Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Why Homework is soul sapping (and pointless)

I hate 'Homework'. Let me define what I mean by this statement - work prescribed to children in an attempt to ... hang on, let me think this out. Why is homework set? Well here are some of the official  reasons often cited

  1. To Learn ... Hmm, aren't children learning all the time? I have to go through the equivalent of the Mastermind general knowledge round on at least a quarterly hour basis. And when my four year old is not quizzing me, she's doing (they call this kinaesthetic learning) - making, growing, cooking, reading, watching T.V, talking with friends, drawing, shopping, eating, coffee-shopping .... WATCHING.

  2. Academic discipline ... aka 'punishment'. You will learn in this way, doing this structured activity. It will increase your knowledge and most importantly allow us, the authorities, to assess you, and track you, and numberfy you, and visually chart you in order to compare you against your peers.

  3. Tradition ... it's what is expected by a lot of parents who subscribe to the belief of reason number 1.

  4. Aids literacy ... Really? Are you sure that enforced reading and little cards signed off to demonstrate progression through the book are inspiring a love and understanding of the English language? And if it's really about literacy then why not set reading and filling in your tax form, or  reading the take out leaflet as literacy homework?
From these statements you may be surprised to learn that I have taught English at secondary school level for ten years. In that time I have found the activity of homework to be almost useless at fulfilling any of the reasons above.


Learning comes from curiosity - not from exercises. Learning comes from seeing and hearing inspirational things. Retention of information (sometimes mistaken for learning) comes from points of necessity even if not of particular interest. Nurturing, effective parenting understands this. It promotes an environment where curiosity is stimulated, where joy and energy are attached to everyday activity and events, and when things are not quite so inspiring (such as why we have to wash our hands) role-play, laughter and wicked jokes are the important learning tools. (Oh, the times I have had to be an evil toilet germ travelling through the intestines is too many to count!)


Firstly, the word HOME WORK - why? why? why? *hits forehead with palm* Why not (if the system insists) not call it HOMESTUDY? or HOMELEARNING? No instead, we insist on the didactic approach of ALL citizens must work and labour for the good of society. The connotation of the word work is oppressive - ask any 4-16yr old. Also what message does it convey to a future workforce? That even when your official day job hours are over, you must take work home to be a 'good' little employee. (I've been there, working into the evening until midnight after a full teaching day - I came to the conclusion that there was clearly too much to do in the official hours allocated - and which I actually got paid for!)

Haven't they been at school undergoing academic discipline for 7 hours already? 

Here's a rebellious question; Why discipline? Why not spontaneous outbursts of academic brilliance based on whimsy, passion and fierce intellect?


No, it's  an abject fear that your child will be a 'failure' of the system. It's an unfounded fear that your child will be seen as stupid. 

It's also easy parenting ... yep that's what I said ... it's easy parenting. Those stressful, argument filled tension fuelled homework spats makes parents feel like they are doing everything they possibly can. Those walk-by outbursts on the way to make dinner, peg washing out, talk to mother on phone, get a beer out of the fridge, make parents believe they are supporting the education of their child through supporting the state system. And when little Johnny continually fails to grasp photosynthesis, mum and dad can smile knowingly, throw their hands in the air and say "What more can we do? We're constantly on his case about his homework."

Well maybe you could make a mini greenhouse, or make cress heads or surf web TOGETHER. Maybe you can be goofy and role play, maybe you can draw a cartoon ... anything but shout at your child because the worksheet is grey, dull and uninspiring. 

To be honest the homework task should be redundant by the time they receive it because surely most complex ideas in the universe have been explored in principle by the age of three! (death, life, latent evaporation, photosynthesis, reproduction, nutrition, mathematics, semantics, geography, justice etc - are daily topics of conversation.)


No it doesn't. Not when set as 'read for twenty minutes'. It might if the task was to read a book in the next month, come in to school dressed as favourite character (yes, my fifteen year olds loved this too) and do the hot air balloon task or maybe not, maybe paint a scene, make a bookcover on the Mac, invent a play - in fact anything that it's inspired the child to do.

Well what about those 'evil parents' that don't read or 'teach' their children? Agreed, I understand and know all the socio-economic, cultural arguments surrounding literacy but as I said before, kids are in school for 7 hrs a day (9 if they do a sport/ art activity), they sleep for 12, eat for 2 and have some down time for a couple of hours - surely it's a gap that an innovative, creative and inspirational education system could bridge? The fact that it isn't at the minute raises many questions about the current state of education; especially access to it in pre-school years. 

So rant over. I'm typing this as Rosie (4 1/2 years of age is doing the third hour of her holiday homework with much resentment. She's making the best of a bad job - we've got paramour on the player, a plate of chocolate digestives on the table. We sabotaged the worksheet with illegal use of glitter and stickers and for some reason, wearing her 'Hello Kitty' sunglasses whilst doing the booklet is making it all a little bit better. But it doesn't stop her from asking every fifteen minutes, "When can I go out and play, mummy?" whilst looking whimsically out of the window at our veg patch, paddling pool, wormery, bee nest, rabbits......

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