Thursday, May 07, 2015

Uh oh. Board Member starts sipping Alfie Kohn Kool-Aid.

It always starts with an Op-Ed piece in the critically acclaimed Ukiah Daily Journal.  In the past it has been about school start times, funding obligations, labor issues, and the athletic program.  Now, homework.  Yep, this is often how school board members peak the interest of community members on educational topics.

Megan Van Sant is a school board member who has written the latest piece on the value of homework called “Does Homework Matter?”

“Ahh… Homework. When I mentioned that I was considering writing a column about homework, the response from others was sharp and immediate. “Ugh,” said the first parent I spoke to. “I hate homework.” Without fail, every person I talked to about homework responded with a similar statement. Homework, it seems, is universally deplored.”

Not that teachers love homework but it seems Ms. Van Sant forgot to talk to educators about the unholy act of assigning work outside of class. 

What’s interesting about the issue of homework is that A)  nobody can agree on what “homework” actually is, and B)  much of the argument revolves around the issue of the child feeling “stressed” or “uncomfortable.”   For example, Van Sant grabs this quote form Kohn’s book about homework;

“A peek into many family homes easily reveals the negative effects of homework. They include children’s “frustration and exhaustion, lack of time for other activities, and possible loss of interest in learning. Many parents lament the impact of homework on their relationship with their children; they may also resent having to play the role of enforcer and worry that they will be criticized either for not being involved enough with the homework or for becoming too involved.”

Oh no!  Do you mean that the soul crushing teacher has assigned something that actually requires the kid to do something they, *gasp*, DON’T WANT TO DO?!  The humanity!  The horror!  God forbid a parent play the role of enforcer for the sake of becoming involved in a child’s education.  This “don’t make my child uncomfortable because it is mean” attitude has permeated our society and turned it into the temple of thy childrens’ maximum comfort.

“Maybe, I thought, this misery and family conflict is warranted because of the academic benefits of homework. But delving into the research on homework was a surprise. It turns out that the positive effects of homework are largely mythical.”

It actually turns out that this is statement that is supported by Alfie Kohn is actually incorrect, and like most things regarding a child’s education, insanely tough to put towards causation.  Kohn hates everything standardized test, praise, homework, God, the Constitution, street food tacos, and everything else that could possibly get his name in the Edu-Reform circles.  He says that “time-on-task” is basically pointless when it comes to intellectual learning.  Skill?  Fine.  Learning?  No.  As stated in the above report, it’s basically impossible to make the statement that homework is bad because, A)  the students are different, B) the homework is different, and C) there are multiple variables in education that also correlate to student performance.  Hell, most reports can’t come to any concrete conclusion on how many hours per week.  Some reports say as much as four hours per night.  I will go on record and say that this is pretty much a bald faced lie.  Do I have students that will do this much homework a night?  Yes.  Are they a majority?  Not even close.  In fact I would say less than 10% easy.  Economists would say that when you ask a student “how many hours a night do you work on homework”, there is a good chance that the data might lie to you a wee bit. 

“The conventional wisdom about homework, even if flawed, is deeply ingrained in the American educational system. Nevertheless, within our own families, we get to create our own institutions. If you feel conflicted about homework, I encourage you to question your intrinsically held beliefs and trust your instincts. Try not to ruin your family life over homework. It’s just not worth it.”

   And now we get the real problem with homework; people don’t like it.  Check out this report by the Brookings Institute that pretty much throws out the overworked teen narrative and explains that most of the chatter is coming from a small group of parents that don’t like to see Johnny do something Johnny doesn’t want to do.  In fact, the data seems to support that more high school students have LESS homework than past decades because the curriculum has turned towards the classroom and out of homes.  Surprised?  I’m not.

I teach Seniors.  I assign homework.  It is not difficult at all and is used to reinforce lessons we did in class that day or recently.  Do I find it valuable?  I wouldn’t assign it if I didn’t see it as valuable.  I don’t think that homework is unreasonable or that the demand that it be done on-time is unreasonable.  What I do think is that kids have not been taught to make choices and not been taught to manage time.  And this attack on homework is the gross overreaction too that. 

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