“Homework will make your life better.” It’s a line I shared with my students over and over when I taught high school English. But, the truth is, that was before I was really an adult – and long before I had children.
From my own perspective, homework opened the doors of opportunity. The classroom environment has always produced considerable stress in me, but – on my bed late at night – I found the freedom to work through problems and write papers without the pressure of feeling that everyone else knew more than me. Homework, in many ways, was my safe space.
Just this week a note for parents from a teacher in Texas went viral, as she boldly announced an end to “formally assigned homework” in her class. The Internet may have rejoiced, but the teacher in me has serious questions: What, then, will fill that homework time?
Years ago, I taught multiple subjects at a private school where homework was strongly discouraged. And, to be honest, the whole idea was new to me. Despite my own affinity for at-home application of concepts learned in school, I designed my lesson plans to allow for – as the school desired – time for family meals, reading, and togetherness.
Except that wasn’t what happened at all.
Instead of homework, students played video games, looked at pornography, and obsessed over numerous social media accounts. Where were the parents? They were living the same lives they would live if the children had been assigned homework.
I think this is where we as a society get it wrong. If you’ve held an instructional role in the classroom, you know that there is no magic bullet in education. None. And I think any teacher would agree that the real problems we daily encounter are not going to be fixed with homework policies.
Last weekend I ran into friend of mine who is an elementary teacher. He confessed the various challenges he encounters on the front lines, and, unsurprisingly, he didn’t mention homework one single time.
What, then, did he perceive to be the greatest barrier? Broken families – a loss of mentors, a loss of stability, a loss of hope.
Do I think students are often assigned too much homework, especially in primary education? Absolutely, but I do not believe that a lack of work assigned outside of school will change communities in the way many of those outside of the classroom believe it will.
And what if a book could unlock the elusive promise? What if, just like myself, a young person can find shelter from all of life’s pressure inside its pages?
I think balance for our children is within reach, but it requires investment from all of us. That’s our homework. And, parents, we need your support, even if you can’t understand everything we do.
After all, your child is our hope, too.