Dear Dr. T.,
We are girls from different high schools around town.
Now before we tell you what our problem is, you need to know that we are the good kids – what you adults like to call “top girls.” We’re not looking to make trouble; we just want to say our piece. And, please do not tell us to talk to our parents – a lot of whom agree with us – or the school. Been there, done that. But hey, we know that lots of the adults read your column, so we hope you publish our letter and plead our case.
Homework – Need we say more? Yeah, yeah, we heard all the stuff about responsibility and learning. (Remember, we’re the top girls.) You know, we’re not even going to argue those points with you. But, that’s not the whole picture; there’s more to life than that. But, we are so burdened by our homework that we’ll never know it.
Now, please don’t write us off as “too young to understand” or chutzpadik. We’re looking to put this out there and are hoping (wishing?) for some sympathy – and a platform. Of course, some change would be nice, if that’s not too much to ask. We know it’s the end of the school year, but there’s always next year.
Miri, Esti, and Rina
Dear Miri, Esti, and Rina,
I get it. And, believe it or not, I have heard from more parents than I care to admit that homework is the very bane of their existence. And, though it is you who actually bear the brunt of this problem, the tension and distress caused by the homework battles impacts on your whole family and sometimes even damages the parent-child relationship.
Though I would imagine that some of my (adult) readers may find my opening statement over the top, let me point out that the homework debate is alive and well all over the world. Does homework actually further students’ learning? Does it have other – less positive – effects as well? Does homework foster responsibility, or foment tension and discord in the family? Do the benefits of homework – achievement and learning – outweigh the disadvantages: burnout, lack of leisure time, and parent /child conflict (as in, “Do your homework NOW!”)
Your feelings have merit and can no longer be easily discounted, especially because Rav Matisyahu Salomon, shlita, strongly advocates a no homework policy. In his widely acclaimed book With Hearts Full of Love, he explains his view and says, “School should be the place to learn, and the home should be a place of refuge and time with the family.”
On the other hand, there may be both reason and rationale for the more traditional position, as evidenced by a century of common practice. This is not a simply black or white, right or wrong matter. Rather, as with any subject of such significance and import, there are many gradations and shades of grey. Yes, moderate amounts of homework can facilitate the learning process, but the relevant question is, “At what cost?”
To answer this question, some of the issues to be considered are age of student, length of school day (including travelling), and philosophy of the school. Though all these issues are critical factors to bear in mind, I want to focus on something else entirely – the role of the school in the overall development of the child.
Schools are institutions of learning. They teach facts and ideas and open students’ minds to further learning by introducing them to the world out there. But, you know the old saying, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” When a school is successful in inculcating a love of learning and curiosity in its students, it creates life-long learners. Learning how to learn and wanting to continue doing so – that’s the very best education that school can offer.
The ways to instill a love of learning and the ability to do so are too numerous to mention here, but I think we can all agree that doing homework just isn’t one of them. Perhaps the fault lays in the nature of kids today, but it’s hard to deny that most students resent homework. They perceive it as an unwanted burden and an obstacle to their real lives. Much as we may criticize and bemoan that mindset, honestly, how many of us would want to do homework after a full day at work?
Childhood is also the time when our children develop – emotionally, socially, and physically – and establish the values and attitudes of a lifetime. They need time and space to figure themselves out and practice negotiating relationships with family and friends. Being under constant pressure does not allow their personhood to unfold in a healthy way. In addition, some students are chronically overtired because of the demands of their workload, which impacts on their health and makes them irritable and cranky.
You mention that many of your parents agree with you, and indeed, I have found that to be the case. There is a lot going on in our homes at night. What with dinner, baths, “special time” to connect with each child, and social and school related obligations, many a parent feels overwhelmed by the added pressure of homework.
Homework also causes a great deal of friction in the home. Getting the child to do it, helping multiple children with it, and remembering to sign – all before carpool – is really challenging. And that’s talking about the typical kid. But, consider the more difficult child, the one with ADHD, learning challenges, and/or emotional issues. Not only does daily homework become that proverbial straw, but all too often the child begins to see his parent as united with his teacher against him.
Change comes slowly, and I doubt there will be a substantial policy shift during your school career. But, we – school, parents, and students – do need to start a conversation about this, if not for your sake, then the sake of others who follow you. For now, I invite my readers to chime in with your experiences, thoughts, and feelings. We want to know what you think.
The Book Nook: The Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad Thing by Alfie Kohn, a noted educator and parenting expert, goes through all the reasons that homework is a negative force in the lives of children and their families.
Sara Teichman, Psy D. is a psychotherapist in private practice in Los Angeles and Clinical Director of ETTA, L.A.’s largest Jewish agency for adults with special needs. To submit a question or comment, email DrT@jewishhomela.com