Saturday, April 02, 2011

Throwing Out Homework by Maureen Eich VanWalleghan

Last night I watched the Race To Nowhere, a powerful film. As a later mom, it was easy to see my future self in the mothers who were interviewed. The desire to give one’s child every advantage and to know that they are fully prepared to move out into the world is a driving force in myself and in many moms.

There was so much that resonated for me in the film, but one particular moment really struck me. I believe it was an educator who was teaching AP Biology who wondered when it became acceptable that “school” dictated private life, which is what excessive homework does.

As an educator, I have been anti-homework for years, mostly because it turned into work I had to address once it came back. Essentially, homework would dictate my “private life” because it would quickly became work that overwhelmed me and would be the thing that I constantly had to deal with at home: piles of homework waiting for me. Thank you, but no thank you. It was interesting to hear this same perspective from another educator, but considering the student viewpoint. The notion that students could and are getting one hour of homework per class per night is absurd. Depending on the students’ age and their school, students could have between 5 and 7 hours of homework per night. That is a crime and mind numbing to consider. No wonder kids and parents are stressed out!

As a later mother, I am very invested in enjoying my child. I waited along time before having kids, which was not completely by choice, but that’s how it turned out. I relish time with my child. I enjoy her company and all the fun she brings and even the intensity of parenting when things are difficult. What seems crazy when it comes to homework is that suddenly relaxation time becomes nonexistent. Between homework and extra curricular activities the joy of just being with my kid is no longer there. In the end, I did not have my daughter so that someone else could dictate how I spend my time with her.

Since my daughter is in kindergarten this issue of homework has been on my mind. My husband and I picked a school with a half-day kindergarten and no homework. The Waldorf charter school where my daughter attends has been wonderful. And the school’s philosophy of no homework till about 4th grade is great. But, what happens after that. Seeing the Race To Nowhere was eye opening. This issue of homework for our daughter in the future is real and scary. I want to enjoy my daughter as she grows. I want to her to play and to have time to be a kid even as she is turning into a young adult.

For me, the Race To Nowhere is a call to action. Our thinking about homework needs to change. Even though as a society we hate homework, there is this insidious notion that both students and parents believe: without homework a course isn’t challenging and students aren’t learning. In the film, the book The Case Against Homework is mentioned. A book I am going to read. Also on the “End The Race To Nowhere” website (—a resource for parents who want to do more on change “school culture” to better serve kids—there are a number of other books that discuss the issue of excessive homework.

Right now, I think we need a parent rebellion: NO MORE HOMEWORK! If every parent walked into principals’ offices across the country and explained that homework is no longer acceptable then there might be some change. But, the first step is believing that homework is a detriment. Parents really have to check in with themselves on this issue. Checking the statics to back up the idea that homework is not needed could help.

Walking into the principal’s office alone could be daunting, but getting a group of parents together to get this discussion on the agenda of school boards would have tremendous impact. Really stopping homework is good for everyone: parents, kids and teachers. I can hear the chanting now: NO MORE HOMEWORK!, NO MORE HOMEWORK!, NO MORE HOMEWORK! When mothers want change to happen, it happens. Let's unleash the mommy factor and get rid of homework...

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Blogger OmegaWolf747 said...

I hated homework as a kid. It sucked any joy that might have been derived from learning right out of it.

5:34 PM  
Blogger Scott Merrick said...

Maureen I agree that Race to Nowhere is a compelling documentary with a powerful message. I saw it with a colleague at a screening on the Peabody College for Teachers at Vanderbilt University campus a month or so ago and it moved me as well. As a teacher for nearly two decades and now the facilitator of an online learning options program for a good-sized public school system (where, btw, all work in "homework") I have also been anti-homework for a long, long time. I'm recently a new fan of the "flipped classroom," of the sort advocated for by Salman Khan, of Khan Academy reknown. See his TED talk, moderated by his patron, that Gates fellow. I would also direct you to the life's work of Alfie Kohn, beginning with The Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad Thing for some deep-diving into the topic. I was amazed, actually, that he was not cited or interviewed in Race to Nowhere. Thank you for your little tirade, and good wishes for its momentum.

3:15 AM  
Blogger RobynHeud said...

I've read "The Case Against Homework" and it's a great book. You can also check out the blog,, though she's not posting anymore, it has some great examples of parents and what they did to stop the homework nightmare. Kudos to you for taking such a proactive stance. Best class/homeowrk I ever had? That was 5/6th grade, a split class. We did all of our work in class and our homework was a single worksheet Mon-Thu that was a puzzle, like a word search or logic problems. I honestly don't remember them being graded, but I do remember that I loved doing it.

6:38 AM  
Blogger M.E. VanWalleghan said...

Scott and Jess,
Thank you for the info. I checked out and found that homework really is a big big issue. Trying to decide if this is the issue to take on. As an English instructor at community college and formerly a high school English teacher, the more I read about ending homework or not, the more it feels like pulling a string that unravels the whole sweater...
Interesting that Race To Nowhere is not taking a direct stand but rather pushing to open up discussion. Any thoughts about that?

12:38 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Am I the only one who thinks this is a cop out for parents who don't have a grasp of true organization and time management? This is not a "movement" I can see myself following. My daughter likes doing homework now, I know she won't enjoy it forever, but setting herself up to hate homework and call for it to be stopped is counterproductive to real world preparation, imho. Good luck with this. lol Feel free to attack me now

7:58 AM  

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