Please allow me to introduce you to my new heroes, Jessica McCrory Calarco, Ilana Horn and Grace Chen. I don’t know them personally and they don’t know me, and if they did, I’m sure they wouldn’t admit it.
But they have authored a new paper reinforcing what I have known since my days in elementary school: Homework is a bad, stupid, unproductive, moronic, evil, waste of everyone’s time.
The scholars didn’t put it exactly this way in their paper, but I could tell that’s what they were thinking.
No, these professors say homework promotes “the idea that people who are responsible, motivated and hard working will be successful, regardless of the challenges they face. Drawing on this myth, teachers treat inequalities in students’ homework as the product of students’ (and, particularly in earlier grade levels, parents’) responsibility, effort and motivation.”
So if you have elite, white parents who care so much for your future that they are willing to do the homework for you; or if you have two parents at home who are not working multiple jobs to make ends meet and have time to devote to your education; or if you have by-the-book parents who set aside two hours every evening for you to do your homework in a quiet room with proper lighting and the right number of potted plants — if any of those conditions apply, your education and your life will be a glorious success.
This, in turn, widens the divide between families that are already wealthy and successful and those who aren’t.
That’s fine and all, and if falling back on “social issues” is what it takes to wipe the scourge of homework from our existence I am all for it.
I hated homework on a much more fundamental and visceral level, in that it interfered with what I wanted to do — “what I wanted to do” being defined as “anything but homework.”
I was 11 years old, mind you, and I saw homework as a social justice issue. It was not in any radical sense, but was in the belief that school was for school and home was for home and homework was an unconstitutional taking of my free time.
I honestly believed this, and even though I didn’t know the words “civil disobedience,” my virtual refusal to do any schoolwork at home was based not on inability but on the righteous indignation that actually came to define my later career.
Or it could have been laziness, who knows?
Where were my parents all this time? Befuddled, that’s where. Breathy new pedantic theories such as phonics and New Math were impenetrable to parents, who would stare at textbook pages in the acknowledgement that the words were in English, but left to wonder why they didn’t make any sense.
Looking back at the state of American public education in 1970, it’s really a miracle that I can read.
Worse, in 1957 the Soviets launched the world’s first artificial satellite, and that panicked American politicians, scientists and educators who felt children were falling behind the rest of the world in terms of knowledge. This spawned the birth of New Math, which said it wasn’t enough to know that 9x9 = 81, you have to know why 9x9 = 81.
We descended into a world of sets and subsets and solving problems in Base 5, and if you asked math teachers a question they would get this wild look in their eyes before they said, “I’m glad to see you’re thinking,” before sending you out to dust the erasers.
They doubled down on homework so they wouldn’t have to face these questions, which lasted only until frustrated parents rebelled, and by 1975 New Math was a dead moldering corpse.
It was too late for me, but I like to think my anti-homework agenda helped save future generations — and if I can’t add because of it, that’s a small price to pay.