Homework Bound, I Wish We Weren’t…

On his blog the Socratic Review (socraticreview.org) my good friend The Junior Senator posted a very thoughtful essay on high school homework assignments you can read HERE. He’s published a number of compelling thoughts in the last few days. Take a look.

In this really good treatise on the subject, The Junior Senator poses a number of interesting points from a number of differing perspectives such as:

  • He puts together a sample student schedule in terms of school work, homework and extra curriculars. Truth be told, his faux-student Sally actually has it easy if I compare her schedule to that of Sous Chef, my daughter who is a high school junior.
  • “How much homework is enough/too much?” he asks, noting this question could be from the perspective of a teacher, student or parent.
  • “My subject is very challenging. To succeed in (subject), students need to do x hours of homework every night.” This is a comment I heard from many teachers – it was a comment I often challenged.
  •  He posits that high school students are more busy today than they have ever been.
  • He concludes that questions around homework create a healthy tension.
Image from blog.tbbfchurch.org.

Image from blog.tbbfchurch.org.

Please be sure to read his article linked above. He’s much more articulate on the subject of homework than I am here and, as I agree with the overwhelming majority of his points, I won’t restate them.

I will say this, however: towards the end of my tenure as a high school administrator, I didn’t find the a tension around the subject of homework completely healthy. Rather I found that those (such as me) who argue that many educators are too bound by homework often had their arguments quickly undermined.

This talk about homework became a third rail. It really upset people.

When some teachers say (in increasingly agitated and defensive tones) that, in order to be rigorous in the classroom, in order to meet high enough standards and in order to convey the curriculum of “X” course, a substantial amount homework (determined solely by the individual teacher, thank you very much) must be assigned and then follow those comments with the accusatory question “Don’t you believe in academic rigor?” the cause of open conversation is lost. That kind of intellectual bullying is not healthy. Who is going to argue that it’s high time to lower standards on academic rigor? No one. Discussion over.

Conversations about homework – reflections on all that teachers do in the classroom – are healthy and necessary but teachers and administrators alike must come to them as free of their own personal baggage as possible. Only then can the tension be healthy and can open conversation occur.

Teachers, having that conversation and those reflections is your homework assignment for tonight. I hope it doesn’t take over 45 minutes. I hear you’re busy people.

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