Tuesday, September 12, 2006


The homework debate

There was an interesting article in this weekend's Citizen, reprinted from Salon, about homework. Specifically, the article is an interview with Nancy Kalish, co-author of the book The Case Against Homework. Kalish argues that "homework is diminishing children's educational experience, turning kids off learning, putting strains on families, turning students into 'homework potatoes' and stunting cognitive and social development."

Being on the precipice of Tristan's scholastic career (first day tomorrow!), I find myself increasingly interested in this debate. From what I've heard anecdotally, even the junior kindergarten kids have a little bit of homework to do these days. What kind of homework could they possibly have? Play with play dough? Eat paste?

Maybe it's because I grew up in the touchy-feely 1970s, when self-esteem and a sense of accomplishment were valued more highly than memorizing multiplication tables, or maybe it's because I was clever enough to skate by without it, but I never had to do much homework. I remember using the family's ancient (circa 1956) encylopedia to write a paper on Sri Lanka when I was in Grade Four, and I remember studying for exams in high school. But homework was the exception rather than the rule.

So what do you think? Is homework a scourge, or a necessary part of the learning process? One rule of thumb I've heard is ten minutes per day per grade, but to be honest, even that seems excessive to me. Maybe 20 minutes per week per grade of school, at least for the first five or six years.

I'll admit, I don't really know what I'm talking about on this. I'm long on opinion, short on fact. Aside from any impact on the child, I resent the incursion of yet another battle into our daily lives, and I cringe to think of our daily battle over getting Tristan to sit still through dinner and eat two more bites morphing into a second battle over getting him to do his homework. And there goes our evening, often the only 'quality' time we spend together as a family during the week. (Not to mention the fact that, at least at this age, the evenings are so much more mangageable on the days we can get out of the house for a run at the park or a walk around the block or even an hour playing in the driveway, rather than being cooped up in the house.)

On the eve of Tristan's first day, I won't get too worked up about this just yet. After all, I'm ridiculously proud and excited to finally be the mother of a school-age child, and I can't wait to see him take off on this new adventure. But I'm curious as to your opinion on the homework debate. What is it like where you live? Do you think kids are doing too much or too little homework? Do you 'help' with homework, or just oversee and enforce? Even if you don't have schoolage kids yet, feel free to hyperbolize wildly - it certainly hasn't stopped me.

Today's assignment? Argue for or against homework cohesively, concisely and competently in the comment box.