Who is Homework Helping Anyway?

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homeworkThe other day I had a glimpse at what life would be like with a “neuro-typical” child. My daughter’s friend came home with her after school and she immediately opened her backpack, took out a sheet of homework, sat down at the dining room table, and began working. She completed her eight long-division problems in less than 8 minutes and then began to play with my younger daughter.

When I pointed out to my daughter who was sitting in the living room trying to look at the YouTube video her father was watching that she had the same homework as her friend and that she should do it now too, she shrugged. She said “I don’t want to do it now. I’ll do it later. I don’t know how to do it.” (Do those excuses sound familiar to anyone else???) Eventually I convinced her to sit down with her sheet of homework. The tears started before we read question #1.

I don’t want to go over the painful torture that ensued for the next thirty minutes as my daughter and I tried to work through long-division, (which, incidentally is impossible to do if you haven’t learned your multiplication tables yet.) By the end of the half-hour, we had only completed six out of the eight problems, she had cried several more times, and we were ready to call it quits.

When I released her to go off and find her friend who was happily playing already, all I could think about was “it would be so much easier if my child was more like her friend…” And then, of course, I felt enormously guilty for feeling that way and tried to re-structure my thinking. You know what I realized? Whether it took 8 minutes or 28 minutes to complete, that homework wasn’t helping anyone.

Did it help her friend who finished and told me “I just do my homework right when I get home, show my parents, and I’m always right, so then it’s all done”? Surely the speed with which she breezed through those questions did not help her grasp any concepts or reinforce anything she was learning.

Did it help my daughter? Did that half-hour of painfully attempting the homework sheet help her learn long-division? No way. She did not walk away from that lesson with a greater understanding of anything, except maybe her own incompetence compared to her friend.

I taught high school English for thirteen years. I assigned homework every night. I thought I fully understood why I did so and what the importance of that homework was. Now that I’m on the other side, I don’t think I do. I think back over all my past students who may have cried or struggled nightly with my homework and I wish I could take it all back. I wish I could tell them that they aren’t incompetent and to apologize if I ever ever made them feel like they were compared to another student. I wish I could tell them that it’s ok to struggle. And that there was someone out there who understood their struggle. And that homework isn’t worth crying over. And that I would help them even when they are afraid they are beyond helping. I’m just sorry I only understood it all after I stopped teaching.

But then again, have I ever really stopped teaching?



Homework vs. No homework: Share your thoughts in the comments.

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