Book: The Case Against Homework

Posted on May 27, 2007. Filed under: books, education, homework, parenting, public school |

Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing just blogged about a 2006 book – The Case Against Homework. It looks like a very interesting read. These types of books can sometimes be a bit one-sided, so it’s good to keep that in mind while reading them. Co-author Sara Bennett also has an anti-homework website.

We are currently looking at a couple of pre-schools for our three-year-old daughter, so education issues are becoming more relevant to us. We live in a fairly good public school district, but are still considering other options such as homeschooling and/or private schools. Public schools seem to be more and more focused on standardized tests. It’s certainly clear that no matter what type of schooling your children get, it’s imperative that the parents are aware of how and what their children are being taught.


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One Response to “Book: The Case Against Homework”

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An open letter to Cory D.—

As a kid of teachers, I’m surprised you’d so swimmingly pitch tent with the StopHomework camp. Full disclosure; I am a teacher. Not a Trotskyite, but an anarchist-atheist English teacher who –gasp—gives homework. Some say a lot of homework. In fact, I give homework precisely because I want to interrupt my students’ lives as much as possible.

Why?

It is every teacher’s duty to erase the distinction between play and work, between learning and doing, between daydreaming and wakeful endeavor. Homework is an archaic term, and it occurs to me that you may have been befuddled by it. Let me clarify something by example. I ask my students to do three kinds of assignments.

(1) Read. While your argument (that kids need “a childhood’s measure of doing nothing, daydreaming and thinking”) sounds righteous, you need to weigh some facts that Bennett’s statistics don’t consider. It’s, like, hella easy to watch TV or play Wii. I’ve got a 7 year old, and I’ve watched him like a zoologist. He will invariably follow the path of least resistance. Yes, I did worry that it was just him. For about 4 seconds. Conversations with other parents (and more… um… “field time” with other 7 year olds) bore out my theory: Kids slack. Kids cannot be left to simply daydream, since commercial forces have a bigger impact than a socialist Canadian born in the ‘70s might realize. If you don’t force a kid to daydream, someone else will, because they get paid shitloads to do it. My thesis advisor in college – a chicken-farming poet named Robert Creeley – taught me that those who suckle the nurturing teat of literature ought never be ashamed to push books on kids, and that has been my guiding principle as a teacher. If my students aren’t forced to read David Berman poems, they’re totally gonna watch American Idol. Daydream? Pfft. More like get subsumed by hegemonic Capitalism. But you can call it “daydreaming” if it makes you sleep better. Me? No.

(2) Question people. At the dinner table, ask you family __(insert thought experiment here)___. This is a common assignment. I chuckle to myself when I picture 128 kids toying with a fork-full of brussel sprouts and asking their parents “Is the universe friendly?” Or, “let’s cut our pizza like a pie chart of how long the Greeks, the Romans, and the United States claimed themselves to be the world’s superpower… but before we do, which piece of pie would you want?”

(3) Make something better. This assignment has a million permutations, but in general, the idea is that no project is complete. Ever. That essay on Mankind’s civilizing impulse as illustrated by T. C. Boyle’s “Jubilation” and The Epic of Gilgamesh? Find another story/song/picture that completes the triptych. That mimicry of Thoreau you wrote? Make it a satire. Your Dadaist treehouse? Work it!

I oppose the Bennett/Kalish movement for two reasons, neither one of which is as radical as you might think. First, the teachers I know are pro-intellectual, anti-NCLB educators for whom standardized testing is a non-issue. They do not give test prep homework because they teach far beyond a standardized test’s parameters. Maybe that isn’t true elsewhere, but it ought to be, and I assume it is only Bennett’s cultural superiority complex that keeps her from waging that war. Second, I oppose any political group dictating curriculum and pedagogy to teachers. By joining their crusade, Mr Doctorow, you cast a very wide net of officious legislating that (seriously!) seems very out of character for someone who tends to champion intellectual freedom. For you to decide what I may teach seems unnecessarily autocratic. And egomaniacal.

I teach in a public school. If I am hired by my community to teach its students, then I will teach them according to my lights, which the community better have investigated and determined to be bright and beneficent. If my lights are dim – and here I’d entreat you to break ranks with the company you’ve chosen and resist the tenure argument – if they prove too dim to teach, then freaking fire me. Yes, it can be done, and no union will support a dumb teacher.

Please reconsider. I don’t care what you do – become a teacher, campaign for higher wages for teachers, assert that Capital has no authority over children, whatev – but please don’t unthinkingly wage war on teachers. There are a million things wrong with education, starting obviously with heavy-handed micromanagement from unfunded mandates like NCLB. These Republican tactics sound good to simple-minded fokes, but don’t be one of them.

Sincerely,
Chandler Lewis
Suffern, New York


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    My name is Alvin Ashcraft. I am a geek, daddy and husband. I have 12 years of software development experience in the healthcare and manufacturing industries using Microsoft technologies.
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