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I watch as my 8-year-old pushes through the front door ahead of me, tosses his coat to the right, somewhere in the direction of the coat hooks lined along the entryway, kicks off his shoes slightly further down the line, and grabs the thick sixth book of Harry Potter, which he is devouring in record time, for the fourth time.
This is not a new way of thinking by any means; in the mid-1960s, the American Educational Research Association stated: “Whenever homework crowds out social experience, outdoor recreation, and creative activities, and whenever it usurps time that should be devoted to sleep, it is not meeting the basic needs of children and adolescents.” So why are we moving backwards, assigning more homework instead of less, or none at all?
Much of the push for homework comes from a mistrust of children’s innate need to learn.
At first, he eagerly tackled the work: the coloring pages, the sight words, the beginning math in the form of counting and circling things in different colors.
But then as the weeks wore on, he started to dread the work.
In fact, more recent studies, such as those conducted by Sandra L. Sandberg (Journal of Marriage and Family, 2001) show that time commitment to homework was “not associated with higher or lower test scores on any [achievement] tests.” Rather, the amount of time children spend reading for pleasure was strongly correlated with higher test scores.
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If, as Kohn revealed from such studies, there is no academic benefit to homework, why do some still argue its importance?
The startling trend, despite research showing that homework for elementary students is not an effective predictor of academic success (and on the contrary, contributes to more negative attitudes towards school in general), is that the age at which homework is being assigned has dropped lower and lower over the past 30 years.
School districts that used to hold off on assigning homework until the third grade are now piling it on to kindergartners on a regular basis.
Perhaps what we mean here is “conformity” rather than responsibility, as in this sense, we are speaking of a child’s willingness or acceptance of what she has been told to do.
True independence and responsibility (including greater academic self-confidence) comes when a child is given a greater sense of autonomy, which is, not surprisingly, associated with more successful learning.