I’m Sorry, but Someone Needs to Defend Homework

I’m going to go ahead and disappoint my teenage self, and not for the reasons I usually do. I’ve heard a lot of students and a lot of people totally unaffiliated with teaching criticize homework. I’ve heard my students whine when I assign them reading to be done outside the 200 minutes I see them every week. I’ve read remarkable emails explaining why finishing an assignment at home is just unreasonable. I’ve seen the eyes of my high school students gleam with malice when I steal a little of the meager time they have for life outside my classroom. And I’m not about to stop because I know something that every single person with a skill they’ve learned knows: it takes practice to be good at something. That shouldn’t be a revelation, but then again, we also shouldn’t need warnings on irons that say things like “DO NOT IRON CLOTHES WHILE WEARING THEM” so maybe some obvious things require directions.

It’s pretty probable that someone somewhere has laid down on one of these and proceeded to burn the hell out of themselves

I’ve also read articles about the flaws with homework. They often state that students are overloaded with work, or they don’t retain the knowledge outside an academic environment, or the ratio of time to learning is so left-heavy that it’s not worth assigning work that’ll take 5 hours and teach one thing. However, despite what we might learn from toddlers in charge of American healthcare, a flaw in a system does not necessitate getting rid of the system itself. Instead of doing away with homework and putting the work of teaching massive topics onto the shoulders of a single hour a day, maybe the homework given should just be better. 

I took an art class during the last semester of my undergrad, and I learned how to draw a pumpkin using bits of charcoal, and I learned that crayons have a pretentious cousin called pastels. My pumpkin-drawing skills have not improved since that class, and they honestly never even approached adequate based on how far the teacher had to reach to find something nice to say about them. “Good effort” is the participation trophy of the grading world. Unlike my dismal charcoal gourds, my crayon-ing improved, and the only reason it did was because we had several homework assignments that required me to take my crayons home with me so I could try to draw something. There wasn’t time in the class for all of us to continue practicing coloring in the lines, so we did that work at home, and miraculously, because I had the chance to fuck up enough that I stopped fucking up as much, my crayon skills developed. A situation almost identical to me and my crayons is Slash, the legendary guitarist for Guns ‘N Roses. Me and Slash both practice the tools of our trade, we both work to get better, we have exactly the same fashion sense, and–though I can’t necessarily speak directly for Slash–we both probably didn’t assume we’d become the experts we grew to be after a few hour-long sessions learning something for the first time.

I think we all know who wore it better

I’ve also heard about the schools in mystical places with names like Slaboodia where they don’t have homework and the classrooms all have trampoline floors and every child can speak nine languages and the teachers are paid in lost pirate treasure and the country is in the top 5 best educated in the galaxy, but Slaboodia also has 4 children in the whole country, and it’s a lot easier teaching 4 kids than it is taking on 25.

The problem I see isn’t so much the amount of work students are asked to do, though that definitely is a real issue. The problem is that the work students have to do at home doesn’t seem worth doing to them, either they aren’t learning or the work isn’t fun–yes, work can and often should be fun. My defense of homework is that the work should be useful, it should help students practice a skill because that’s how we learn. And I think the work should be fun because school is hard, being young really sucks, and work is so much easier to do when you actually want to do it.

4 Replies to “I’m Sorry, but Someone Needs to Defend Homework”

  1. It takes practice to get good at anything. I think the hallmark of an excellent teacher is students who do their homework willingly. I think that a teacher should do more than just manage the learning of their students, they should inspire them to teach themselves. Thank you for defending homework!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Spot on! I am a parent, and an educator (albeit, non-formal – which to some, means I’m not) and I am all for homework that practices the skills students need to get better in the said subject area. However, what has happened because of the anti-homework trend is that not enough practice is obtained in – let’s say – middle school math. So, when the students get to higher level math in HS, they are lost becuase they haven’t practiced enough to become reflexive in using those skills. I wish more young teachers would have your outlook about homework. Thank you. (I am done reading your posts for today – I don’t want you to think I’m a creeper….just enjoyed what you wrote! Again!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think the only reason I got through math in middle school was because of the homework which helped me teach myself. Granted, I hated it like nothing else, but I would not have made it through without that miserable homework. I’m glad you like my posts!

      Liked by 1 person

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