"“On the Necessity of Homework”"


Only few day ago I was a kind of intrigued by an article I read on Alexander Atkins‘s blog Bookshelf, which recited “Too much homework is bad for students“. Being a teacher I had already started to feel guilty. Alexander was referring to a study of Denise Pope, a senior lecturer at the Stanford Graduate School of Education, who had found that “too much homework has a significantly negative impact on a high school student’s physical and mental well-being as well as behavioural engagement “. Too much? But, how much? 3.1 hours of homework each evening. Ah.The majority of the students, who had been the object if this survey (4,317) referred that:
1. Homework and tests were their primary sources of stress.
2. A lot of homework led to sleep deprivation and related health problems (e.g., exhaustion, weight loss, headaches, etc.)
3. They had to choose homework over social time (spending time with family and friends) or activities (such as sports or hobbies).”
Furthermore it was also noticed that many students complained about homework that (they) considered “pointless” or “mindless“.
Alexander glosses his article saying that:
“Until high school teachers, principals, and tiger parents learn about and digest this important research, students across the country will have to stress out over homework, burning the midnight oil, a little longer. When wiser heads prevail, students will finally be able to put down their books and go out and get a life.”

stressI was glad to see that the debate on the role of modern education is exactly the same in every part of the world. Nowadays school effort seems to deprive students of their life. But what life? Aren’t schools supposed to form students for their life as adults? But, let’s go step by step. First of all I have to say that even if I am not the kind of teacher who is used to giving loads of homework and firmly believes that holidays are made to relax and have fun so that anybody has time “to get a life“, I don’t think that an effort of 3.1 hours each evening could be considered a cause of “stress“, unless there are other priorities in the life of that student.

footHere in Italy, an average student of, let’s say, seventeen years old, belonging to the same social class of that survey, practices a sport at least tree or four times a week – which is good, I am a sportswoman myself -, then there are the matches or competitions on week-ends ( you can easily guess that 80% of the boys here play soccer and intensely wishes for a future as footballers), goes to the gym, studies to get the driving license, spends a lot of time facebooking, wazzupping, playing with video games, hanging out………..well, certainly the effort to find some time to study could be actually seen as a cause of some stress, I guess. It’s not surprising at all that after a day like this, you feel exhausted, you have headaches and 3.1 hours to dedicate to a different activity may seem a nightmare.

For what concerns the complaint about the fact that homework is often “pointless” or “mindless” I could agree on this point, as teachers should do their best to give motivation, finding challenging and interesting activities, but then I cannot help but wonder: how often do I have to do things that I consider “pointless” and “mindless” at work? Even if I adore my job, there are activities that bore me to death and I would happily abstain from. Are we given the chance to do only what we like in the world of adulthood? Shouldn’t we prepare our students to cope with, stress, frustration and even boredom, as well? If you want to reach your target, you need time, effort, sacrifice. I don’t know anyone who has escaped this simple life formula; footballers either.

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