Destroy All Homework!

There’s been a debate brewing, marinating and nearing the boiling point for a very long time – is homework in elementary school and even middle school helpful?  There’s been studies done that have opined that the type of homework we’re assigning to students isn’t helping for any number of reasons.  One is the lack of coordination between teachers with the amount of assignments as students go home with a pound of homework from each class putting the kids into the late hours of the day without a break because there’s so much work to be done.

This last week a elementary school in New York state had finally had enough.  In a deeply researched well thought out move that had the participation of teachers, administrators and parents – they dumped homework.

From the article,

Teachers at  P.S. 116 on East 33rd Street have stopped assigning take-home math worksheets and essays, and are instead encouraging students to read books and spend time with their family, according to a letter the school’s principal, Jane Hsu, sent to parents last month.

“The topic of homework has received a lot of attention lately, and the negative effects of homework have been well established,” Hsu wrote in her letter, which was sent home with students.

The article goes on to say some parents are so upset they’re pulling their kids out of the school.  I have bad news parents – the school is right.  Worksheets, essays and other assignments are not effective at that age to reinforce learning.  The other argument is that kids need to play – and on this point they are absolutely correct.  In my recent Developmental Psychology class at my current university, Metropolitan State University of Denver, we learned that children in elementary school are building their brains.  And those brains don’t learn, grow or lay down successful pathways into middle school with loads of worksheets, arduous essays and piles of papers.

The expression has been that, “We need to let kids be kids”. and it is one of our biggest struggles in today’s culture.  Our children are growing up so fast with technology, phones, computers and more at their fingertips.  We’ve neglected the idea of “play” and what that does to a child’s brain.  It is integral to the future of that child’s life that they be allowed to do what they’re programmed to enjoy at that age – and it’s play.  Sure – school is important.  Education is key.  But they have most of the weekday sitting in classrooms learning, reciting, writing and repeating.  As a former office cube worker I can understand the need to get out and enjoy something that breaks the monotony of it.  And I’m an adult!

My future is in middle school and high school now but when I originally started this journey a year and change ago I was locked into the primary school years.  My passion for them remains unabated.  There are unending stories of kids having to stay up to 10pm or later with homework.  Some of this has to do with Common Core and the self esteem destroying nature –  in particular the math arm of the curriculum  – some students have had to endure.  But we’re in 2015 now.  We know so much.  We understand the brain. We understand students more than ever before – and yet we’re still carrying on as if it’s sixty years ago.

There’s plenty more to be discussed as to how education needs to get offensive in addressing the failures of our system versus the defensive bandaids we’ve strapped on in the meantime – but that’s for a later post.  To borrow from TV’s Craig Ferguson – What Did We Learn on the Blog Today?  That this school in New York is brilliant.  And if they back from this, we all lose.  Because there are better ways to apply homework in a way that allows the student to embrace being a child while also slowly filling the shoes of a scholar.

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