Thursday, October 27, 2005

Death to Homework

I have to say, I found this attack on homework by Brad Plumer to be quite persuasive. Not that it isn't self-serving, of course. But it is difficult to argue against this:
But let's do Waldman one better and say it flat out: homework is most likely evil. Yes, evil. Any educational system that relies on parents at home to help with the "learning process" will only end up perpetuating inequality, as long as some parents can help their kids and some cannot; as long as some parents can speak English and some cannot. And homework, for all its uselessness, is far more likely to put undue stress on family life than anything else. Of course, let's also be honest, the whole point of public school isn't to turn students into well-educated citizens but rather to produce good consumers and dutiful worker bees--people with short attention spans who follow authority, care deeply about status, and will attend with all due diligence to humiliatingly pointless tasks. Get used to working overtime, kid, you'll need it. In that regard, homework is indispensable.

So homework a) perpetuates inequalities between "haves" and "have-nots," b) strains family life and c) is designed to train students into mindless worker-bots who won't think critically or challenge authority. Talk about a stinging rebuke! The critical theorist in me just glows while reading it.

But to be honest, what really caught my eye in the piece was Plumer's story about how he dealt with homework specifically.
: Everyone go out and play. Seriously. Also, let me call bullshit on Dr. Cooper and doubt very much that homework "help[s children] develop study habits and time management skills." Generalizing from a single experience here, when I was in elementary school, I remember very distinctly cutting corners on virtually all of my homework. Math problems would get scribbled frantically in pencil on paper during homeroom. (In fact, what little creativity I have owes entirely to those ingenious, sweaty-fingered minutes spent trying to make it appear as if I had thought very hard about, say, problem #23(a) but just couldn't get the answer.) The spelling workbook, I quickly discovered, didn't need to be filled out at all--—if you worried about grades you could always recoup your losses by getting the "bonus" spelling words on quizzes right. "Homework" always denoted something to do as little of as physically possible. Ever since, I've always had terrible study skills, and while I blame my own laziness, all that useless homework gets part of the blame.

I too have atrocious study skills, which I also attribute to laziness. But now, I also can blame my elementary school teachers for assigning me homework too! Indeed, I've played the very same games Plumer has--like Plumer at some level I see myself as an expert at wiggling out of the holes I've dug by avoiding work. And like Plumer, who considers this the root of what creativity he has, I too am tempted to say that this has had a net positive in my academic career--I became the writer I am, at least in part, because I could write my way out of tests that I barely study for, and I could spin my way out of questions I didn't know the answers to (this also explains the classes I tend to be good in versus bad in--the more subjective the class, the better I do. So top grades in Social Studies and English, serious problems in Math. Foreign Languages, where I can't even speak/write at all, have been predictably catastrophic).

So does this salvage homework? Perhaps--but saying homework is good because I've learned valuable skills in avoiding probably isn't something they recommend in Teacher's College.

1 comment:

Craig R. said...

Marvelous rebuttal.

On one of the online fora on AOL there is currently a mini flame-war about homework.

I'd like to post some of this into that discussion (with attributation)

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