The Hassle of Homework

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With so many reports that teenagers today are stressed out to the point of being unhealthy, blame gets thrown around about the source of the stress. Some fingers (commonly students’) point to homework.

Homework has been around since the model of a school system was created , and has become what some call ‘a basic building block of the American education system’. But what is this block building?

On a Student Level

There’s a simple fact that teenagers are stressed. Any high school student (or their parent) could tell you that without needing a long and complex scientific experiment. And with more than two thirds of a teen’s day dedicated to school, there’s very little question of what might be the biggest stressor. With school taking one third and sleep sometimes taking another third, that leaves about a third of a student’s day to do everything else.

So let’s do some math. 8 hours of school plus 8 hours of sleep (Most teens should actually be getting 9, but let’s go with 8 for simplicity’s sake) that leaves 8 hours left over. Now if a student is involved at school, which is encouraged because it could help them get into college, make friends, etcetera, that could be an extra 2 or 3 hours taken out of their day. Now we have 5 hours. If you follow the advice put out by the National Education Association, students should do 10 minutes of homework for every grade level. So a student in high school should do about 90-120 minutes of homework a day. Sometimes it’s even more depending on the classes a student takes. Our 5 hours just went down to 3-4. Less if a student is taking an AP or Honors class. But even in the best case scenario, a student still only has 4-5 hours left over to explore and develop on their own. Homework is taking time that students just don’t have.

In addition, it can be a significant stressor all on it’s own. Imagine you’re working at NASA, and you bring work home with you so you can work out some math problems at your kitchen counter. These problems are important. If you get them wrong, if you can’t figure out what to do next, the spaceship carrying Mars probes could crash and suddenly that 50 million dollars has turned into a burning hunk of rubbish floating around in orbit. You’ll be fired and likely never work in a space agency ever again. While these consequences are extreme and could affect the entire population, a weight students don’t have on their shoulders, the emotional weight can be at the same level. Students get told that to do well they need to do homework, their grades can depend on it. And not having good grades could mean being rejected from college (a goal that is pushed on them from an early age) and not going into the career field they want. Essentially, it feels as if all their lives depend on getting 5 math problems done and turned in.

Homework is not only not helpful to the majority of students, it’s morally damaging. To a high achieving student, homework becomes tedious busy work that they fill out purely for a grade, not to understand material better. For a lower achieving student, they’ve likely already given up on homework years ago. They’ve experienced the frustration of not understanding a problem, the hopelessness of not being able to ask a teacher immediately, and the shame of not understanding, when everyone around them does. So rather than feel a  torrent of negative emotions, students would rather leave the notebook in their backpack and tell the teacher the dog ate it.

The fact is that students widely don’t want to do homework. Seeing as humans have the natural curiosity that lead us to have so much to teach in schools, most students are naturally interested in learning, even if they didn’t know it. If students want to learn, but they don’t want to do homework, perhaps homework isn’t helping students learn.

What a concept.

On the Public Level

So what good is homework doing?

A study by Indiana University showed that among 10th graders, homework isn’t helping letter grades. So now we have 2 hours of a student’s day taken away for something that isn’t helping them do better in school. There is one benefit to homework, based on the results of the study. It helped students do better on standardized tests. But that’s a rant for another time.

Homework isn’t all bad, but it’s clearly not doing what it should be doing. The way we’re going about it isn’t helping anyone. If your television remote isn’t changing the channel, you get up and change the channel. You don’t just keep pressing the button expecting something to happen. Homework isn’t helping, so we need to get up and press the button to change it.

Maybe we change the way we think about it, using the Flipped Classroom model to make learning with homework more fulfilling for students and giving the teacher more opportunity for one on one. Maybe it’s BIG’s model, homework being the way projects move forward. Either way, students need something better, something less stressful, something more useful than homework.