Saturday, November 23, 2013

Homework, Homework, gimme a break!

The article du jour lately has been this one from Karl Greenfield were he attempts to smoke weed while doing algebra, Earth Science, and reading Angela’s Ashes.  Or maybe it’s about Karl Greenfield’s concerns about his daughters homework…..while smoking weed.  I only add in the “smoking weed” part because:

A)  It’s amusing how haphazardly Greenfield throws in the ganja references.


B)   Someone on Twitter actually said some teachers wouldn’t take the article seriously because it involved marijuana.

Grass aside the article takes on the always debated subject of homework.  Greenfield is concerned that his 13 year old daughter is doing nothing but homework and might suffer among other things, burn-out and having no real high school social life.  It’s hours and hours of homework, and Greenfield actually attempts to do a weeks worth of the stuff while trying to stay awake and maintain sanity. 

There are plenty online that debate the costs and benefits of homework; from the insistence that out-of-school time is never the schools business, to the point that some subjects will require consistent practice to be learned well (foreign language, music).  The leader of the first argument seems to be the edu-reformist Alfie Kohn, who points to the fact that there seems to be little to no connection between homework and academic performance.  There really isn’t a “pro-homework” side of the debate except for teachers that remind people that homework has been in high abundance since the 1950’s and we’ve been doing pretty ok during the last sixty years. 

I’ll share two points about homework.  First is the image that comes up when homework is assigned.

The worksheet brand of homework is pretty much universally hated by all HW haters.  I can’t say I disagree that worksheets suck.  However I differ from those people that find homework as unnecessary.  It might be unnecessary for some and required by others.  I don’t assign much homework.  But I require that students have a strong grasp of the information and I quiz constantly.  My main “homework” is often reading text and then being quizzed literally or by applying the theorem to some problem.  The result means that my grades are lower than most Social Studies teachers and parents/students will often complain that there isn’t enough work to raise grades over the course of the semester; meaning they want inflated grades.  In the end, those that do the work, ask the questions, and are involved in class do fine.  Those that often don’t focus or engage in class will not work at all out of the classroom.  Thus, grades go down.  Sometimes I get complaints about work being relevant, and that leads me to the second point about homework.

I’ll tell you what is and is not relevant.  One of the biggest laughers in education is when local school boards micromanage subject matter and homework because of relevancy issues.  That’s interesting seeing as I’m supposed to be the professional here and I’m fairly sure that I know what I want kids to get out of Social Science curriculum.  Sure, I get that we have to follow state standards along with the new (and improved) Common Core rules.  But if I think analyzing political cartoons has merit, then it has merit.  If I think  memorizing certain aspects of the Constitution is valuable, then it is valuable.  That kind of comes with the job even if teachers are kind of being told that it doesn’t.

So, Mr. Greenfield, grab the Cheetos and put down the kid’s work.  Teachers, make sure that work that you assign is necessary and proper.  And community……..start actually caring about Education.

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