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Let’s ban elementary homework (salon.com)
515 points by umpaloop on Mar 8, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 297 comments



The following is purely psychological armchair theorizing. I think that homework is part of a larger problem where the modern education system slams into children's brains that their time is worthless. Most elementary, middle, and high school homework is simply busywork. The very existence of the word busywork is telling. It's not just the wasted time that isn't valuable: it's the implicit message to a child that the best thing they can do is find something mind-numbing and pointless to do and just keep quiet.

You see this in lots of "nice" activities that kids do, which are actually just time sinks that they are pressured or cajoled into. The most prominent example is playing instruments. Like half of kids learn to play an instrument at some point, but hardly any of them keep up with it when they are adults. Some people lament this as though it were some loss of innocence, but if playing an instrument was really a good use of time for most people, adults would do it, and kids would do it willingly. After 18 or more years of this sort of thing, I think it really sinks in that your time is basically worthless, and that it's not worth carefully considering how you spend it.

Of course, the opposite is true. Your time is the most precious, and in fact the only, resource that you have. You should guard it jealously, and only spend it on worthwhile things.


Do you have kids in school? Because I do, in a highly valued school district (all 3 elementary schools in the top 20 in CA).

In this district it's two things:

1. Parents freak out when their kids don't have a lot of homework. How do I know? One teacher told me they got complaints if they assigned too little homework, and complaints = being fired.

2. Fear of not being good enough to complete in the rat race. This is on the part of parents and it drives #1.

I had long discussions with the principal of my son's middle school and I could tell he was completely powerless to make any changes. His job was to listen to me and make me feel heard. Problem was, I wanted action. I made my son update a spreadsheet, daily, of his homework per class. Estimated time to finish and actual time. It was a lot of data and when I delivered it to the principal he was a little speechless. He said he'd get back to me.

Btw, the spreadsheet proved one thing: the official amount of homework per day was complete bullshit. Officially it was 1.5 hours. In reality it was 3-4.

Weeks later I saw him at a school concert. He looked annoyed. He thanked me and said it was a "big help" and I could tell he thought he had more power than he did. He probably showed it to the superintendent of the district and they laid down the law. I never heard another word.

The problem is institutional, massively reinforced by the parents.

So we could ask, why are parents like this? One I touched on. The other is fear of what their kids will get into if they have free time away from home. I shit you not, I never see kids out and about in my city. On weekends, a little. During the week, never. Kids don't have free time (here) anymore. They have school. Some have sports and activities. The rest is eating and sleeping.

It is complete craziness and I hate it and I feel terrible for my kid, but I can't afford private school and we're locked into this until he's out of this particular system.


Thanks for taking the time to post.

However, we live in an area (Berkeley) where yes, kids have homework, but every single day of the week, after school, all the kids on the street are running up and down, riding bikes, playing wall-all, shooting hoops, and running in and out of eachothers' homes.

In the evening, right when it gets dark, you see parents walking around or calling out their front door to ask the kids to come home. My son now carries a walkie-talkie with him and we signal to him to come home.

Your experience is likely a function of your environment. Our neighborhood school is definitely not a top 20 CA school--or even a top 100 or 250 school. But, our kids are happy (except when they have to come in for the night!) and in turn, so are we.


That's the way it should be. I'm happy for the kids in your district. It's ironic, we moved from Berkeley to our current location because of the schools. My wife went to Berkeley High and I used to work a couple of blocks from it. I had a lot of relatives that went there. I really didn't want my kid to go there. Perhaps that was a mistake. I really don't know.


It could just be self-selection at work. Highly-ranked schools might attract the kind of parents who want that kind of pressure.


>after school, all the kids on the street are running up and down, riding bikes, playing wall-all, shooting hoops, and running in and out of eachothers' homes.

Any parent who doesn't actively want that for their children over sitting at home struggling with homework is clearly mad.

I really hope that eventually we come out of the other side of this obsession that children being forced to do large quantities of work that is joyless is a good thing. It is embedding all the worst associations between learning and enjoyment.


Agreed, but on the other hand, if the world is going to be a complete economic free trade zone where literally every possible task is outsourced to the lowest bidder, I worry greatly about what my child is going to do. Will she be able to compete against kids from other countries (and we shouldn't forget robots) if she isn't doing 2 hours of extra homework every night?

I'll be honest, I find some of Trump's protectionist promises very alluring, and they don't really seem all that unrealistic to me, at all. (Before you jump to your keyboard, yes, I'm well aware of the negative aspects of his personality.)


> I worry greatly about what my child is going to do. Will she be able to compete against kids from other countries (and we shouldn't forget robots) if she isn't doing 2 hours of extra homework every night?

On the other hand, is that extra 2 hours actually valuable? Or at the very least, more valuable than 2 hours of physical activity and enjoyment that may lead your child to enjoy school more and get further later in life? The data presented in the article seem to agree with the latter.


Hours of homework is generally a ridiculously low value activity. The main problems is it's pre-focus. Memorizing history, trig identities, writing essays, memorizing names for bones, etc are all 'useful' things, but not everyone benefits from all of them.

PS: It's common for most states to have 'state' history as a subject. Sure, you can force kids to memorize such things, but it's generally a complete waste of time.


Except that the article just said in plain language, no, it doesn't. Having knowledge rammed down your proverbial throat doesn't make you intelligent any more than inheriting a ton of money and managing to not lose ALL of it doesn't make you a good businessman.


But in a global economy, who cares about being intelligent or being good at anything unless you already also inherit? Inheritance is the best way forward to economic success, and failing that companies are primarily interested in obedience. In a globalized hypercapitalist free-trade economy you compete with other potential workers for jobs based on how willing you are to be exploited and abused, not how intelligent/competent you are -- in this context I think soul-crushing busywork is exactly what students need to prepare them for what's to come.


If every company were Amazon sure, but they aren't. There are tons of companies out there looking for passionate people who actually give a fuck about what they're building, not just looking to earn a paycheck. Yes there are plenty of profit centers willing to sell you out to the lowest bidder but that's far from the entire professional landscape.

Either that or you live/work in a really awful area.


Sure there are. For now. Amazon et al are acquiring them one by one.

A market economy is a massive optimization process; an extraordinarily useful tool that we, the people, can deploy to achieve our goals. Forget this for too long, convince yourself that the market is inherently superior to human ethics, and it starts optimizing us for things we don't care about, or things that actively hurt us, expanding to fill the regulatory container we built for it. Then it starts to try and exert force to reshape that container.

Market fundamentalists that came into vogue in the US around 40-50 years ago have thoroughly destroyed progress in many areas of human development for the people of this country. "But they're not all like that" actively serves their interests by asserting that it's not quirks of the system we've crafted creating these incentives, it's simply a chance occurrence at a single company.


Is 2 hours of homework the only way to learn? Does learning have to be unenjoyable? Can making learning enjoyable be a competitive advantage in and of itself?


It doesn't say homeworks can't be joyful either. It is rather a mindset to teach kids love to learn and show the interesting and long-term benefits.


In my experience, most Asian* parents do not want that for their kids. (*by that I mean Asian culture Asians, not American culture Asians)


I read stories like yours and I know they are true. Then I think of where I went to high school, where kids set off fireworks in the hallways and we were so routinely interrupted by fire alarms that they eventually removed the pull boxes. Too much homework? Ha.

There is a startlingly huge gulf between the schools were the worry is "too much homework" and the schools were many children can barely read. I think the too much homework problem is legitimate...it's just amazing to me those schools and my schools can exist in the same country, in some cases just miles from each other. I think if my kid winds up with too much homework I will mostly be grateful that she is not spending instructional time outside waiting for the firemen to amble inside after another alarm.


But how does homework affect whether students are roaming the halls during class time? That makes little sense.

I am in my late 20's. I remember homework. I was super excited about school when I started High School. I was in the GT program, I was doing my homework like a good boy. But when I started HS and the homework was piled on, I burnt out. I was spending 3-4 hours a DAY working on homework. I hated it.

By sophomore year, I had enough. I stopped doing HW. I went from an A+ student to a B/C student, but I had fun. I aced every test. I participated in class. I talked to the teachers about things after class/school. I even stuck around some classes after school and helped other students with their homework. I refused to do my own hw.

I went home and got into electronics. Picked up programming. Studied physics on my own. It taught me something, it taught me that I can teach myself. That I can learn on my own.

I understand that not everyone has the motivation to do so, but that is part of the fundamental problem. There are so many students in schools today that don't want to be there. I remember some of the worst trouble makers would disappear the day after they turned 16 and could legally drop out.

I was in a tech based magnet program within my HS, and everyone in the program WANTED to be there. That made the world of difference. We rarely had outbreaks in the tech hall, rarely had troublesome students in the tech-only classes (usually math, upper level comp/lit, sciences, etc). These people wanted to be there and wouldn't interrupt others. But the amount of homework assigned isn't going to make a difference to those who don't give a rat's ass about being there in the first place.


My school spent too much time on barely functioning students to have any concern about assigning too much homework. Your school and mine were in different strata. And the people with children in schools in that stratum cannot even fathom what the bottom stratum is like.


But aren't both problem symptoms of the same core issue? the standardized model of education fails every one.

I think in the near future each teacher will have at most 7 students... and each student will get personalized attention?

Those teacher will come out of all the jobs that robots will disappear in manufacturing.


And then the issues of facilities costs, and teacher funding.


If the school forces too much homework or useless subjects on children, conscious parents can respond by being more lax and accepting less than perfection from their kids. In this system (school-child-parent-exam), the parent is the only flexible link. As parents we don't have to be hard on kids that don't want to do homework or don't to great on some subjects.

My own life experience tell me that success in elementary school does not equate with success in life. In fact even high-school and sometimes college are almost irrelevant to the kinds of tasks people have to solve once they get hired. It's more important to be creative, curious and passioned about something.


