I admit it. I used to glorify homework – until I became a mom.
Before my oldest was born, I worked in educational publishing, writing textbooks, and drafting test questions. Like a sorority girl defending initiation, I heard about people being “against homework” and I thought they were ridiculous. I mean, no kids like homework. But it’s part of life! And without homework, how would you review what you’d learned in class? Get real.
Life has a way of laughing at you and I definitely hit life’s funny bone when my oldest started first grade – prime homework territory. My son has ADHD, a brilliant mind (he memorized most of the countries in his atlas in first grade) and a hatred towards homework. It takes all of his willpower to sit in class all day and concentrate on work that he finds pointless. When he finally gets home, his energetic body just wants throw a football around or roughhouse with his brothers. But as a mom, my job is to bottle up that energy for even longer so he can slouch at the kitchen table and do even more work that they couldn’t cram into the hours he spends in school.
Worst. Job. Ever.
I’m sure I’m not the only mom out there who feels like sitting down each night to do homework at the kitchen table is like marching towards a bloody battlefield littered with corpses. And the worst part? It is a battle that I don’t really want to fight anymore, but I have no choice: I’m forced into combat against my will.
My husband is a special education teacher and he has several students who are actually not allowed to be assigned homework. I’ll admit, when I heard that I was hit with a bolt of jealousy. Those lucky parents. Granted, the homework taboo is because they’re dealing with more than enough at home already, and the teachers don’t want to introduce any extra power struggles. But still. No homework? Ever? Sounds like Mommy heaven.
I’d love to say that I no longer believe homework has a purpose at all. The problem is, I do see its purpose. When my son comes home confused about fractions, homework gives me a chance to work one-on-one with him so he doesn’t fall even farther behind tomorrow. When he throws up his hands when asked to write a paragraph using his spelling words, I can calmly help him brainstorm and follow the steps to completing the task. Teachers would kill for these types of teaching opportunities, one-on-one, sitting at a table without any distractions. Why would I want to throw them away?
As a (mostly) intellectual, thinking human being, when I’m feeling conflicted, I turn to hardcore research to decide whether my feelings are logical. And yet, the research seems just as conflicted as I am. There have been decades of studies on the effectiveness of homework. Many studies suggest a correlation between homework and improved test scores. But some experts, including Alfie Kohn, author of The Homework Myth, believe that these studies only show correlation, not causation, which means that homework may not be as helpful as it seems.
More than that, there’s the fact that test scores and grades are the not the only goal that parents and educators have for kids. Those hours of homework are stealing time from kids, time that could be spent socializing, interacting with their parents (Homework battles don’t count!), and playing imaginatively. Not to mention reading. As a tutor, I’ve asked high schoolers which books they like to read for fun and have been told that they have no time to read during the school year because homework eats up all their extra time. And by the time they’re finished their school day and hours of homework, a book is the last thing they want to reach for. There’s also the stress that homework puts on children; I know that my son can be in a nasty mood for an hour or more after a frustrating homework session.
So does homework do more harm than good? For most parents, this is a moot point, unless we’re willing to declare war on the school system. And it could be that it depends on the type of homework, the personality of the child, the nature of the parent-child relationship, and a host of other factors, few of which teachers are able to account for when assigning homework.
But as a parent, remembering that homework is a tool, and not a goal, can go a long way towards keeping your relationship with your child strong – even as the homework battles wage on.