Homework: Time for a recall

By John Buell and Etta Kralovec



Salon Staff
September 20, 2000 11:39PM (UTC)

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As a teacher, I find the new anti-homework trend another alarming development in education. The American public already expects an awful lot from me. I'm supposed to teach their kids to survive in today's highly literate society. I must make sure the students are technologically adept, able to think scientifically and mathematically. I need to make sure every single student succeeds to a high standard, because it is politically incorrect to acknowledge that any student has limits. Test scores need to be on the rise -- always. I need to teach the kids self-discipline and appropriate behavior, without offending any of their parents. Now I have to do it within the hours of 8:30 to 3:00, from September to June, because anything else is inconvenient to the children and their parents. And while I'm performing this miracle of the loaves and the fishes, I will continue to live in a house much smaller than those of my students, because no one, no one wants to increase my salary.

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I have never in my life wanted to be anything other than a teacher. But lately I wish my job description contained a more feasible goal.

-- Dianne Salerni

The writers of the article on homework for students are assuming that it is the sole responsibility of the school to educate our children and therefore school work should be relegated to the classroom setting. I have three children in elementary school, none of whom spend anywhere near 134 minutes on homework a night. I welcome homework because it gives me the opportunity to see what is being done at school. As a parent I assume that I hold the highest responsibility for my child's success at school and to do so I need to know what they are working on currently. Other than sitting in the classroom, homework is the only way I get that window into my child's day.

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I also assume that it is as much my responsibility as the teacher's to figure out why my child is not understanding the concepts being taught. Classrooms are also generally noisy places and some kids need to be free of distractions to really concentrate. Why is it that home-schooled children generally outscore their peers in standardized testing? Is it that their parents take a greater interest in their success or is it because they can learn in an environment that is set up especially for them -- their home?

-- Julia Sharma

"The Conditions of Learning and Theory of Instruction" by Robert Gagne points out one condition for learning is repeating a skill in a novel situation. In other words, if you are taught to do long division while sitting at your desk in class, that long-division skill will be enhanced when you do it again at your kitchen table at home, or at the school library, or under a tree in your backyard.

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I'd like to know if the author of this recall book has studied the conditions of learning. It seems to me that the purpose of homework is to provide "practice, practice, practice" and novel situations to enhance the learning.

Actual learning is the best motivator to continue. Failure to learn is the reason for dropping out.

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-- Gretchen Glick

I agree wholeheartedly with the researchers in this article about banning homework for elementary school children. Behind every child who completes his or her homework every evening is a concerned parent who is giving up some other activity to make sure that the child has the time, space and resources to complete the homework. It means that instead of spending unstructured time for free-wheeling talk about the day, issues, or whatever, the parent has to be a time monitor and supervisor. Thus, the child and the parent have no "downtime."

Added to that is the fact that children of working families often get home at the same time as the working parent that's doing child duty, which means that homework is often done late in the day, between 6:30 and 7:30 p.m., which leaves time for only dinner and a bath before it's bedtime to get up in time next morning to go through the whole drill again. And for all those who would say cut down on your working hours, etc., well, some families don't have such options. So, I agree, homework, if any, should be completed in the school, under the teacher's supervision. I want to be a parent to my child, not a policeman!

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-- Arundhati Chakravorty

Homework load didn't prepare me for college (especially considering the amount I copied). The teachers who engaged my brain by requiring that I listened and took notes, wrote thoughtful and/or thought-provoking essays -- those who made sure I knew how to learn, not just how to regurgitate -- prepared me for college. And many did not require a significant homework load, and certainly were very low on simplistic worksheets that seemed to constitute most of the things I was required to take home.

In elementary school, I picked playing outside over TV every time, as did my friends. In intermediate school, I had more time for practicing piano, taking dance and playing softball. In high school, I did drama after school and on weekends, and participated in my church youth group as well as Scouts. Did this prepare me for college and life more than a worksheet? You bet my B.A. degree (from a well-respected liberal arts university), successful career and active social life it did.

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-- Meg Lawrence


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