skills I instill help students to become better learners themselves, in whatever topic they cherish. I don't care if it's Latin, just so long as they grow as a result.

But I doubt any student was ever inspired to life-long learning while doing homework.