Homework: an exercise in futility

Guest post by Shambolic Living.

How much homework goes on in your house? Are you a fan of the after-school revision, assignments and projects? Or do you resent the impact homework is having on your family life?

At the risk of launching into a full-blown rant I have to state my view of homework: it is simply an exercise in futility.

Who’s doing the homework?

It’s been ten years since we first experienced the joys of homework, since we began with the nightly readers and spelling sheets of the early primary years. The first rule of homework was learnt early when we arrived at school with our “car” that we had made out of some of our old packing boxes.

Our car was great, made by Princess Child with some helpful advice from Dad. It quickly became obvious that the child wasn’t supposed to have made the vehicle.  As shiny, well put-together, expertly painted models made their way into the classroom I thought I had mistakenly wandered into a Mercedes dealership. I’m sure the mums and dads were proud of the “A’s” they scored. Did the kids actually learn anything? I doubt it.

On a recent episode of Today Tonight, psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg stated that 22 per cent of kids tell him their parents have done their homework for them – and that’s just the ones honest enough to admit it. Carr-Gregg is a strong opponent of homework saying it’s the modern day equivalent of cod-liver oil, everyone thinks it was good for you but in reality it does nothing.

Homework makes for stressed families

Speaking from personal experience homework has caused our family a large degree of angst. It has impacted on family activities, created arguments and led to disappointment and a sense of failure (for all of us).

Homework causes stress in families

Photo by amylovesyah/Flickr

While there are guidelines to the time that should be spent on homework, the reality is that many children won’t fit into those guidelines. They struggle to work independently or without direction, they fail to grasp the task, they are overwhelmed by the information. While parents aren’t teachers, they get frustrated at being unable to explain the concepts in terms children understand. The guidelines are a false recommendation while in practice even a simple worksheet can take double the time you would expect in a classroom.

There is no doubt that in our home, homework has at times made stressful situations worse. When my husband was undergoing a double heart-bypass my mother was looking after the children (both then still in primary school). She soon became aware that Hippie Child was not just worried about her father but frantic about homework and assignments she had due.

Nana Shambles headed into the school and explained “I can get these kids fed and dressed and to school on time every morning but when it comes to homework I’m useless. As far as I’m concerned a PowerPoint is where you plug in the kettle; I have no concept of how to turn one into a presentation”. While the school said they would give extra help, busy teachers and a child reluctant to speak up meant that help didn’t arrive. We also had the incidence of Mr Shambles flat on his back just days out of the surgery trying to explain maths concepts over the phone to get that week’s homework sheet finished.

There is no doubt that in our home, homework has at times made stressful situations worse

Later in the first term of high school we were living with my aunt while desperately trying to owner build our house. The wireless Internet connection was pretty much unusable most of the time. The maths teacher required homework to be submitted via the online Moodle system. At the parent/teacher interview in term one I explained our predicament, only to be told in no uncertain terms that my child was responsible for getting her homework done regardless of personal circumstance and she would need to spend lunchtime in the library to complete it if necessary. I may be odd, but I actually wanted my daughter out in the playground developing social skills and growing a friendship group at the start of high school. Guess I’m radical that way.

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