It helps that grades don't really matter in elementary school. Parents can allow their kids to slide by with the minimum grade without much of a consequence.

The risk here is that kids might end up considered "less intelligent" or that they might start considering themselves to be C students. This risk would have to be counteracted by the parents discussing their plans with the teachers ahead of time and explaining why they're encouraging their kid to slack off, and parents would have to find other ways to boost their kids self confidence and love of knowledge.


I'm curious... in elementary/middle school, what would the consequences be to instruct your kid to not do homework? Is homework a big enough part of their grade to prevent them from passing?


It depended on my teachers. I can only think of a couple classes where it was a major part of my grade from third grade on. I distinctly remember not going on field trips because I wouldn't have enough homework stickers on boards when I was in grade school. I only completed homework that I could do before I left school, and I never took anything home. I did this through college, including writing papers, speeches, etc in non-demanding times of each class. I went to a catholic school, so things like theology, art appreciation, and history could be memorized at the beginning of the year, and then you had those lectures to handle various science, math, and english homework. I never really minded doing math problems or completing worksheets (it was always fun to see how fast I could complete them, and I was always proud of being the first to finish on worksheets or tests throughout school), but I loathed the idea of spending any time outside of school working on school stuff. I finished middle school with an 87 average and high school with an 85 weighted average.

This really fucked me in college. I never learned how to study, just how to memorize things from a quick read and complete the minimum to pass a class. When I went into an engineering college, this fell apart around the fourth semester, as I was getting slower and slower during tests. Since I didn't study and homework wasn't mandatory to pass (or so I thought), I never really learned material until I saw it on a test. I learned a lot on tests (and I like working under pressure), but as the difficulty of the material increased, I wasn't able to teach myself at test time. This devolved quickly, and I left college.

tldr; homework's portion of your grade doesn't matter. Learning the habit to set aside time to work outside of what may appear to be required is the real skill. If you choose to encourage skipping homework, please impart this habit in some other way. It is not obvious to each individual, no matter how quickly they might grasp certain subjects.


In high school, this was roughly my experience as well.

I did some homework during the school day, generally at the expense of listening to the teacher lecture. Or, I jammed in some last-minute homework over lunch (half-assed effort simply to get credit for having attempted something).

It didn't impact my grades much. I was an A/B student, probably could have been straight-A if I wanted to be, but preferred playing sports, or just being a kid/teenager.

I had enough honors/AP course-work and extra-curricular activities to make up for slightly less-than-stellar grades. I ended up at the top public university in my state, alongside many of the straight-A students. Could I have gone to Harvard or Stanford with better grades? Maybe. But I probably would have gone to UVA regardless because of cost.


I feel I had a similar experience. I always did all my homework, but up through to highschool I was always very fast at it, to the the point where I was probably quite annoying because I never understood why people spent so much time studying. I never revised much for tests, and then had people noticeably sigh when I inevitably would leave 1-2 hours into 5 hours tests, feeling certain I'd get near top marks.

I learned everything I was meant to except for one: I never learned to be disciplined about work and how to study efficiently.

When I started university, my CS classes were fine because that was stuff I did for fun and had done since childhood, but my electives, like maths etc. suddenly took 10x the amount of effort I was used to putting in.

In retrospect I wish I'd been pushed to do more work. Not necessarily harder, but more.

I'm not saying I wish I'd spent all my time on homework, but getting used to actually having to work for things earlier would have made the transition a lot easier.


The "homework" trend in my district that I abhor is the "reading log" requiring a certain number of minutes reading per night. My son loves to read when the mood strikes and might read for two or three hours straight. Other times he wants nothing to do with a book and will focus on some other activity instead. Scheduled reading saps the joy from the experience.

Each time it comes up, I start with ignoring the log altogether. If the teacher is paying attention he or she quickly realizes that my son is a strong reader and doesn't need the log. If the teacher insists, then we just make something up, write it down and move on.

I'm not sure what lesson my son is learning from this, but I'm sure it's not what the school is hoping for.


Your son is learning how to pick battles that are worth fighting and how to deal with irrationally difficult people.


Compulsory reading in school is the top reason I seldom read a book in my spare time, even all these years later.


Could you explain how? What are the other reasons?


In high school I did near 0 homework. I ended up with a 69 average which rounded up to a 70 allowing me to graduate. I ranked in the bottom 20 students in a class size of around 450 students.

I was a few questions away from a perfect score on my SAT and had an app with over 2 million users so I still got into a good college. So it is doable and I would still encourage others to refuse to do homework.


This is such a risky game to play. Yes, I took a similar approach to HS with similar results. But I remember competing with another student to see who could do the best in a class without opening their book. I passed. I didn't do as well as I could have, but I passed. He wasn't so fortunate. By the time he accepted that he was behind, it was too late for him to save his grade. What I'm saying is, students should be taught which homework to do, not to just to skip it.


Getting a bad grade doesn't sound nearly as big of a risk as wasting one's childhood and adolescence.


Except in large American suburbs, college admissions has become so competitive that you need a near-perfect GPA (along with decent extra-curricular activities) to get accepted to the decent state schools.

This wasn't the case 15-20 years ago. When I started college (1995), good (but not perfect) grades, with a compelling life-story, were good enough. These days, there are simply too many students applying to college - the bar is much higher, even for schools that were previously considered fall-backs (JMU, GMU, VCU in my state).


This presumes college is the goal or that graduating college is actually important. Also, what does getting into a "good college" actually provide (in terms of education--forget social networking for a moment) above and beyond a "mediocre college"?

Everyone would have us believe that "an education is what you make of it" yet the foundation of our society is apparently the opposite: The education is what makes you.


I don't disagree, but as long as getting into a good college is deemed important (rightly or wrongly), getting bad grades is risky.


'Wasting' in the eye of the beholder.


I don't know about elementary school, in middle school it would mean failing and having to redo the grade.

EDIT: and I forgot to mention, I'm just one half of his parents. The other half doesn't believe what I believe. I am in the vast minority in my city.


Where I grew up, it was policy to unconditionally promote everyone through the 4th grade, and after that to start holding back failing kids.

For late elementary and junior high, I don't remember whether or not homework was a large enough part of the grade to fail you if you took a 0 on all of it. In high school, I think homework was a small portion... something like 10-20% of the grade. So you could blow off homework if you aced everything else. You had to get at least a 70 average to pass (we didn't do D grades), so if homework was 20% then you had to get at least an 88 average on everything else in order to pass the class. And I think I have vague memories of homework being 30% in some of my high school classes, which means you'd have to perfectly ace everything if you wanted to take a 0 on all your homework.

And there could be consequences for extracurriculars if you were taking low grades in your classes. I remember that in junior high, you could only go to the school dances if you had at least in 80 in all your classes, and in high school, if you were failing even one class you couldn't participate in any school sports.


"holding back failing kids"

Worth pondering this phrasing, I think.


Have you looked into unschooling/homeschooling? If you can't afford an alternative with cash, you might be able to afford it with time.


Coming from Europe I've never understood how home schooling works. Isn't the elementary education mandatory with a prescribed curriculum? Do parents who wish to home school their children have to prove that they are capable of mastering all the necessary subjects have solid pedagogical skills? Also, how is the time tracked? Are there any standardised (or at least independent) tests conducted at reasonable rate? (E.g.: does the kid have to go to school for a test every three months or so?)


Elementary education is mandatory, but the curriculum is only mandated for public schools. The rules vary from state to state, but here they are for California:

1. File an annual private school affidavit. 2. Maintain an attendance register. 3. Instruction must be in English. 4. Instructors must be capable of teaching. 5. Provide instruction in the courses commonly taught in the public schools (e.g., language arts, math, science, social studies, health, and driver training). 6. Maintain immunization records or personal beliefs exemption. 7. Maintain a list of courses of study. 8. Maintain a list of instructors with their addresses and qualifications.

This is MINIMALLY enforced. If the parent has a teaching credential, the rules are even more lax "The child must be taught for at least three hours a day, between 8:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m., for 175 days each school year in the several branches of study required to be taught by the public schools and in the English language."[1]

On a related side notes, private schools also do not have to follow the curriculum set for public schools. There are even some public schools that are exempted from parts of the mandatory curriculum (charters).

1. http://www.hslda.org/hs101/CA.aspx


Wow - check out my summary of the UK home schooling process to the OP you responded to. Our approach is much more laissez faire than the US arrangement. Interesting.


Each state has their own requirements. In some states, it is very burdensome to meet the requiremsnts. In others, anything goes. In Cal, we had no problems doing as we liked.


Hey, I can answer your questions here.

I've looked in to this for my two year old son in the UK because I'm unhappy with a number of the principles and policies of the education system here. Not least of which the religious leaning that many local schools have. I'm not happy for my son to be taught there's a "God" from such a young age. Anyway...

Over 50,000 children are home schooled in the UK and apparently this figure is on the up each year. The laws vary slightly between England/Wales and Scotland so I'll focus on England as that's where I'm based.

If you want to home school your kid you need to adhere to one simple rule. You must give your child a "suitable education". There's actually case law and precedents set here, and the case law cites that home schooling should be sufficient to: "prepare the children for life in modern civilised society, and to enable them to achieve their full potential."

This is clearly a broad statement, and intentionally so. This means that home schooling parents do not need to adhere to the curriculum taught in schools, nor do their children need to sit the exams that their school taught counterparts will undertake.

Parents do not have to prove that they have the necessary skills to provide this education. Local authorities can request informal visits to home schooled children (but that's unlikely given how under resourced they are). A local authority could take steps to force a kid back in to school but they would have to be very unsatisfied with the level of home schooling.

