Last year, my principal invited faculty members to attend an optional meeting where he would review the longer school day options and discuss our new bell schedule. I decided I’d pop in and found that I was one of three people. Talk about community involvement, eh? The principal ran through the bell schedule and while doing so, he and I became engaged in a debate about homework. Were we debating increasing the rigor level for homework assignments? Nope. Were we discussing how too much of homework nowadays is busy work and not work related to critical thinking? Nope. Were we discussing how much kids are under-prepared for college because of the lack of rigorous self-preparation in the form of homework? Nope again.
So, what were we debating? Simple: he’s against homework and I’m for it. I can’t even believe in this day and age that there are people who are against homework. This is what happens when we let C students gain political power…eventually the world goes crazy with the notion that promoting bad habits is actually a good idea. So, imagine my disbelief when today I was reading an article about France’s president, François Hollande, and his reform ideas, which include getting rid of homework. Ummm, I’m sorry, what?
I understand that people don’t love homework. You’re not supposed to love homework. Homework is work. Work is not fun. Work is, however, important. It teaches us to think about things differently. It helps us attack problems on our own. It teaches a work ethic, too. It allows us to contribute to society.
Homework is practice, too. It’s a way to make sure you master a subject. I teach English. Homework is a way to get kids to read on their own. It makes it so that we read a book in a few weeks versus a few months. Homework is a way to extend the classroom learning experience outside of the classroom.
In an era where we tout Malcolm Gladwell’s rule of 10,000 hours, you would think we would want our children to have more homework. Alas, it seems as if we’ve forgotten that the rule of 10,000 hours doesn’t mean let your kids play video games for 10,000 hours and learn for 50-minute periods of time a few times a day.
If the goal is to get kids to walk out with mastery of a subject by the end of the year, and we know that 10,000 hours is the amount of time it takes to be an expert, we should aim for at least, what, 1,000 hours? I mean, I don’t expect a 10th grader to be an expert on American Literature, I just want him or her to have mastered the main concepts I teach. So, let’s assume that 1,000 hours is the amount of time I need to make my students “master” a subject at its basic, introductory level (which high school is). That means that if kids didn’t get homework, if all the instruction and practice they got each day was in my 50-minute class for 181 days, they’d be about 850 hours short of mastering anything. If I give them 1-2 hours of homework a night in addition to the 50-minutes I teach, I’m at least getting closer to that 1,000 hours. I may not hit it, but at least I’m not sitting pretty at 150 hours total.
Sure, I’m making certain assumptions here: that kids actually do their homework, that all homework is rigorous and actually prepares students for their future, that students who actually complete their homework interact meaningfully with it, etc. Still, I think you get that homework plays an important role in a child’s education. So what happens when we take that out of our children’s educational equation? Simple. This happens.
So, be careful watch you wish for, Monsieur le President. Pas de devoirs = Eventually watering your crops with Gatorade.
* Oui! Je suis sarcastique!
(Photo via Deviant Art)