Homework: A Failure of Society

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(Artist: Pawel Kuczynski)

(Artist: Pawel Kuczynski)

I have some pretty non-traditional views of schooling. From the time I was 5 to the time I was 14, I went to a school where the pupils sat at desks attached to and facing the wall with large dividers between us. Quiet ruled the air, and distractions did not exist. Our work was largely self-directed – we chose what we wanted to work on each hour and each day as long as we kept a consistent pace among all subjects over time. If we finished a certain amount of work before the school day was finished, then the rest of the day was yours. We even checked and graded our own work day-to-day. That school closed down when I was 14, and I was homeschooled until 18. There was no formal curriculum in my homeschooling (some might know this as “unschooling”), and my learning was then entirely self-directed.

During the nine years I went to that formal school, I can recall having homework perhaps ten times, or just about once per year. Now my children get homework that many times in a fortnight. Some schools are giving their students as much as three hours of homework a day. Even my six year old nephew gets homework daily. Immediately as a child starts formal education, does the school intend to own that child’s evenings forever?

To me, homework represents a failure on the part of the school. Homework is the school saying, “Yes, your daughter was with us for seven hours today, but we didn’t actually teach her this thing she needs to learn. Can you teach it to her, or see that she learns it on her own?”  Over a full childhood of schooling, the school will have your child for 15,000 hours, or two solid years. Somehow, that isn’t enough, and they want to invade your home for a further hour or so per day with homework, packing on another couple of thousand hours.

There are positive aspects of homework. If someone is interested in learning about something, then the familiar, safe, quiet environment of home can be an ideal place to learn more about it. Also, at home you can have the mostly full attention of your parents for help, while getting undivided attention from a teacher occupied with nineteen other pupils at school is rare. Many times I enjoy helping my children with homework. Still, that doesn’t excuse it, and my children and I could get that same enjoyment without the time waste inherent in the current school system.

In the UK, if a child is ill or otherwise can’t attend school, the government will arrange a private tutor for a minimum of five hours, which is thirty hours less per week than most children will be in school. This is the government saying that a child only needs five hours of education, provided that it is in a concentrated form. So why don’t all children just have five hours of tutoring per week and be done with it? That’s where our society fails. Rather than spend money to educate people efficiently, we’ve just spent $10,000,000,000 (ten billion) on a new aircraft carrier so we can kill them instead. And that’s just in the UK – what grotesque pile of money is America spending on bombs and jailers instead of books and teachers?

Because of our society’s misplaced priorities on spending, every day children and teachers across the world are having their time utterly wasted by the current inefficiencies of school. It could be fixed, but there seems to be no will for it. Instead, educators and politicians cry for more of the same. An extended school year. More homework. Education finishing at a later age. If what we’re doing now isn’t working properly, simply doing more of that same thing isn’t going to fix it.

Let me know your thoughts!