The Homework Myth by Alfie Kohn

homework The Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad Thing
by Alfie Kohn

Whereas The Case Against Homework is a book for parents by parents, The Homework Myth is more of a scholarly rebuke of homework as it currently stands in American schools.  The Case Against Homework lays out countless anecdotes that illustrate the downside of homework, as well as step-by-step strategies to address homework issues.  The Homework Myth, in down-to-earth terms, addresses the most common arguments made in favor of homework, and deconstructs the studies that supposedly support homework as an institution.

As I read Kohn’s book, I found myself almost laughing because I have indeed encountered all the very same arguments in favor of homework at my own kids’ school – arguments that really don’t hold water when you examine them: the “reinforcement” argument; the “BGUTI – or Better Get Used to It” argument; the “parents demand homework” argument; the “homework teaches responsibility, blah blah blah” argument.  They’re all pretty much hooey.

So why does homework persist?  In short, we are a competition-driven culture, our schools are driven by standardized test scores, and test scores have become the measure of achievement for school-aged children.  And at what price?  stressed out, burned out kids who are not being encouraged to develop critical thinking skills, creativity, inquisitiveness, or a passion for learning.

If you are a parent who is fed up with the homework problem, this book will validate your feelings of frustration.  I would recommend it to not only every parent with school-aged children, but educators as well.

The Case Against Homework by Sara Bennett and Nancy Kalish

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The Case Against Homework: How Homework Is Hurting Children and What Parents Can Do About It
by Sara Bennett and Nancy Kalish

Homework has been a thorn in my side for a long time.  While my oldest son, now in high school, attended a private school for pre-k through second grade and wasn’t required to do homework until second grade, my other children who have attended public school only have brought homework home since kindergarten.  Kindergarten!  Boy, have times changed.  I can’t remember being assigned homework until fifth grade myself.  Admittedly, that was a long time ago, and much has changed on the educational landscape since I was a kid.  This isn’t a public school vs. private school debate, however; the homework problem extends to both sides.

The homework issue has only gotten worse as more of my kids have entered school, and we fight a daily battle over it.  In truth, my heart has never been in it, though, and I resent being placed in the role of homework taskmaster when I think it’s ridiculous to require young kids like this (I currently have a first-grader, two third-graders, and a fifth-grader, in addition to my high school sophomore and two younger children who are not yet school age) to do homework in the first place.

The Case Against Homework validates all of my frustration, and then some.  Written by two parent activists, one of them an attorney, the first part of the book gives voluminous anecdotal data about the actual impact of today’s average homework loads on children and families, including:

  • The adversarial dynamic that is foisted upon parents and their kids over homework;
  • Loss of downtime for kids;
  • Intrusion on valuable family time;
  • Loss of time for other enriching activities for kids;
  • Encouragement of a sedentary lifestyle;
  • Stressed out kids

Studies are also cited which conclude that, despite conventional wisdom, homework does not teach responsibility or self-direction, especially when kids are too young to be developmentally equipped for these skills and, in fact, require a great deal of parental direction and involvement in their homework, and there is little to no correlation between homework and academic achievement, especially in elementary school.  Excessive homework (which includes any homework for kids who are not developmentally ready to tackle it after spending all day at school) burns kids out and leads to frustration and a dislike for school, which is directly counter to what homework proponents insist homework accomplishes.  Additionally, all those worksheets your kid brings home to do?  More than anything, they teach rote learning, and not real thinking.

The second half of the book explains how to go about effecting change in your community, on the district level, school level, and classroom level.

I am finally fired up enough about this issue to take action, and this book has inspired me to spearhead a campaign for change in my community.

I highly recommend this book to all parents of school-aged children.