Time isn't tracked. It's not about the amount of time you spend teaching your kid, it's about providing a suitable education - whatever that means. The kid doesn't have to take a school test...ever!

Given the research I've undertaken to date if I do decide to home school I would almost certainly join forces with a local group of home schoolers who tend to meet up once a week and compare notes whilst taking their spawn on day trips. I think it's healthy for kids to have a network of peers regardless of whether they're in school, and it's somewhat healthy to compare your child's progress with that of others.

I would educate my kid in a way that he would be capable of taking and passing the exams all school taught kids take in secondary school when they're 15/16. Reason being that if he decides to go to college and/or university he'll have the same qualifications as everybody else.

I think more than the decision to home school or not is the obligation parents have to ensure that they don't simply throw their children in to education without performing appropriate due diligence. Too many parents I know see schools as free childcare and justify their decision to pick a state school on the basis that "it's the law". Parents have a number of choices in how to educate their kids and blindly selecting the wrong path can lead to disastrous results.


I actually was home schooled for a couple of years (back in the 80s), which involved a fairly minimal amount of work as I'd already learnt to read and was naturally studious. I know a family who are currently homeschooling.

It's very liberal, practically libertarian. And I think sadly the reason it's been allowed to continue like this where other countries have cracked down is that the UK does not have much of a tradition of taking your kid out of school for crackpot religious or political reasons. Maybe it will start to become a problem (qv the Scottish "named persons" scheme kerfuffle).

I see CofE religious education as harmlessly ineffective, possibly even an effective vaccine against getting religion in later life.


I can confirm this. I grew up on forested property in the Canadian shield with my two brothers being unschooled. For my parents, both of them hated school and hated being told what to do (mostly slow down you are making the other kids feel badly) so they just let us do whatever we wanted. We are in the Libertarian/pro liberty camp and my parents empowered us to do what we want since birth.

I had far more fun than my peers, learned how to allocate my time and learned about various fields of study. We formed a community with other local unschoolers/homeschoolers. I went to school from age 12-16 and found it to be soul draining. It is the only period of my life I spent unhappy and disengaged. It was too slow, provided useless information and generally made people regress.

I am planning to unschool my children. All of the scare tactics around socialization are so inaccurate. I just did what I wanted, which included team sports, and found myself in leadership roles often. Read John Holt if you want to better understand how detrimental school is to actual creative development. All four of my grandparents were educators of some kind and if not for that exposure my parents would never have had first hand experience with the detriment school has on developing young people


I am in the UK and was quite worried about the compulsory religious education (and it was a bit demoralising that when I asked about it at the open day, they assumed that I wanted lots of religious education and were gushing about how much they did!). However, so far it seems to have actually turned my five year old into a staunch atheist because the bible stories seem so implausible to him. Of course children and schools vary and there are plenty of other reasons to home educate, but so far my fears have been proved groundless in that respect.


I'm also in the UK, and in a similar situation it sounds. I'm atheist, and I'm really quite happy with how my sons school approached religious studies. They covered all the major world religions, and started with hinduism (there are very few hindus at his school, but rather sizeable groups of both christians and muslims - I have a feeling they explicitly chose hinduism to prevent any claims of favouritism).

So when they started learning about religions, my son came home and excitedly told us about Ganesh and Shiva.

But at the end of the entire round, at some point he told me unprompted "I don't believe in god, but I won't tell the other kids, just like with the Tooth Fairy or Santa" (we'd given him strict admonitions when he realised they weren't real to not "correct" the other kids if they come up because some of them might get upset).

Kids spend a lot of time around this age coming to terms with things they believe turning out to be false, and learning to discern them, so in general I think that unless they have a lot of adults actively ganging up and strongly reinforcing something, chances are very good they'll come out not believing.

In fact, I spent more time with my son reassuring him that various real-life things that seems unbelievable to him are actually true (first and foremost, he finds it incredibly hard to believe YouTube didn't exist when I was a kid... I might as well have claimed I had a pet dinosaur growing up; coming to terms with whether or not God is real is apparently far easier than accepting that there was life before YouTube)


"... whilst taking their spawn on day trips."

Awesome. Please, oh please call your kids as minions or henchmen/women" when next talking with them. :D


Homeschooling exists in Europe, at least in France.


Does it? I did not know that. I am currently living in France but I had passed my childhood in the east. Do you know what are the conditions or do you have experience with it?


Both the wife and I work. Even so, I believe the social aspect of school is very, very important. I wouldn't want to take that away from my son.


School is an extraordinarily unnatural social environment in which kids are thrown into a competitive environment with others that are nearly the exact same age. It works for some kids. Others get bullied. Others get anxious.

Homeschooled children don't have to be socially isolated. Some areas have many groups of various sorts and some children opt to take electives at schools (gym, music, art) or get involved in various after school activities. A lot depends on the area you live in.


There is little to no bullying at my son's school. However, in size he's around 97 percentile, so he wouldn't really be a candidate for bullying.

He genuinely seems to like the social aspects of school.

Anyway, homeschooling isn't an option for us. I have a demanding tech job and my wife works and is otherwise unsuited for managing homeschooling.


I was only commenting on the "social is important" aspect, because it's a common misconception that homeschooling has to mean socially isolated. I think that homeschooling isn't a good fit for a great many families today and that's fine.


I have two children in school.

They attend a charter school. We live in the same school district that I attended as a child. The local schools are decent but the charter school is getting some fantastic results. These schools are taking children from low performing, impoverished areas and getting test scores that rival(or equal) test scores from affluent areas.

One of my children usually finishes her homework before she leaves school and the teacher gives her "Extra credit" work to keep her from getting bored.

The other one needs several hours after school to finish her homework. She has a low threshold for frustration and takes several breaks as she works on the homework. As her father, I can say that she needs the work in order to learn the material.

I guess that the optimal load varies wildly from child to child and unfortunately, schools don't have the ability to adjust the workload individually and still provide objective evaluations of their performance.


Perhaps the answer is that the homework is set but it's not compulsory, so it isn't marked or graded, and there's no punishment for failing to hand it in. Pushy parents can then enforce that their child completes it but more laid back parents can let their children do other things instead.


That won't work, because "pushy" parents are pushing children to do ever more homework because it's graded. In my experience, many parents think little about actual, real knowledge and skill. They instead care greatly about appearances and marks... Probably because it's easier to optimize for?


So I have 2 kids in one school, and 3 step kids in another. Both are private, both seem to emphasize the homework/responsibility as a sign of their "excellence". At first I agreed. Now I realize its a drain. A typical day after school involves cajoling an already tired kid(it takes about 30 minutes to drive to either school so they wake up earlier than most kids) that just wants a break into doing homework so that they can go do after school activities. Kids end up having a busier day than the adults, which to me, seems horribly wrong. There are a few options, limit after school sports(which also seems to have gone off the deep end in terms of the amount of work they want the kids to do, but that is another rant...) or put them back in public schools. However, in our local district, it doesn't really have that much less homework that we can tell, but it does have about twice the student-teacher ratio. I don't know that there is a great answer, but I think that maybe everyone should stop and take a deep breath and re-assess this mess.


As far as I can tell, the best thing is to try to change the hearts and minds of the people around you. I don't have kids yet, and I'm not particularly optimistic that any of my friends, family, or community who will have kids at a similar time as me will agree with me about these sorts of things, but I plan to advocate for my perspective nonetheless!


I agree. I have tried. I've bent the ear of many parents. Most just don't care. They moved to this school district because of the good schools, which in their eyes means lots of homework.


More generalizing: I have found that Generation X parents are absolutely awful.

I'm not sure why, but they are terrible at creating happy, healthy, and intelligent children.

Your post adds more fuel to my inner argument.


Isn't it far too early to tell? The only Gen X parents whose kids have reached adulthood would be those that had them very young, which isn't a great indicator to start with.


The oldest GenX'ers are in their 50s. They can be grandparents without having had kids "very young".


Strauss & Howe generational theory talks about this.

Basically, it's a vicious cycle. Generation X is of the "Nomad" archetype, and the current generation of kids, along with the Silent Generation, are of the "Artist" archetype. "Nomad" parents have "Artist" kids who grow up to become parents of "Nomad" kids, and so on...

(a break here: Silents are born 1925-1942, Xers are born 1961-1981, and the current generation of kids -- which I don't think has a well-accepted name yet -- are born 2005 to present)

"Artist" kids are raised by strict parents who expect the world of them -- punished for even the most minor transgressions but never praised for doing the right thing, they grow up repressed, and eventually hit a mid-life crisis where they finally snap and seek self-fulfillment late in life... typically after they've had kids. The kids, who are of "Nomad" generations, grow up being forced to take care of themselves because their parents are either a) off finding themselves and neglecting the kids and/or b) determined not to repeat their parents' mistakes and give the kids a little too much free rein. As such, "Nomad" kids become hard-edged, self-reliant cynics. When they grow up, however, they decide that unlike their parents, they're going to properly settle down and give their kids the structure they never had, and so they set high expectations and micromanage their kids' lives. These kids, of an "Artist" generation grow up horribly repressed, and in adulthood snap and finally seek the self-fulfillment they were denied in youth...

The short version: "Artists" grow up with too much structure, try to make up for it later in life and end up raising "Nomad" kids with too little structure, who then try to make up for it later in life and end up raising "Artist" kids with too much structure, and so on...

It's a really interesting theory, and the cycles of how different generations raise their kids is pretty core to the generational archetypes that drive the theory.

