School Probs: Homework

Homework. The bane of every child’s existence.

Homework is well established within the American education system. Depending on the school, the amount can range from virtually nonexistent to absolutely monstrous. Most American schools, in my experience, have a moderate work load averaging near the recommended ten minutes of homework per each grade level, though it depends significantly upon classes. Yet what child has not argued for the banning of homework?

Schools have very limited time to teach students. Despite this, schools are required to educate their students upon many subjects. There is not enough time in the day for teachers to thoroughly cover all their required material.

And hence comes homework. Some teachers use homework to review materials while others use it to cover new material. It is, of course, true that not all homework is created equal, but I would argue that the usual assignments, such as worksheets and problem lists, are more harmful than helpful in regards to education.

These assignments, I’ll be using worksheets as my primary example, seem to have been popularized under the belief that homework is beneficial and necessary for proper education. Thus worksheets have been designed for relatively easy grading with multiple choice, matching, true false, and fill in the blank type questions. This makes grading a process of little thought beyond just matching the letters between the answer key and the paper being graded. While this is convenient for fast grading, it allows for little thought variety among the students as questions have but one “correct” answer.

Teachers who use worksheets commonly assign them far too often. This backed by the fact that most worksheets are assembled almost mechanically, with each worksheet being almost a replica of the last, encourage students to learn the system by which they are assembled for rapid completion rather than, again, thoughtful assessment of the materials.

If the intention of such assignments is to help students memorize the content this seems an awful round a bout way of doing such. It certainly might work but the amount learned cannot be compared to the time invested.

Its not just worksheets which encourage such shallow interaction with the materials. Rather, I believe, most homeworks do so when they are designed to be handed out to students at regular intervals, to fulfill  a seeming “homework quota”, and for easy grading. This homework is a waste of time.

It should be remembered: Large quantities of homework at regular intervals inspire sheer memorization and discourage student interest in a topic due to exhaustion of it. Small quantities of unique homework when necessary can inspire genuine understanding which is far more valuable than memorization.

I do not mean to say that homework is bad. Just that homework is not always helpful and teachers should not feel that homework is necessary.

But thus far I have only communicated that homework is not necessarily advantageous, yet I claim that homework can be harmful. To this I return to the earlier illustration that every child has debated the worth of homework.

Most students do not enjoy homework. Overtime this extends toward a dislike of school, and, over more time, a distaste for the learning involved in school, or at least a disinterest.

The American school system has made education, school, a chore in its attempts to educate all the students upon the countless topics it deems worth teaching.

I find it utterly ridiculous that most math classes I have attended start with math teachers admitting that many students have a distaste for math. And this is started at a young age, essentially teaching students to dislike math.

If the point of homework is teaching, it would seem contradictory then for homework to teach students to dislike learning as a necessary and tedious evil. Besides, even with homework, it is an impossibility to thoroughly teach students all the topics society wants students to learn.

It would, therefore, seem much more practical for school to focus on inspiring students to learn on their own. Encourage students to find an interest in learning. Besides, it is impossible to force anyone to learn. Learning must be done willingly.

All this being said, students who complete homework tend to perform better scholastically than students who do not. This can be easily accounted to several other attributes.

Students who complete homework are probably investing more time into school and should therefore score better.

Most tests are designed with questions similar to said homework, which would mean that completing homework is essentially very efficient studying, though this highlights a more major problem within the American education system. We focus far to much on sheer memorization and not enough on understanding, which is deeper.

Of all the American history textbooks that I have “read”, most of them lower history to an endless bullet list of some person performed some action. Some other person performed some other action. And they never delay, never discuss, why either that person or that action mattered or how they flowed onto the next action.

I once questioned one of my American history teachers why names matter. I argued that the events and purpose mattered more. He could never articulate a proper defense for me. Well then it would seem that the test questions focused on names deduct from learning actual history. The name George Washington is not important. What is important is his actions as the first US president.

Of course its not just history. Even mathematics, where understanding concepts is of vital importance, encourage sheer memorization with examples nearly perfectly matching the problems students do and so many problems the students do not have time to reflect on the solving procedure. I recall a daily geometry assignment, covering mostly vocabulary, a topic which I cannot fathom why any math class would emphasize, taking a full four hours of my afternoon. I ran out of time before I completed that assignment. No one in my class completed that assignment. Our teacher was distraught.

Even the SATs and ACTs focus on memorization rather than understanding with their tight time deadlines. Which I suppose is proper as they claim to predict academic performance and memorization is what academies require. Time management and memorization.

Students should be taught to enjoy learning. This might be difficult, sure, but if that was the goal from a young age I refuse to believe that students would find learning as disinteresting as most do today.

Yet again, many might oppose dropping homework in the claim that students do not pay attention in class. In my experience, this is far more often claimed than genuinely true. Nonetheless, current student engagement during school tends to be low, which is, of course, problematic.

I have already stated that I believe homework tends to bring students to dislike school, if such negative peer pressure did not influence them first. Perhaps if schools more respected students time, and students were more eager to learn, they would pay closer attention in class.

Furthermore, most classes fill their time with endless teacher lectures. Perhaps it would be advisable for teachers to lecture less and engage with their students more. Further, this could encourage students to care about the class.

Though I do oppose most homework as being harmful, I do think homework has a place in education. But homework should have a few rules.

1) Homework should be occasional and the assigning of which should not be on a regular basis or schedule but when necessary.

2) Homework should be varied. One homework assignment should not match the last homework assignment nor the next.

3) Homework problems should avoid correct and incorrect, black and white, type questions. They should instead focus on understanding and allowing the students to engage in thinking about the material instead of shepherding students down the popular thought course.

4) Homework should not be designed for quick and easy grading even at cost of looser grading.

5) Homework should respect the student’s time and not be used to force student memorization. This is inefficient.

I do believe schools focus far too much upon the lists of necessary topics and upon grading their students. Surprisingly, education should focus upon teaching students.

Again, its not that homework has no place in education. It is merely an overused “solution” to lazy or uninformed teaching.

The homework assignments in the American education system should be toned down. They aren’t helping.