Ahhh, the two sided-argument where both sides are actually right because the answer is really just an opinion.  If I had a dime for every parent who comes to me complaining of too much homework… I’d have a matching dime for those who complain we do not give enough.  And all have stories of “when they were a child.”  That just tells me that these two conflicting philosophies have been conflicting for a long time!  In an attempt to root out the perfect answer, let’s explore the origins of school and homework in the first place.

     Upon choosing education as my major in college, one of the first things I was taught was that horses had rights in America before children did.  Shocking, I know!  Animal rights activists looked at how people were using their workhorses and demanded rules to prevent working them to death.  Getting those protective laws passed was much easier than protecting our children.  Congress passed a couple of bills, but the Supreme Court threw them out as unconstitutional.  Eventually, fair labor laws were put in place that prohibited children under 16 from working, but a side effort that came out of this campaign was the Compulsory Attendance Law.  (Yes, I know, historians.  It wasn’t only due to fighting child labor.)  I get a kick out of pointing out to kids that school actually saved them from working 70 hours a week in a factory with very bad living conditions and all the money going to their parents!

   From these humble beginnings, America’s education system grew as a way to make its citizens the best and the brightest in the world.  Somewhere along the way, we have kind of lost sight of this initiative.

   Today some schools tout “no homework,” while others build their reputations on the hard work required outside of school as well as in.  Some districts require a certain number of grades per week, while other educational philosophies shun written work for exploratory learning.  What’s a teacher to do?

    And therein lies the answer:  the teacher must decide what cannot be done in class and send that as homework. 

    To the parents who ask for extra work so their child can be ahead of the class, I recommend Mardels.  Mardels is an Oklahoma-based Christian bookstore with a huge home-schooling section.  The books even come with teacher’s guides.  Assign to your hearts content!

    To the parents who ask for less homework, I advise talking to the teacher about why your child has so much homework.  Is he/she concentrating in class, or is he/she wasting time and then having to do the work at home?  If you believe in family time after school and the district gives so much homework that you cannot have family time, a move is in order.

    Here’s the truth about homework from a teacher’s perspective:  more homework for your child means more homework for us to grade.  I already grade from 6:30 to 10:30 every week night and several hours on the weekend; I don’t want more.   But your child must do the work.  In a school for gifted and talented, I prefer not to send the majority of work home.  I want the child to do it without parental supervision.  Many parents feel they must prove their child is gifted with straight A’s.  You’d be surprised how many parents we’ve had over the years who will not let their kid turn in a paper until it’s perfect.  That sounds great – mastery teaching at its best.  But what it really does is encourage the child to work slowly so he/she can take it home and get a perfect grade with Mom or Dad.  Then when the test comes, he/she cannot do the work because Mom and Dad are not there to help them.

    For this purpose, my math teacher has gone to a different system of grading when it comes to homework.  He has the students do as many problems as they feel they need to master the concept.  He takes no grade on the problems they’ve done.  Instead, they must be ready to do any problem from the text on the board the next day to demonstrate that they know the concept.  To further make it fun, he allows the student who just finished on the board to pick the next student up and which problem he/she should do.  Team points are awarded for correctly done problems, so there’s a lot at stake if one does not do his homework.  Grades are given on a rubric, with timely mastery of the concept being one of the categories. 

    So what do you do as a parent if your child simply does not do homework?  Parents of young children, start training them now.  If you wait to be involved until they’re older or in constant trouble for missing assignments, it’s too late.  Punishment will be required.  We as teachers do not want you to have to be involved in homework (unless your child is too young to read and we’re asking you to read with him/her).  We want the child to independently do what is necessary to make good grades.  You do too, I know.  Sometimes a teacher just gives too much homework.  That’s an issue to address with the principal.  But, if the homework demands are reasonable, and your child simply won’t do work outside of school, there must be a consequence.  To not have a consequence is to insure your child will not move beyond an hourly-wage job with paid overtime.  Those in careers KNOW that there will be extra work and no compensation for it.  Your child will not be prepared for that.  Let your child clearly know your expectations… go so far as to write it down.  Then let him/her know the consequences for not meeting that expectation.  If the child fails to meet the expectation, administer the consequence, but be sure that the child understands that he/she chose this, just as we choose the chance of a ticket when we choose to speed. 

    In my experience, if a child has a goal and the parent says, “You’ll have to work hard to achieve that, but I can help,” the child will do extra work willingly to try to meet that goal.  Also in my experience, I have learned that a child without a goal will NOT, no matter how much you plead, bribe or punish, do extra work to get ahead on his/her own. 

        No matter where you fall in the homework debate, please don’t miss one major reality:  you only get a short time with these kids before they are grown up and moving out.  Homework is a great way to prepare your child for the demands beyond the work day in a career, but life’s too short to spend every evening doing extra work!   

-          Michelle