(and if you're interested, there are two other archetypes: the "Prophet" archetype exemplified by the Baby Boomers, and the "Hero" archetype exemplified by the GI Generation and the Millennials)

(and little personal anecdote here: I'm a Millennial child of a Silent father and a Boomer mother. This describes my dad's life to a T. He had a pretty repressed youth, he's acted like an immature troll for my entire life and he's only gotten more immature in his old age, he ended up leaving my mom when I was 6, my mom frequently describes him as "selfish" and "unthinking" -- and I'll add "scatterbrained" to the list -- and he spent the last 25 years flitting around from lifestyle to lifestyle, ending up spending several years as a cab driver in Vegas)


WOW, I had never heard this from anyone else, but it's very similar (without the labels) to the theory I've had in my head for many years.

Thanks so much. I'm gonna look into this more now!


This was a phenomenal post, and I too will read more. Thanks for the great reply.


What's the punishment for just not doing the homework?


Typically failing the course, homework was 30% of your entire grade at my middle and high school.


Oh, interesting. We seldom had homework count towards grades when I went to school in Germany.

Though 30% seems still pretty doable. I assume you need 50% total not to fail? You could get by without, (or more realistically by concentrating on doing a few pieces of homework with a high percent / effort ratio).


Yes, that seems to be a mainly US thing, I've never seen it in the UK. GCSE (13-16) 'coursework' was 20-30% of the final mark, but that was completely separate from homework and only done in the last year or two.


You need a 70 to pass with a C, so if homework is 30% of your grade then you have to do absolutely perfect everywhere else to just barely pass the class.

Scoring levels: 100-94: A 93-85: B 84-70: C 65-69: D 64-0: E

D is generally considered unsatisfactory, although you might be able to get away with 1 or 2 here or there.


> D is generally considered unsatisfactory, [...]

In what sense? I mean, what happens if you get too many Ds? (Or even Fs?)


You have to repeat the grade. If you got straight Cs with a couple of Ds you would probably be passed up, but mostly Ds with Fs would have you held back.


As someone mentioned above, in the US you generally need 70% or better to pass a class. You can skip out on homework but your tests had better be perfect. More typically, students will turn in some homework.


Bad grades, of course.


Elementary schools assign pass fail grades to classes? What's the fallout if you fail?

This is all very foreign to me. When I was in primary school in thr UK 20 years ago we never received a single piece of homework and the only time we got graded was a national standardised test which was positioned as being more about the school than about us.


Yeah. When I was a kid, I had a personal "no homework" policy. To me, school was a defined hours thing, and if they tried giving me stuff to do outside of that... that was their problem, not mine. I never bought into it, nor cared when a teacher complained. Didn't have a bad outcome from that approach either.


I had this attitude when I reached High School and started getting 4+ hours worth of homework every night. I realized that I didn't want to live my life that way, it was bullshit, and I wasn't going to bother. This upset my parents greatly, we battled for 4 years before I tested out of school, went to community college on my own dime, getting an excellent gpa, and then going to university.


Enlightened! I assume the typical startup work/life balance is not compatible with you.


Dunno. I've started and run my own businesses before, and generally that's taken huge effort. Been happy to do so, as they're obviously worthwhile endeavours.

Homework though (of a school variety)... let's say I'm not convinced. :D


Actually, I'm speaking of middle school.


> I made my son update a spreadsheet, daily, of his homework per class. Estimated time to finish and actual time. It was a lot of data and when

> [snip]

> The problem is institutional, massively reinforced by the parents.

> [snip]

> It is complete craziness and I hate it and I feel terrible for my kid

I sincerely can't understand what it is I'm reading.


He's not saying that the spreadsheet is an integral part of the homework process at his home (I think). Instead, he made an experiment (limited in time) to see how much homework his kid has. Then took the results to the school's principal, hopefully ending the experiment.


I disagree regarding the instruments. I think learning to play and instrument is about more than just playing it. Learning to play an instrument teaches you a lot of things that are useful in life; a big one being 'practice makes perfect'. My parents had me in piano lessons for about 6 years while I was growing up. I wasn't the best, but with enough practice I was able to learn whatever song it was that I was working on. That same work ethic has done very well for me professionally. As a self-taught developer I have always felt comfortable knowing with enough hard work I'll figure out whatever it is I'm working on.

My daughter has started taking music lessons and in the last 6 months I've noticed a very similar thing happening. Ever since she started taking guitar lessons, she has started displaying more patience and confidence in herself than in other tasks like reading and school work than before. It's like it's starting to click with her that reading and math are like her music lessons; it takes practice, and she'll get it soon.


I am not a music lover, but I also agree that playing instruments is an extremely valuable life experience for children. It is such a unique experience and makes you use parts of your brain you probably wouldn't use for any other reason. There is really no other time in a person's life where they will receive such consistent daily encouragement at improving themselves in such a physically apparent way. Some people might argue that sports do this, but I think the "improvement" is much less apparent because the ability to run 100 meters three seconds faster is not anything like going from playing "Hot Cross Buns" to some complicated classical piece.

The ability the play the instrument is not nearly as valuable as the experience in learning, improving, and using your brain in ways that doesn't involve math and reading.


Learning just about any complex human activity results in obvious sustained improvements, for someone who cares and puts sustained effort into deliberate practice. If we leave out math and reading, we still have: woodcarving, dance, painting, rock climbing, gymnastics, sketching, football/soccer, cooking, chess, pottery, poker, speaking any foreign language, computer programming, graphic design, designing and building electronic gadgets, basket weaving, karate, public speaking, embroidery, juggling, mechanical engineering, and on and on for as long a list as you want...

I’ll agree, however, that music is an essential part of human cultural heritage, and every person should be given the chance to learn to play an instrument. Just as every person should at least a little bit learn how to cook, and to sing, and to dance, and to juggle, and to sew, and to program computers, and to write mathematical proofs, and to build wooden furniture, etc...

I think the great-grandparent poster was talking about something different though. Not teaching a child to play an instrument for a year or two to delight in music’s intrinsic value and then optionally continuing it if the child expresses interest, but ramming rigorous lessons down a child’s throat, forcing the child to spend years in training that he or she thinks is boring or a waste of time.


> but I think the "improvement" is much less apparent because the ability to run 100 meters three seconds faster is not anything like going from playing "Hot Cross Buns" to some complicated classical piece

As someone who ran D1 track & field yet can also play Liszt's Transcendental Étude No. 10, I would have to disagree with you. I think that running has had a much deeper impact on my physical and mental development than the process of slowly refining a niche skill.


I'm deeply grateful that my parents put me through music lessons. It's something that continues to reward me, decades later, like math, as a source of challenge and enjoyment. I no longer play the instruments that I learned as a kid, but I perform a few times a month with local groups.

There's a lot of controversy over whether kids should be "pushed" or "forced" to learn music. My observation (my own childhood and my kids) is that some kids will push back on anything that they're asked to do, even if it's something that they genuinely want to continue doing.

I'm lucky, and delighted, that music "took" with my kids. They're teenagers now, and actually like classical music.

If possible, I suggest looking for a program where your daughter can play in ensembles, group lessons, recitals, etc. For instance Suzuki violin programs involve the youngest kids in recitals, and there are people teaching guitar in the same way. This will bring out yet another of the benefits of music, namely the interaction with other people in a cohesive activity. And performing, in and of itself, is a beneficial skill. A lot of what I do in professional life is akin to performance.


I played a trumpet for 5 years, practicing 20 minutes a day. The end came when I had a song tape recorded that I thought I played well. The result was pretty shocking to me.

What I got out of it is that I have no talent for playing music, playing a trumpet well is really hard, I can recognize when a musician plays a trumpet exceptionally well, and Herb Alpert is the best trumpet player that ever lived.


I agree that it's important for a child to learn that practice improves skill. However, forcing them to learn something that they loathe can be harmful, also. Some kids just don't like music or instruments; I sure didn't. So, let them discover something that they enjoy before we force them into practicing.


isn't that true for many thing other than instruments though?

Doing any sort of sport will likewise teach you that "practice makes perfect". So would knitting, drawing, singing in a choir or doing magic tricks with cards.


It may help stretch the brain, similar to learning a new language.


> Of course, the opposite is true. Your time is the most precious, and in fact the only, resource that you have. You should guard it jealously, and only spend it on worthwhile things.

What are school-aged people spending their precious time on?

Clash of Clans? Snapchat? Call of Duty? Binging Netflix? 4chan...ning? Smoking pot?

Maybe it's okay if we ask them to set aside a few hours to read a book or practice solving an equation or trying to do something that isn't immediately easy.


>Clash of Clans? Snapchat? Call of Duty? Binging Netflix? 4chan...ning?

Why are these any less beneficial than homework that's been demonstrated to have no benefit to the child? Until high school, there's literally no reason for the kid to be practicing math after school.


>Until high school, there's literally no reason for the kid to be practicing math after school. //

Maths is fun. That's a reason.

Maths is useful and some children can't pay attention in class. That's a reason too.

Analytical and creative thinking expands the mind, ergo maths.

Different kids have different needs. Busywork for homework certainly isn't useful except as a way solely to keep a child occupied.


I think no homework has the same pro/cons than universal basic income.

When I was a kid (at a Montessori school — no homework) I used my free time to learn programming, tinker with chemistry kits, and read while my public school friends toiled away at homework.

I guess that other kids could squander their free time in pointless gaming or Internet browsing, but there will be a few (or ALL of them, if you buy Maria Montessori's thoughts on the matter) that will use their free unstructured time to learn something interesting to them.


Interesting! I was also at a Montessori school but we had plenty of homework. Granted, it wasn't a big deal if you didn't do it every now and then, but you were expected to complete the majority of it.

Either way, I think your social position shows through in your reasoning. Being able to learn programming or tinker with chemistry kits at least to a point requires parents that encourage and/or support that kind of pastime. A lot of kids don't have that, and will simply not be exposed to the existence of programming and chemistry kits. (Books are generally more accessible, but there's also something to be said for parents encouraging and supporting reading – the people I know who like to read also have parents who like to read, and the people I know who don't like to read have parents who also never read, for what it's worth.)


