I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Friday, October 12, 2012

Homework: Training For Blind Obedience

Leave it to the French to put homework into proper perspective:
French President Francois Hollande has been making good on a slew of campaign promises since taking office—like this, and this, and this—and now he's making headlines as he turns to education. The reason? He pledged this week to ban homework, reports France24. "Work should be done at school, rather than at home,” he said, adding that students who don't get much help from their parents at home end up at an unfair disadvantage in the classroom. He also plans to reduce the number of kids held back each year.
Think about it: the average 16-year-old on a college track in America spends seven to eight hours a day in school. He or she then goes to sports practice/marching band/play practice/student council/a part-time job. Then he or she comes home, eats something, and is expected to hit the books again for hours.

What kind of life is that?

I know this is America and if you don't work at least 80 hours a week you're some kind of slacker and a leech on society... but these are kids, folks. Why are we doing this to them? Why are we pushing them so damn hard all the time instead of letting them enjoy their lives?

Of course, it's even worse for poor, urban children who are "lucky" enough to be accepted in to the coveted "choice" schools:
Celeste:  When my mom first told me about KIPP I was happy because they have the orchestra, and I really like music and I love playing the instruments and all of that. Towards the end of that first year [5th grade] is when I started really feeling the impact of it. They give so much homework, and I'm there for so long. I wasn't used to it. In elementary school you get a little bit of homework and you're there for, like, 8 hours. But there you were there for 13 hours. You do five hours’ worth of homework. And then I really started disliking the school
Who wouldn't? In fact, what adult would put up with a job like that if he didn't have to? Who wants his entire life taken over by his career? Well, maybe people like the corporate reformers, who dictate a luxurious lifestyle for themselves while "working" in jobs that are ridiculously easy. But for working- and middle-class Americans, toiling at menial work is a soul-draining burden; read Barbara Ehrenreich's brilliant Nickel and Dimed if you doubt me.

Look, I'm not against reasonable, well-designed homework. After all, I'm a music teacher: if anyone knows the value of time spent alone learning and acquiring skils, it's me. But we've gone way over the top in many schools, and I'm beginning to figure out why:

Excessive homework teaches compliance. It indoctrinates children into the notion that their time is not their own. It teaches them that free time - time to think, to play, to be - is wasted time. It trains them to think that their worth is solely based on their productivity, not their creativity.

Alfie Kohn, God bless him, has been on this for about forever. There is no good pedagogical reason to load kids up with homework - and yet we continue to pile it on. Why? Because homework has become an indoctrination into autocratic, materialistic values. It reinforces the notion that certain people have a certain lot in life and we all must simply accept it. If your lot in life is to be one of the proles, it's better to accept that when you're young; start working constantly now, because that's all you're going to be doing until you drop dead.

It would, of course, be a tragedy if the time kids now spend on homework was spent in front of a screen killing zombies or learning to consume. I hope the children of France take those hours and spend them eating dinner with their families, or reading books of their choice, or playing in the park, or drinking those first teenaged sips of coffee in cafes while passionately arguing about anything at all.

Because that is where life is truly lived. We all need to work, but we all need to be more than our work. Let's not let our schools stand against this value.

Auguste Renoir: total slacker.

1 comment:

RAW-i Studios said...

[UK teacher]
Homework - love or well loathe it is an unfortunate prerequisite for schools in the UK to be setting. The regulatory body (Ofsted) has this element as part of their inspection criteria. It is therefore unavoidable. Homework should be considered as an extended learning opportunity and thus take a different guise and be used in a differentiated way, perhaps longer term projects, interest based assignments. Activities to simply reinforce become thin, activities to 'finish off' work are demonstrable and self depreciating. All in the education sector are learning and therefore need to love learning. Hostile tasks that have no meaning or follow up are a waste of time. Activities that allow students to develop skills in an independent way should be considered worthwhile