Homework is a Red Herring

Polarization is easy to achieve, but it’s hard to undo. Education is riddled with polarizing issues, both political and practical, and the issue of homework is one of the worst.

The central argument: Homework doesn’t benefit students, and you shouldn’t be giving it.

Aside from pushing buttons and for increasing retweets, search hits, and Klout scores, the homework argument doesn’t go much farther than that. Unfortunately, it’s also gotten to the point where teachers who do give homework feel ostracized in the popular education social spheres. Apparently, that means they’re bad teachers, so instead of trying to engage with an already polarized community, they hunker down and don’t bring it up.

It’s a tragedy that we can’t talk about teaching without diving into our camps.

This girl is in every blog post or slide deck about homework…including this blog post. Creative commons licensed (BY-NC) flickr photo by Cayusa: http://flickr.com/photos/cayusa/2194119780

Homework in and of itself is no more a “bad” thing than giving multiple choice tests or lecturing in class. What’s bad is when we do those things – or any thing – without thinking through what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. Rather than pushing for ideological conformity, why don’t we take time to discuss what the real issues are behind each action?

Let’s consider some valid reasons to have work done outside school hours:

Students need time to process their learning individually. This isn’t always done best in the classroom. Time to reflect, process, or otherwise chew on information alone should be done outside of school because it is more conducive to finding insight.

Practice. Don’t shoot the messenger, but skills need to be practiced. Again, corporate time in the classroom is not necessarily the best place for individual practice to take place.

Teaching time management. If we had unlimited and unscripted time during the school day, maybe I wouldn’t use this one in particular. But, when we get down to nuts and bolts, we can’t give unlimited time to accomplishing a task – and before you get all “real-world” on me, yes, it happens in places other than school.

Exploration of ideas. I would love to provide a fully immersive environment for my students, but I can’t replicate a forest in the building. Sending students out to take a walk and experience their environment requires that they do it outside of school.

We get so hung up on where this stuff happens that we miss the bigger point. Yes, I had students who took care of siblings, played sports, or worked. I did my best to limit the volume of work outside of school, but I think it’s a bigger adjustment to change what kind of work happens outside of school. Perhaps it isn’t the fact that homework exists but rather the homework we give tends to suck.

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