This is where involved parents make a world of difference. They engage you in things that interest you, not beat you about the head with busy work. They talk with you about what you learned, read with you, teach you that hard work has its rewards, but work for work's sake is a waste.

I was extremely lucky. My parents were both educators and very engaged. I hope to be the same to mine. But parents like this are all to often not part of a child's life.


Relaxation and socializing are important for adolescents (and people in general). Adolescents (and people in general) develop negative associations with things they are forced to do.

The incredibly difficult trick is to find the right balance between relaxing and working, and to encourage an interest in valuable educational activities without forcing it.


I learned to program (among other things) in the time when I wasn't doing homework. Ironically enough that's probably been far more important to my eventual career than any of the homework.


>> The most prominent example is playing instruments. Like half of kids learn to play an instrument at some point, but hardly any of them keep up with it when they are adults.

Why do you think so many fail to keep up with an instrument as an adult? Oh that's right, upon entering adulthood we figure out that we have to dump 40+ hours into earning pennies while the company we work for earns millions.

Earning even a basic income is the real time sink. What most people do all day long, at least 5 days a week, is the real busywork. Society would be much improved if every adult spent a good chunk of their time in the arts. Yet we continue to pretend that if every adult doesn't spend 40 hours doing corporate busywork that the economy would fall apart.


Who's going to clean the toilets, wash the dishes and plant the food, of everybody is just doing the arts?


There's not 40 hours/week/person worth of that kind of thing that needs doing. I'm not saying no-one should be working, but a France-style cap of 35 or 28 hours a week would be a good move.


You're asking the wrong question. Here's the real one:

Who's going to pay for everyone else to have free time?

That's really what you're implying here: It's an underlying theme stemming from the assumption that we must have an economy based solely on the output of individuals.

What if all economic output comes from machines doing all the work? Why would people clean toilets or wash dishes if they didn't have to? Wouldn't their time be better spent on their hobbies (e.g. art)?


Regarding machines, we already have that example set in stone. The explosion of computers in the 90's had many thinking we'd have to work less hours because so many office tasks would be finished far more quickly. Of course that didn't happen; the efficiency gain just meant we piled more work on every person who's job was made easier by a computer. In cases where there wasn't enough work to keep the existing number of employees busy, we laid people off and had fewer people working for the company performing the same amount of work (or more).

The number of hours expected of an employee is hardcoded for employers. Whether it's 20-something hours or 40 hours depending on your region, this is essentially a fixed number that will probably never change.


> What if all economic output comes from machines doing all the work?

If that were the case, then you're saying we abolish property ownership? Because i don't see how else can everyone benefit in such a system.


I honestly have no idea how it would work or even if it could work. For all I know as wealth concentrates towards the owners of automation our society could collapse and we all end up stuck in a perpetual agrarian society with no easily accessible energy source or metals to ever get advanced technology ever again.

The only way out that I see is something like Guaranteed Basic Income (GBI) along with socialized medicine. Everyone gets a handout from the government that's enough to live a decent life. Food and shelter could be free; which would make sense if agriculture is 100% automated (why let all the profits and control be saddled into only a handful of people?).

Then everyone that wants to can compete for making more money via their passions and hobbies or, for the few that can do it, actual work/employment.


Farming used to be a farmer for every four or five people. Now its more like 1:1000. That's been automated to an extreme.

Service industry is hard to automate - though we've done a good start with the dishwasher. Only 1 fulltime guy needed for every 100 people or so? That's pretty good progress.

So yeah, we'll always need folks for services. And we'll have to pay them well in future! That's seems a pretty good future to me.


Who said its a binary choice? Quite a lot of jobs have loads of empty hours useless to you and the company that would be better spent elsewhere.


Meh, there are many things though that are important that a child won't realize so they have to be forced to do it. One such thing being school itself (regardless of the homework). Most children are not self motivated to learn anything without immediate gratification so without forcing them they will end up pretty misinformed.

Unfortunately all of that neuroplasticity is wasted on the young. :)


> Most children are not self motivated to learn anything without immediate gratification

That’s definitely not true. I’ve spent enough time hanging out with small children of various backgrounds to observe that they are in general far more curious and self motivated to learn and explore than adults are. (Of course, some adults maintain this same imagination and curiosity.)

What they often aren’t motivated to do is memorize lists of irrelevant-seeming facts or work through endless identical arithmetic problems.


They are only curious about things that provide immediate gratification. i.e. they won't spend the effort to learn trigonometry to quantify the length of a shadow they see from a flagpole. Once they learn the general intuition behind the angle of the sun and the shadow, they will lose interest and move on.

>What they often aren’t motivated to do is memorize lists of irrelevant-seeming facts

This is basically the issue. They don't understand that many things are important to learn to build the necessary base to move beyond a superficial understanding of the physical world.


If you are complaining that teachers and textbooks do a crap job explaining why someone should bother learning lots of the school curriculum, I agree 200%.

Trigonometry per se, as it is currently taught, is a boring and not very important subject, not worth spending more than about 2–3 weeks on sometime in maybe 10th grade (for a typical student), maybe 10 hours of total class time. Its form is a historical anachronism, dating from a time when there were no pocket calculators or general-purpose computers, and the only way to do science or engineering involved doing lots of hand arithmetic and consultation of big lookup tables printed in books, so it was important to be able to convert many types of problem into a form compatible with the available tables, and thus it was essential to memorize a large number of abstract formulas as shortcuts to tricky reasoning. Nowadays, you can easily solve a broad range of such problems using a computer algebra system or other type of computation, and learning to understand the reasoning is more practically important than memorizing the formulas, but the standard trigonometry course hasn’t caught up.

Moreover, the trigonometry taught in high schools now is based on the understanding from of several centuries ago, and hasn’t changed to incorporate any more recent advances in related fields. The current trigonometry course could be skipped altogether and replaced with a basic course in geometric algebra, from which the current content of a typical high school trigonometry course is a completely trivial set of corollaries. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geometric_algebra (Obviously a high school course would not be at the same level of abstraction as this Wikipedia article.) This would have the advantage of radically simplifying and clarifying nearly every college mathematics, science, and engineering course.

If you really like trigonometry and you wanted to make an interesting course on the subject, or on triangle geometry more generally, one could certainly be devised. Such a deeper and more interesting course would then deserve more work and more respect. Students would probably even find solving the problems to be fun. There are many surprising and beautiful theorems related to triangle geometry which students should be exposed to as part of their cultural heritage but currently are not.


I've said this before, but I learned far more about trigonometry from my industrial arts classes than I did from my math classes. Mechanical drafting, wood shop, metal shop, and the experience of helping my dad and the neighbors do rough carpentry was a far better use of my time. It's hard to build risers for a set of stairs, or figure out your cuts in a set of rafters without trig.

The worst part was having to fight to fit those useful electives in around the college-prep track bullshit I had to take. There was some assumption that nobody would ever want to take both shop and AP courses, so they had a nasty habit of trying to schedule them in the same blocks.

Though, to be honest, the only part of high school that is memorable is the second semester of my senior year, after I'd locked up the valedictorian spot and gotten accepted to college. I cut a lot of school to go fishing and cut firewood that spring, after basketball season finished up.


I'm really torn on this topic. On one hand, the human brain ingrains knowledge by repetition. So this "mindless busywork" is exactly that. They already know how to do it, they just have to work to make it stick. I had an old math professor, he used to say: "repetition, repetition, repetition".

On the other hand, I believe that the time can be far more wisely spend on actual interesting things, incorporating this "mindless busywork"/repetition - it's just not simple or easy to figure out what the activities and problems should be, and in many cases the children need some guidance as well, and/or should be in groups doing this. Given that many parents are unable to help their children because they lack the knowledge to do so, the teachers do the next best thing they know.


I agree with everything except your example of playing instruments. How is that a waste of time? It takes years to master an instrument, so if you ever want to be good at it, it's a very good use of time.

Secondly, it's not easy. So sticking though with it teaches you self discipline.

I know a lot of adults and kids who do it willingly. Myself included. The reason we do it willingly is because at some point we were forced to learn how to play music and we stuck with it for a few years; after all that time we got good at playing instruments, and started enjoying it. It also became much easier to learn new instruments and songs, boosting the enjoyment.

But we would never have reached this point if we weren't forced to drudge through the years of hard work.


Music education works for a few. My wife picked up an instrument in public middle school, went on to study at conservatory, and played professionally. I muddled about with a couple instruments which I enjoyed, but hated practicing set lessons. I would believe most students fall into the category you describe of having their time with music mostly wasted. The obvious problem is that our schools pursue a set outcome rather than providing opportunities. We want all our kids to "learn to play" an instrument, and we do that with a set curriculum (boring, lifeless). It's a shame b/c there is tremendous value and beauty in playing music with our friends. Focusing on ensuring the meaningless technical accomplishment of "learning to play" for everyone crowds out the more meaningful opportunity of making music, and ruins the experience for many kids. Same could probably be said of other curricula as well, for example CS.


And then we've also accelerated the idea that the one thing worth spending your time on is performing for the sake of society at large. We increased testing of children in America. Many schools spend a lot of time teaching to the test. The lesson there is that your time is most valuable when it's helping the state prove your productivity. Why learn a musical instrument when society will most value you when you're sitting at a desk?

I would argue, regarding the value of learning a musical instrument, that it's worth children sampling many things to even figure out what they will like spending their time on. How will they know they will care about music without exposure to it?


I cannot agree more.

My school was quite forward thinking. E.g. they taugh us recursion using Logo in year 3 of primary school. This was early 90s.

But still, our homework was completely useless and incredibly time consuming. I vividly remember it was calibrated to make us spend 2.5 hours on it per day, and this was after a 9-5 sequence of lectures. Completely insane and alienating.


