Pencils, Backpacks, and Perspective: The Homework Question

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I’m writing this largely in response to last Tuesday’s post: “The Homework Question,” because even though it has already been touched on, this is one of the few debates that can’t really go on for too long.

Homework and I have a long and complicated relationship, kind of like that between Alex Trebek and Jeopardy contestants. What do I mean by that? Everyone (I’m assuming for the sake of the metaphor) likes Alex Trebek. We’re all like, “Wow, Alex you’re so awesome, and we totally get what you’re all about.” And then none of the contestants know an obvious answer to one of the questions and Alex gives them the whole side-eye plus “What is wrong with you people” look, and the shame of having disappointed Alex is equal to that of tripping in a crowded airport.

That probably makes no sense, so allow me to explain. I’m one of those weird kids that actually likes homework. Yeah, I know, it’s strange. But there is nothing better then getting to the end of a five page paper and finally understanding what you’ve been learning. Homework, in general makes everything click. But it’s because I enjoy homework that when I find a repetitive and or boring assignment, I feel bad for not wanting to do it, for not embracing the way it will get the gears in my brain turning. Assignments, I think, should be thought-provoking and encourage critical thinking. Granted, subjects like math require practice, and repetitive work thus can’t be entirely avoided.

My only beef with homework in my educational career has been the volume of it. As I progressed through grades, I was told at the beginning of every year to expect half an hour more or so of homework. By the time I reached high school, taking AP and Honors courses, my homework load was about 5 hours a day, 7 days a week. Now add in sports and various other extracurricular things and commuting time, this left very little time for sleep. It was not uncommon for me to fall asleep onto my computer or textbook. How much did I get out of this ridiculous amount of work? Not much, especially considering how sleep-deprived I was, and how hastily I was forced to work. I got much more out of lectures and longer projects and essays than I ever did from daily work.

That being said, I must reiterate that I believe in the power of homework. But, I think there needs to be a balance between homework time and recharging time, because an overworked brain is not going to retain much. For example, I currently have 2 hours of work for every one hour of lecture, which is approximately 24 hours of work per week. The difference is, I have significantly more free time than I did in high school – it is relative now in a way that it isn’t in most K-12 schools. The most dangerous aspect of homework is that its repetitiveness and the amount of time it consumes will dampen students’ ability to think critically and creatively.

Where do you stand on the homework question? Let me know in the comments section!