The General Stupidity of Homework

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Practice makes perfect, at least that's how the saying goes. How much practice makes perfect, though? Even for world-class athletes, there is more to success than practice, practice, practice. Somewhere in the mix there has to be raw talent and a strong, almost obsessive, desire for success. Without talent and the desire for success, all the practice in the world generally will not make the average person a world-class athlete. Maybe better at what they do, but certainly not great enough to command a multi-million dollar salary and the admiration of adoring fans. Similarly, 'practice' in the academic world will not deliver Ivy League scholars unless the talent and desire for doing so are already present.

Now that school is out for summer, at least here in the Tucson area, thousands of children and teenagers will be spared, at least for a few months anyway, the pointless drudgery of doing homework. Coming from an experienced teacher, such a statement might sound both intriguing and ludicrous. I assure you it is not ludicrous. Homework is stupid, demeaning, tedious, and, unbeknownst to many educators who rely on homework as a pillar of their curriculum, downright sinister.

Homework teaches students nothing of real value, instead imparting habits of mind designed to condition certain behaviors considered virtuous by the elite statists who control all the important institutions of our society. Teachers like to claim that homework is 'reinforcement' for the day's lesson, 'practice' towards 'mastery' of specific subject material, or maybe a 'discussion-starter' for the next day's lesson material. To this extent, teachers play right into the hands of the elites and their plans for controlling society and its people. Most do not realize the harm they do and even scoff at colleagues like me who refuse to assign homework regularly, or, even at all.

I still laugh every time I talk to new teachers or review their lesson plans. As they were first conditioned as students themselves, and then trained as teachers by some worthless teacher's college, at least three times a week or more they assign homework. Read these pages, do the questions that follow. Answer the odd number questions. Read the following sentences and make the appropriate corrections to grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc. I laugh because I wonder if these teachers are ever going to come out of their system-imposed trance and see homework for what it really is: a complete waste of time.

I was in every sense like them when I first started teaching. Being a history teacher, there always seemed to be something that needed reading before the next class, even questions that needed to be answered. I didn't even use those pre-fab questions that come at the end of every section of every chapter in every history textbook; the ones that are always sequential with the correct answer practically screaming from the page. I made up my own questions and assigned readings of unorthodox length. Sometimes just a few paragraphs with only one question to answer. Guess what always happened? Never more than a few kids actually did the work; the rest just copied. It was the same when I assigned readings from the textbook. It was always the same kids who actually read what I had assigned.

Into my third year of teaching, I was beginning to wonder if I would be one of those teachers who, after 20 years in the classroom, resorts to checking off homework without ever reading what students write. Then I read an article in a professional rag (publication) that said everything I had been thinking for the previous few years. The author argued homework was pointless, a waste of time, and even harmful to students. Mastery, reinforcement and preparation, as reasons for assigning homework, were meaningless. These terms sound pedagogical, thus creating the illusion that homework is an effective way for teachers to 'monitor' learning progress outside the classroom. Schoolwork being done at home is also a great way for the school district to 'connect' with parents. When parents see their kids doing school-related stuff at home, they feel confident that the school is 'doing something' about their children's education.

Because so much of our lives, especially any aspect connected in some way to government bureaucracies, is driven by paperwork and 'official' record-keeping, the power of children doing homework, tangible proof of learning to many, cannot be understated. I have had top-quality students tell me that because their parents never saw them doing homework for my class, there was no way they could be learning anything in my class. And therein illustrates why so many districts have official homework policies: create a paper trail in the event that, God forbid, something goes wrong with the education process. Teachers can point to their gradebooks and administrators can point to the district homework plan and cite all the 'stuff' little Johnny did to improve his skills and learning. If nothing more, the paper trail proves that the school 'did something' to help Johnny; perhaps he needs to be tested to see if he needs 'special' attention.

What if Johnny is a bright kid, creative, extremely literate, probably the best student in the class. I have had many students like this over the years. They usually get Cs or Ds because they are fully cognizant that homework, more so than other schoolwork, is busywork to do at home. As a matter of principle, they just refuse to do the assignments so their grades suffer. These are the types of kids the system fears the most because they refuse to be penned in with the rest of the flock. They are also committed to learning, but on their own terms. All on their own, they will have mastered math and science, history and philosophy, literature, or a foreign language. The 'homework' they would have done towards this achievement would have been self-imposed, far more meaningful, and certainly more successful at promoting achievement.

So, I don't do homework. As a more practical way of arguing against the need for homework, I always ask my students at the beginning of the school year how many occupations or professions require you to do work at home. Another reason for homework bantered about by the teaching profession is that it prepares you for college and your working life. Really? How many carpenters, plumbers, or mechanics go home and practice their craft so that they will perform their jobs better at work? There is no need to; their skills and work environment do not require nor allow them to do so. Might they need to do 'homework' as part of improving job skills, such as learning the intricacies of a new engine? Certainly. But they're adults and job preservation would mandate that they learn. Even still, the real learning in such occupations takes place hands-on, not reading books, answering questions, or taking tests.

Once again, I must return to my opening analogy of world-class athletes and the tools they need for success. Does anyone believe that a child who will one day become a scientist, doctor, lawyer, or architect, will not be successful at any of these professions unless, for most of their childhood years, they were forced to complete menial and intellectually insulting assignments outside of the classroom? If these kids have what it takes to be successful in such challenging professions, they will have already practiced the skills needed throughout their years in school to prepare them for that challenge. Requiring them to do all that pointless, stupid, time-consuming busywork will only make them hate school more and real learning. It's bad enough that they have to go to school in the first place; once the last bell rings, teachers should just let them be kids.

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Harry Goslin's picture
Columns on STR: 37

Harry Goslin lives in eastern Arizona.