>"We should do away with the absolutely specious notion that everybody has to earn a living. It is a fact today that one in ten thousand of us can make a technological breakthrough capable of supporting all the rest. The youth of today are absolutely right in recognizing this nonsense of earning a living. We keep inventing jobs because of this false idea that everybody has to be employed at some kind of drudgery because, according to Malthusian Darwinian theory he must justify his right to exist. So we have inspectors of inspectors and people making instruments for inspectors to inspect inspectors. The true business of people should be to go back to school and think about whatever it was they were thinking about before somebody came along and told them they had to earn a living."

-Buckminster Fuller


In later elementary school at least (in Canada, in French immersion, in a moderately-above-average public school), homework was very effective in increasing knowledge. Our kids enjoyed it, and expanded their vocabulary and fluency in a second language. They had ample time to play, to participate in sports, and to sleep. I can't imagine them doing less homework, and I suspect they could have done much more.

The whole experience of learning is about practice. Early on this can be in well crafted exercises and simple homework.

I'm sure that homework can be counterproductive and poorly managed, but I've seen it succeed in moderation (2-3 hours daily).


The TLDR is you're getting the best 1900 education money can buy, and middle class people spend most of their time competing in a self created parody of what they think is upper class sensibilities, because they are The special snowflake who will experience upward mobility (LOL).

The German educational system that "the west" generally uses hasn't had a "git push" in at least 150 years. Until widespread recorded music technology and broadcast technology existed, being a musician was a very realistic vocational choice. Relative pay was much higher than now. Sure the pay wouldn't be as good as a carpenter or plumber, but its a nice mostly indoor and clean job, true the employer might want you to cross train as a waiter or bartender, but patrons like hearing music and before radio and records, music came directly from middle-class-ish hands. Some day public schools will advance beyond 1900 in general. Some day.

Another aspect of mass aspirational education is its a window into what the middle class thinks the upper class does all day. The fact that it has nothing to do with what the upper class actually does is completely irrelevant, as long as they can easily and visibly compete among themselves for superiority in their imaginary game. So the middle class has built a whole elaborate mythology about the path into the promised land being reading the finest literature to each other and poetry and gazing into fine art paintings and, yes, playing and listening to classical music. That way you can fool the college admissions and interview counselors into thinking you're actually a Vanderbilt, or come from old European royalty, etc. I assure you they are not that stupid, but its an unstoppable belief, its an article of faith for middle class people. Amusingly due to my grandparents, I spent time as a little kid with the kids of extremely wealthy people, and I can assure you that in reality the 7 year old of a billionaire digs in the mud and plays catch and makes sand castles just like any other kid, and very rarely indeed recite Greek poetry, listen to Mahler, or gaze into old dutch master paintings. They do have very interesting "money is no object" life experiences but most of their time is spent not spending money at "no object" rates of speed. Very early I learned upper class people get very pissed off when you compliment them on their stuff, on the implication that they don't have enough money for the best. With the side effect that they feel no need to show off (showing off is a middle to upper middle class thing) so you'll never see a real Picasso in an upper class kids bedroom, but you will see a Picasso reproduction or poster in an upper middle to middle class kids bedroom.


I'll never thank my parents enough for making me learn music, even if it was really hard and boring at the beginning, it changed my life and is now the thing I prefer spending my free time doing. On a less personal aspect, it really is a good way to learn you can do anything if you practice enough


I do disagree slightly with the cajoling into playing instruments. Now, my experience is just that- mine, so I'm not saying you're even probably wrong or right. My brother, sister, and I were all cajoled into at least trying music when we were young.

Our elementary school did mandatory xylophones in 2rd grade and recorders in 3rd for all the kids. From 4th grade on you could opt in to playing any instrument, though if you needed to play a school instrument is was the usual suspects of violin, flute, clarinet, sax, and trumpet. If you already had access or were playing one you could bring your own.

I was gonna bag it and not opt in. My parents (strongly) suggested I pick one for the year and give it a whirl. I tried the violin and sucked so very badly. Mid year I switched to clarinet because that's what was available and I was going to quit entirely if I had to continue with violin.

Side note- my sister played as well and has gone into software development after excelling at school and university, specifically science. My brother did terribly in school, didn't graduate, and gave up on music on about day two (he's wound up being very successful any way though).

By my 8th grade year I was an extremely accomplished clarinet and sax player (first chair, solos, competition band, marching band, performed on some recorded albums, etc.) and I swear I started feeling dumber after I gave it up. I played in my very limited free time in highschool as I was way more dedicated to sports and our HS band was good enough that you could do sports or band, you could absolutely not do both.

I looked into it and there are a few studies that suggest people that participate in playing instruments often do better in school and are more mathematically inclined. I'm lacking sources as I'm on my phone.

I agree that most busywork homework is bullshit. I'm okay with the monthly/bi-quarterly assignments that require free form thinking and finding your own way on a subject like research papers, craft based projects, book reports and such. Anything that lets my child delve into their thoughts I'm okay with, as long as they get a sufficient amount of time that they are able to go deep, and not just churning out crap.

I will absolutely cajole my kids to try a plethora of instruments. If we get through strings, woodwinds, percussion, and brass and they haven't found a winner- then we can bag it. I expect it'll be two or three years of trying. If they seem like they really hate it or we've exhausted our options, we'll let it be. Given the amount of music we surround them with now, and how they interact with it (drumming, Casio keyboard, dancing), I think we'll find a way to keep them involved in music.


Learning an instrument teaches you discipline, concentration and patience... something that is in short supply in contemporary life.


It's also busy work for a teacher to grade. Doesn't that help balance things?


>The most prominent example is playing instruments.

I think the important lesson for learning an instrument is that you improve by putting in effort. There are gonna be songs that you couldn't play a month ago but now you can and that gives you a sense of achievement and an appreciation of hardwork. The actual technical skill of playing is just a vessel for this character learning.


It is great to hear someone so prominent say this, and I hope it makes a difference.

I will say, as someone who has worked in education, education as an area is incredibly cargo cult-filled. Even educational research, and educational theory is full of culty trends (that seemingly change entirely every few years) and aren't what I'd call scientifically rigorous.

As this article itself says we've known since the 1980s that homework at that age was harmful and we've known since the 1990s that older kids need a later start, but has that changed anything? Not that I've seen, High School level kids still start at 7:30am here and homework is still given to elementary school-age kids.

Education has remained largely unchanged since the 1950s or before (technology not withstanding), and we've likely spending more on educational research and training now as we ever have, and what are the results? How much has school really changed in our lifetime? If anything they've only doubled-down with classical education being popular again, homework for homework's sake, learning for the tests, heavily structured classes, and subjects which both kids and staff call useless.

I just want to say I am not shitting on teachers. Teachers do a fantastic job under difficult conditions and near constant criticism. This is a structural problem, not a teacher problem. It is at the school district/state education/educational research level, it is also somewhat intertwined within teacher education itself (e.g. continuous learning, but learning this year's latest trendy teaching technique which will be forgotten and discarded in a year).


I think it has less to do with bureaucrats than parents. Any meaningful change to K12 pedagogy is met with vigorous opposition from parents because to so many people, the only right way to teach is the way they were taught. See the New Math of the 70s, the Common Core, etc. You cannot make a major change to K12, good or bad, and get away with it.


I see parents talking like this all the time. "Who can understand how they are teaching kids to add these days?", but when I look at it what they are teaching my kids, it fits with how I do it in my head vs. how I was taught to do it on paper.

People are resistant to change even when they say they want change (politics is a great of example of wanting "change" but having a fit when things actually change).


And generally, when you see something that looks really odd, if there's someone around who's experienced in teaching it to put it in context, it becomes obvious fairly quickly. There seems to be a belief that just because it's elementary that anything a parent might see of their child's work should be immediately understandable. That may be true of the question and answer, but it's not necessarily true of the process.


Imagine though that it doesn't match how everyone else does it in their heads. So, you are telling kids there is a right or wrong intuitive approach to a question- teaching an intuitive approach as a mechanical approach, which misses the valuable step of developing the intuition.

I have no problem with showing kids different ways to conceptualize a problem, but marking 5 x 3 = 5 + 5 + 5 wrong is just madness.


Yeah I get really frustrated with this. It is one of the biggest struggles I have with trying to figure out how to disagree forcefully, because I strongly disagree with this sort of intransigence, without giving offense, because many of those who hold these views are loved ones.

I feel like there is some deeper cultural problem afoot. Why don't educators get the benefit of the doubt that other professions are given? I never hear people decry the way in which their doctors are going about their doctoring!


> Why don't educators get the benefit of the doubt that other professions are given?

On a practical level, people understand adding but they don't understand how the endocrine system interacts with the immune system and how diet affects that interaction.

If it makes you feel any better, the programming profession isn't much better.

Personally, I love educators for sticking in there, but:

1. There has been basically no major disruption in this field in at least a hundred years. I have a hard time thinking of another field like this.

2. I have no confidence that changes would happen even if someone figured out how to teach kids twice as well with half as many teachers.

3. Educators, as a community, aren't exactly scientific. For example, many of them push for universal pre-K, which isn't exactly settled science.


"Every radical adjustment is a crisis in self-esteem: we undergo a test, we have to prove ourselves." - Eric Hoffer, The Ordeal of Change


Speaking of parents, there's also the time proximity effect.

It doesn't matter if its stupid or effective, there's a common theme of very early adult learning experiences such as military basic training, young doctors 36 hour shifts, apprentices in the crafts, where something akin to hazing turns teens into productive adults. So you do pushups in the mud until you puke, suture lacerations until you collapse asleep, and sweep floors and other grunt work for your first months with the journeymen and masters. Programmers haze noobs by forcing them to recite algorithms in whiteboard interviews.

