Friday, November 12, 2010

The case against homework

This is from an 1860 edition of Scientific American:
Against Homework, Scientific American: A child who has been boxed up six hours in school might spend the next four hours in study, but it is impossible to develop the child’s intellect in this way. The laws of nature are inexorable. By dint of great and painful labor, the child may succeed in repeating a lot of words, like a parrot, but, with the power of its brain all exhausted, it is out of the question for it to really master and comprehend its lessons. The effect of the system is to enfeeble the intellect even more than the body. We never see a little girl staggering home under a load of books, or knitting her brow over them at eight o’clock in the evening, without wondering that our citizens do not arm themselves at once with carving knives, pokers, clubs, paving stones or any weapons at hand, and chase out the managers of our common schools, as they would wild beasts that were devouring their children.


  1. Hi Joe, Just found this post and your blog via Twitter. I'll be a regular reader. Needless to say I'm not a big fan of homework. My son in in kindergarden and already has it. Anyway, thanks for writing.

  2. I am constantly amazed at the people who believe homework reflects adult work patterns. Adults work overtime and meet at all hours of the day for work. Only some professions carry work into their homes to complete. Most parents believe homework is necessary for learning and this is infrequently the case.

  3. Or that "it will get them ready for college."

  4. Independent projects are great homework when the kids have a goal and have to manage their time to accomplish it. Repetition of what they discussed in the classroom is of questionable value.

  5. According to my teachers "repetition/practice makes perfect" and it's necassary to go over things again and again so that you will understand it. Then is the often used answer to "Why are we doing this?" which is either "To help you get a good job later" or "To help prepare you for middleschool/highschool/college"

    I think it's often that the reason to be going through school is something other than learning. Hell sometimes it's "because you have to" or "That's how it works."

  6. Fascinating! "By dint of great and painful labor, the child may succeed in repeating a lot of words, like a parrot, but, with the power of its brain all exhausted..." And, I'd like to add that students then promptly forget most of what they learned to repeat like a parrot. As Sam says above, "...going through school is something other than learning" (at least at the majority of schools).

    The sad thing is that these kids end up as our CEOs, managers, decision makers and leaders. It is no wonder that they then "lead" with this same experience and intent in mind - what else can we expect, they don't know anything else!

    Speaking of older publications, I just read _Educating the Child at Home_ by Ella Francis Lynch, publication date 1914. I couldn't believe how many statements she made that sound just like the school system today. While I will admit that education *overall* has made great strides in many *general* ways, when comparing her descriptions and criticisms with what is said about today's schools made me wonder if we've really made any real changes at all or have we just been going back and forth between the same methodologies over and over again? Unfortunately, I think it problem is so big that the latter has been the shortsighted approach to it all.

  7. In elementary school we only had homework of the investigative type. "Ask your parents the full names of your grandparents -- see how far back in the generations you can go -- what countries were they from? do they know the cities?" ... things like this.

    Or reading, reading amusing books, things like this; in middle school there were independent projects that were interesting; there was homework in high school, papers to write, mathematical proofs to do, reading.


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