Finding Balance in an Unbalanced Age: Get Off the Homework Train


Alfie Kohn’s book The Homework Myth (Da Capo Press, 243 pages) gave us the courage to reconsider the importance of having any homework during 7th and 8th grade.  Read Claudia Wallis’ short essay in Time about Kohn’s compelling book, which clearly demonstrates how “Homework…may be the single most reliable extinguisher of the flame of curiosity.”,9171,1376208,00.html

I’ve heard so many absurd stories about homework in recent years.  At a dinner party last weekend, a mother told me that she was helping her 3rd grade son, who had broken his arm, with his homework.  Her son’s teacher expected her to actually do one of the assignments, which her son could not do:  re-copy a printed essay in cursive.   How was doing this assignment going to benefit her son in any way?  If anything, wouldn’t only confirm to an intelligent boy that homework is absurd?

Another mom and daughter told Natalie and me about the busy-work homework that was assigned in the daughter’s 5th grade class.  One assignment was to create a crossword puzzle.  Some nights, it got so late, the mom finished her daughter’s homework.  Furthermore, time for reading evaporated.  Worst of all, I could tell that the daughter felt ashamed that her mom did some of her homework.  We came up with a temporary solution for them to divide up the homework into “smart” and “stupid” homework.  For now, the daughter would only do the “smart” homework, while the mother would do the “stupid” homework.  The sad truth is that it is a waste of time to discuss the topic with the teacher or the principal, because the pressure to assign nightly homework in large quantities shuts out reason (is the homework accomplishing any good?) and compassion (children and families are stressed and confused).

Here’s a letter to the NY Times Editor I recently wrote:


Re: “Tough New York Private Schools Try to Lighten Load” (Oct. 24):

School administrators and parents who believe that “the workload” (i.e. numerous hours of nightly homework) is critical in high school for success in college and life, seem to forget that college students, with fewer in-class hours, actually have more time than high school students in which to do their homework.   In the attempt to prepare children for a stage of life they have not yet reached, they ignore appropriate stages in academic development.

Our daughter arrived home each day from her 6th grade class (where the focus was preparing the children for middle school) looking as depleted as the most overworked adult we knew.  We decided to jump off the stress wagon to help her rediscover the joy of learning and healthy living.   By home schooling for two years, our daughter was able to wholeheartedly delve into subjects, which included not only history and math, but also music, dance and gardening.   She did not have homework, although she read every night for pleasure.    By the end of 8th grade, she was totally prepared for high school.

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