Now I emphasize that its probably a stupid way to train a doc or a plumber or an attack helicopter mechanic, but its just how we haze while telling ourselves its learning, and wrapping it all up in layers of rationalization. And for parents, critically its the most recent example of learning. Even if their own school experience didn't suck, their internship or apprenticeship or basic training sure did, and that's how its supposed to be, in an abused grow up into abusers mentality.

So "obviously" the kids need to do timed arithmetic worksheets for hours until they cry, or stay up half the night writing essays the teachers won't read anyway. That's what "real learning" is all about, right?


I dunno, there are huge institutions of scholars who study and prescribe changes to educational system. If it becomes a choice between making a school better or listening to them and defending the institutions, its going to be a tough sell.

Also, the idea of homework is that the kid will try to learn the material at home and parents will help. If you remove that, you put more pressure on the teacher to teach them the things they are supposed to know. You've already got them testing or preparing for tests for a large part of the day, teaching them things is really going to cut into watch-a-video time.


A lot of those changes come from politically motivated attempts to "fix" education and have no input from teachers and no basis in science. Common Core comes to mind.


I'm not an educator or an expert in any way, but I've found many of the pro- Common Core (math, at least) arguments made by Keith Devlin[0] to be very compelling. So far, I can't figure out what the hubbub over Common Core is about, besides the usual "that's not how I learned it" nonsense. Alternative resources welcome!

[0]: http://devlinsangle.blogspot.com/


Common Core itself is a scapegoat for a lot of those efforts. People have been misled by politicized media and social media memes into thinking that it's far more rigid and detailed than it really is.


K-12 education in the US most definitely needed "fixing" in a huge number of areas. The research on K-12 math, in particular, is abysmal [0][1]. A huge percentage of students have trouble understanding fractions, moving beyond rote use of formulas (binomials and the stupid over-emphasis on the FOIL method offer a great example of how you students can get stuck because they don't understand the concepts behind those formulas), and when they start learning algebra, there's a huge drop in performance as fundamental problems start to boil to the surface. Then they give up and try to find a way to skate through their remaining math courses. Look at how common the sentence "I'm not a math person" is in contemporary America. There's literally no such thing [2], but millions of Americans believe it to be true and fall prey to a vicious self-fulfilling prophecy. Or look at how common the ridiculous notion that "Asians are better at math" is. The evidence of how problematic this is can be found in the proliferation of remediation at both community and four-year colleges. Even tier-one schools that, on average, admit higher-achieving students have to deal with the consequences. And then there's the geographic and socioeconomic disparity in achievement in math, writing, and other areas.

I hated math in high school, mainly because of how it was taught to me. Even as someone who was a proliferate reader and was quite inquisitive, I never realized just how much I was missing until college. By the time I experienced math and got the chance to see the beauty in its concepts, I had effectively wasted years dealing with formulas and memorization. Even now, I get angry when I think about how poor my math education was and everything that I didn't get a chance to enjoy at the time. And that's coming from what was a pretty good school district. I shudder to think how much worse my experience could have been at a bad one.

Anyhow, what are you talking about with Common Core? CCSSI wasn't written by politicians. It was written by subject field experts. Teachers had a great deal of input, but in general, teachers can only offer anecdotal data. You need to take that anecdotal data, combine it with findings from educational researchers who have undertaken rigorous research using the scientific method, and use that data to guide subject field experts in developing educational standards. Especially for elementary education, where teachers have to--by definition--be more generalists than anything else. Common Core did that, and every analysis I've seen over the past few years supports the conclusion that they're a significant improvement over previous state standards.

Most of the arguments against Common Core are either largely political themselves or significantly misinformed about what Common Core is. The ones against the math standards in particular can largely be summed up as "you're doing it differently than I learned it." No shit. That's the point. And the arguments against state and national standards are particularly amusing, as if fucking math changes based on the state you're in.

0. http://www2.ed.gov/about/bdscomm/list/mathpanel/report/final...

1. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/27/magazine/why-do-americans-...

2. http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2013/10/the-myt...


Oh man you should see how people flip out over Common Core teaching number sense to high school kids. Even something as simple as split-difference subtraction brings out the loons saying that the schools are teaching the kids devil math and that God's subtraction carries the one.


Well i dont know about where you live but the changes madd to how reading is taught have been a complete disaster. The amount of kids around 10 who are unable to read properly has never been so high in recent history. Change is not always for the best.


> The amount of kids around 10 who are unable to read properly has never been so high in recent history.

What's your source?


http://apprendrealire.eklablog.com/alerte-sur-le-niveau-des-...

The actual link from LeMonde is at the bottom but it's behind a paywall.


I've always thought that early education should be more of a You-Are-Here orientation: bringing new humans up to date on what they are, their place in the world, where humanity as a whole is going and the challenges facing us.

Think Neo being pulled out of the Matrix, only in reverse.

Of course different nations are going to have their own biased version of the things listed above, but I suppose that's okay.

What's undeniable is that we have reached the point where it's impossible for any human to even be able to consume all the art produced by mankind, let alone understand all our technology, in a single lifetime.

Until we figure out medical immortality, children should be informed of all the options available to them, as early as possible. Fluency in tools that are a de facto requirement of modern society; cars, computers, smartphones, even things like Facebook and online privacy – should be taught as soon as possible.


How does that prepare a child for living in the world, or will that all be taken care of by Matrix style robots? And what do you do with the 0-9 year olds (34% of whom still believe in Santa Claus) that are not developed enough to understand their place in the world? Do they get any Education in the meantime?

Teaching broad concents seems better than fluency in any individual techology (that will be complete outdated before the kid reaches adulthood). I'm not even sure how that would work: Here kid, here are all of the technologies that we think are important to you (and whose companies have supplied us with training materials). You shall learn an iPhone, the internet through Bing, a Honda car, and how to use Facebook. We won't teach you how any of these work, or even any of the basic concepts behind the world you live in, you can figure it out yourself by using Bing.


The picture I had in mind was more like: Welcome to Earth. [video of the planet in space] You are a human; [video of the children in the class blended in with some graphics of the human body of different races] – a member of Homo Sapiens, the only species on this world to have built civilization. This is the only planet known to have life, and we share it with many creatures. [being shown other animals including our interactions with them]

You are in the United States of America. ...for example, and so on, until moving to: This is our technology. [video showing everything from phones and server farms to planes and space stations]

Then of course gradually explaining how everything works, according to their age, and of course not limiting it to specific products or services, but yes, definitely teaching them to how to look up more information through the internet. Teaching them to teach themselves; how to sift for the factual information from among all the noise.


Why do I have the distinct feeling you haven't had kids yet and treat them as aliens (or new players to an MMO)? Yes a certain level of self awareness is most important (you'd be surprised how many uneducated kids don't even know what country they live in) but the whole thing is a VERY gradual process.


Why are the parents not doing this in day to day life?


How do you reconcile your

    education as an area is 
    incredibly cargo cult-filled.
with your confidence in expressing

    we've known ... homework at 
    that age was harmful 
Maybe what "we've known" was cargo-cult to start with?


Presumably that can be reconciled with evidence. The article's first sentence states that there is no evidence that homework at a young age improves outcomes. At least this is a testable statement. Though I bet some students would be pretty unhappy if they came out on the homework side of the A/B testing.


"Cargo Cult" implies a LACK of experimental evidence.

You can carve a block of wood to look like a radio and mutter into it all day, but generally speaking it's not going to summon a cargo-airplane to your airfield of chopped reeds.


Some schools in the Seattle area are experimenting with later start times. Hopefully it will catch on?


Never understood early start times, unless your in farming.

Getting to school is very difficult for some people, especially if they come from a poor family. In high school, just getting there was such a hassle. I took three different busses. I remember getting up a 5 a.m. to get to there. And my student advisor(the principal) told me I needed to work on my attitude.

To take it further, never understood the reason to be at pretty much any job before 10 a.m.

Construction is notorious for early hours. Pretty much nothing gets done before that first coffee break.


It's a general filtering mechanism. Almost nobody wants to get up at 5 AM to get to school or to the jobsite. If that's what you have to do to get in, this selects for those participants who are more highly motivated to participate in the institution, and differentially rejects those who either lack sufficient motivation to comply, or lack the self-control necessary to execute compliance.

A fixed and mandatory early start time serves as a proxy for general discipline and a means to conclusively demonstrate one's willingness to follow instructions and do things in the institutionally mandated way despite personal dislike of them.


It is to give parents enough time to drop their kids off at school and make it to work on time.


I think there's a hidden assumption that regardless when you arrive, you're going home at 5pm or 10pm or whatever.

More realistically, I've worked flex jobs and no matter how much waking up at 4am sucks, going home from work at 2pm rocks so much more that it balances out.


Currently dealing with work start time being 9am but scrum starts at 9:30 so I aim to show up at 9:20. Nobody minds thankfully

Worked in flooring last year. Hours were 8 to 4. Coffee stop was on the way in. Generally started right away, but that's more of a show-up-to-customer-and-get-to-work deal. Couldn't start before 8 because noise


But isn't that just because of the bus schedules?


> education as an area is incredibly cargo cult-filled

The terrifying thing is that nearly every field (including, eg, medicine) is like this. Once there's a system in place that mostly kinda works, people are extremely reluctant to make any serious changes.


Since the future of people is at stake I find healthy to be "extremely reluctant to make any serious changes".

Making small changes over the years is the right thing to do unless you want to play the mad scientist with other people's lives. Of course do not change anything at all is bad, but the "serious change" approach is frightening, or at least should be.


Alfie Kohn said this ten years ago and he's way more prominent, so I wouldn't be overly optimistic.


