September 21, 2006


Stan the Soon To Be Ex-Gummint Man sends along a link to Dr. Helen's place where the discussion turns to homework, and the lack of correlation between more homework and higher achievement.

Interesting stuff, and the commenters have some good points.

Having four kids, ranging from high school to elementary school ages, I figure I've got as much empirical experience as anyone else in the topic, so my opinion is: it all depends.

The idea that more homework is needed has come about from our good educational folks who observed students from other countries where schooling is much more rigorous (such as Japan). Those kids have a lot of homework, so we figure WE need a lot of homework to be able to compete.

But what everyone seems to forget (and which is brought up in Dr. Helen's comment section) is that there's a quality/quantity part of the equation. Simply loading kids down with lots of inane busywork does nothing but make them miserable. And you can just about be guaranteed that if the homework is inane busywork, the classwork is no better.

Again, part of this is born of competing desires on the part of educators--we (folks who still think schooling is necessary) want to SAY that we're doing the same thing other countries are doing with their systems, yet in practice we find that requires adherance to a higher standard of testing and insuring something is actually being learned. BUT, we don't actually want to make anyone feel bad about themselves if they fail.

So we have incredibly high standards, but no expectation that anyone would actually have to attain them.

I see it in my kids--they do get As, but even the worst kids in their classes rarely fail. In fact, they rarely even get Cs. Why push yourself to do better if there's no reason? Why have to deal with irate parents who threaten to sue if their child is held back? Why worry if your kids bring home Bs or Cs--it's not like they're failing, right?

So you have a situation where excellence can occur, but there's no penalty for its lack. Now there's a lot of "progressive" folks who see nothing wrong with that scenario, but it's not a recipe for anything other than a continual slide into irrelevance.

Reba and I push our kids because we know the real world is a competitive place and they need to be self-reliant and self-sufficient should the need arise where such skills could mean their survival. Yes, all that 'it takes a village' crap is sweet and useful, but what happens when you find yourself without a village? If you don't know how to use the tools of knowledge, you get really extinct, really quick. SOMEone needs to know how things work and how to make things work, and I don't want to go through life thinking that my kids are incapable of independence. Reba and I are both of the mind that there is still some shame in being stupid, and in allowing stupidity to flourish.

But having seen some of the stuff the kids have to do, it's clear some of their teachers never had mamas and daddies who saw anything wrong with having stupid kids. Despite all their degrees and testing, some of these folks entrusted with educating our children are themselves dense as lead.

As some of Dr. Helen's commenters noted, there's homework, and then there's homework. As with anything else in life, it has to be judged on its merits--some of it's worthless and does nothing to make kids better at anything other than using a pencil.

Some of it is stimulating and useful in extending the child's understanding of classroom concepts.

Eliminating it entirely is probably not the solution, nor is simply adding more. The reasoning behind it needs to be properly examined to determine if it can be of help, and it needs to be structured so that it actually serves its purpose.

All this reasoning and purposing and stuff doesn't happen by accident--it is the task of the teacher and the administration (and ultimately, the parents) to insist that whatever is done, is done with a clear purpose and reason. This can only happen when parents decide to quit shielding their children from failure or deflecting from them bad consequences for bad actions.

Obviously, this has become much more difficult in a public school setting. Some districts manage to do very well, others less so, and some are utter and abject failures. The ability for parents to have some choice in the manner in which their children are taught is the only way to begin addressing this inequity. Of course, that dilutes the power and control of state-sanctioned educators and their legislative lackeys, so parents have had a hard time overcoming it. But it can be done.

And speaking of legislators, the solution to better schooling also has very little to do with money. It all comes down to committment, which is why homeschooled children can perform as well or better than children in public or private schools.

In the end, as with most things, the homework concept is probably a good one, but the execution is lacking. The execution won't get better until you decide to make it better. Quit complaining and do something.

Posted by Terry Oglesby at September 21, 2006 08:57 AM

My eldest is a very smart cookie, however he is extremely stubburn and I swear I have to poke him with a sharp stick to study. "But I already know that!" is a common cry around here. As a result his grades are all over the place. I was actually pleased when he got an F on a few tests and told his teacher as such. It got my son to actually pull himself up and work.

So I do see the value in the whole spectrum of grades.

Posted by: Sarah G. at September 21, 2006 11:25 AM

Your son sounds a lot like my oldest. Of course, my oldest is 16 and should know a bit better than to act like that at her age...

Posted by: Terry Oglesby at September 21, 2006 11:35 AM