When I was a kid, elementary school was moved from 8am to 9am. This was in a relatively progressive school. The principal made a decision, put his foot down, the parents cried in outrage, but it happened and a year later everyone thought it was normal.

In high school we normally started at 8:30am. Because my school didn't have enough room for everyone, we started at 2pm twice a week.

The 2pm days were my favourite.


I went to a Montessori school from kindergarten through 8th grade. Before 6th or 5th grade we never had "real" homework. around 6th grade they started introducing more structured and rigorous homework, and by 7th and 8th grade we had homework that very closely resembled the type of homework we'd be doing in high school (and as I discovered in high school, was more challenging sometimes). Throughout all that time we never had desks. The majority of our time was unstructured time with which to accomplish whatever tasks we'd been given for the day. We could sit where we pleased as long as we were behaving appropriately. At various times during the day one of the teachers (there were two) would take a small group of kids aside for a lesson. I loved nearly every day of school there and even now people who graduated 8th from there 20 years ago still come to alumni reunions there, it had that great of an effect on them.

I did take the power of hindsight, but I realize now how good my elementary education was at that school. And how many kids don't get to have that same level of education. It wasn't cheap, but it's a shame all kids don't get to experience that.

The most important thing I learned there was how to think critically and come to my own conclusions on matters.

EDIT: Now that I'm reminiscing, my favorite memory is over the course of a few afternoons in 7th grade retreating to the comfy reading area and picking up and reading the classroom's copies of Catcher in the Rye and Lord of the Flies.


My kids go to a Montessori school as well. My wife and I were sold on the approach within the first five minutes we were in the classroom during the tour. These were not wild kids being controlled by adults, these were small adults being taught how to function in the world. They came up and shook my hand and introduced themselves, took out and put away their own work, asked for help, and were very polite when they needed a teacher's help. Once we started looking into how the materials were structured and built from basic concepts on up, we were hooked.

It's incredibly expensive but also well worth the sacrifice.


"These were not wild kids being controlled by adults"

"It's incredibly expensive"

It is possible that the second obeservation has somthing to do with the first... and perhaps more than the Montessori method itself does.


Having money does not make a good parent.

Also, where we are Montessori was no more expensive than a Catholic private school. But to my eyes, the Catholic school just looked like public school, but obviously more upscale (and also teachers have more freedom, small classrooms).

But I was attracted to to Montessori because of the methods. For example, if a child is focused on an activity, the teacher will not interrupt them just because 'geography hour is over' or some arbitrary boundary. Letting the kids develop focus and concentration at an early age was a big selling point for me.


Not having money does make it hard to be a good parent: having time to spend with your kids instead of working a few minimum-wage, non-school-hours, part time jobs, encouraging them to explore and learn about things they find interesting and funding this exploration as necessary, providing safe places to be and healthy lifestyles are all hard to do when you're poor.

Clearly, having money doesn't make you a good parent. And you don't have to have money to be a good parent. But it does undeniably have an impact on the statistics.


Agreed, but also I think expectation, confidence, ambition are as important as opportunity. We have some relatives, from the outside they look like a totally normal middle class loving family. But we saw time and again the parents talk like, daughter is the smart one, son is the not-so-smart one. Telling him his teachers are idiots etc. They just set that kid up for failure and it was difficult to watch.


"Having money does not make a good parent"

I couldn't agree more. In fact, I grew up in an extremely poor family, and my mother is an excellent mother!

But I also know how difficult it can be for a poor, single parent.

My point was that those who would choose to pay for their children to attend a Montessori school are a self selecting group, and I am not confident that if you took an average public school and turned it into a Montessori school that it would work as well as your private school. (It might very well work better than an average public school, though.)


I'd suggest that while having more money allows an already good parent to give more opportunities to their child, a good parent that doesn't have money is not then a bad parent, but instead a good parent with a limited ability to give their child more opportunity.


Yeah I think I need to see a study controlled for income before I'm convinced.


This is exactly why we started our son in Montessori. The difference in the way he handles himself (as a 4 year old) vs. kids who have not been in Montessori is usually a drastic difference.

> It's incredibly expensive

I suppose this depends on where you live. We're perfectly happy with what we spend in the Dallas area and would gladly spend more. However, the 18 months we lived in the Seattle area, Montessori was unfortunately not an option. On the low-end, it was 2.5x as much. To have similar quality facilities, it was easily 5x as much.


Where I live, Montessori ends at Kindergarten, unfortunately. I have three kids in Montessori pre-K right now, and it costs more than the mortgage on my house. But as other commenters have said, it's worth every penny. Kids are calm, happy, and engaged. They love school and learning. I'm not looking forward to public primary school, which is our only realistic option.


Yes, this is true in a number of areas. Even other Montessori schools in our area usually stop at Kindergarten. We're extremely lucky the one our son goes to runs one or two classrooms (based on demand) up through 5th grade.

There are some very good private schools available after that, but those are 2x-3x the annual cost we currently pay. Luckily, we have a few years until we have to make any decisions.

That said, I agree with you: It's worth every penny. I would work nights at a fast food joint, scrubbing the bathroom floors with my own toothbrush to keep my son there. He loves it more than we do.


My first parent-teacher conference at Montessori began "Joseph is the ringleader". They were joking, but not entirely. He would wear his cape to school (Batman? Not sure). They had him hang it up in the cloakroom. But a couple of times a day, he'd go into the cloakroom, put on the cape, and run around the classroom "flying" until he had the whole class running after him. Took about 10 minutes to regain control each time.

So, no more wearing the cape to school!


> these were small adults being taught how to function in the world

That's so true. They taught us how to be functioning individuals who could take care of ourselves.


Anyone out there fact-checking this? Maybe I missed the comment. Quoting Harris Cooper[1] (from the 2006 paper cited in the Salon article):

> "With only rare exception, the relationship between the amount of homework students do and their achievement outcomes was found to be positive and statistically significant."

Yeah so let's ban elementary homework, amirite??

> "Kids burn out," Cooper said. "The bottom line really is all kids should be doing homework, but the amount and type should vary according to their developmental level and home circumstances. Homework for young students should be short, lead to success without much struggle, occasionally involve parents and, when possible, use out-of-school activities that kids enjoy, such as their sports teams or high-interest reading."

I'd need to track down the whole paper to know for sure, but his attitude here seems to advocate 10 minutes of homework (varied topic, positive, etc.) for elementary school kids, in addition to the 20 minutes or so of reading time they should have. This is what I see at the elementary school (public) where I teach. And I think it works well.

Are we really railing against 10 minutes of homework for an elementary school kid? I need this time - to check in with my kids when they finish and talk about the answers together.

[1] http://today.duke.edu/2006/03/homework.html

EDIT: Here's another synopsis of the same group of studies, but backed with some actual data, along with recommendations for how homework could be more effective.

http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/mar0...


Thank you! This discussion seems to be full of experts (everyone attended school, after all) making sweeping, baseless generalizations.

I experienced what you describe, and it was never even called homework. It was learning spelling, times tables, or reading a chapter of a book. Probably from age 8-11, with no homework before age 8.


It's better to ditch 10 minutes of homework than force 3 hours on children.

If we are chosing between two buckets, "homework for elementary" and "no homework for elementary", the second is much much safer, especially in the age of helicopter parents.


I agree 100% but what can be done if the schools don't agree? I live in a small city in China and the middle school starts at 7:15am, has a 1 hour lunch break at noon, and ends at 6:30pm. The kids are expected to finish a big pile of homework every night. Often that means finishing after midnight and getting up the next day at 6:00am. And this is just middle school! High school students live on campus and get 20 minutes for meals. They can't leave campus except for once a month to visit home. Basically the entire high school experience is one big cram session. And what does this achieve? Upon entering college, students experience freedom for the first time and many end up addicted to computer games at night and sleeping through class during the day. They may possess more academic information but in many ways are less equipped than those who took a more laid-back approach. Not all Chinese schools are like this and I'm sure they've improved things in the larger cities but it will take years for better ways to trickle down.


To be fair, I think the article is targeted more towards a western audience, where things are less extreme. Also, the trend in America has been towards more homework over time. Many American parents remember not having much homework in elementary school (I don't think this is true for families in China, where my impression is parents worked just as hard, if not harder, than their kids)


I think the results apply to any culture. Excessive studying doesn't produce the intended results. The trend has also been towards increased homework but it's beginning to wane in more developed areas. I wish I knew how to accelerate the trend because it's continuing to do harm to a generation of kids.


I was not commenting on the results. I was commenting on the person from China's concern that Chinese schools would never agree. This is true. American schools do not have to any degree whatsoever the same kind of homework-driven culture as most Chinese schools.


What baffles me is that we seem to have accepted that an adult's work should be about five days a week, eight hours a day. If you go beyond that, you hit diminishing returns and it may even be outright counterproductive.

Yet we put our kids in school five days a week, eight hours a day, then we give them homework for nights and weekends!


> we put our kids in school five days a week, eight hours a day

Do kids spend 8 hours a day at school now? Back when I was in school, it was 9-3, including an hour for lunch, plus 5 minutes between classes. On top of that, we got a lot more vacation than I've gotten at any job. If I do the math on it, we spent a total of less than 1000 hours a year in school, less than half the time I spend at work in a year.


At my school students have four 1.5 hour classes a day. Juniors and Seniors can have 1 of those periods be an "off period" which they can use as a study hall or they can just leave campus.

Plus lunch and 8 minutes between classes.

The school day is from 9 - 4.

This is very different from the school I taught at in Massachusetts which starts before 7am and has seven 45 min classes (plus lunch).

It really all depends on your district. It seems many commenters here believe that all schools work the same way their school works, but they are actually remarkably different across the country.


In France, in the suburbs yes they did. And apparently they still do. You know the place CNN says it is unsafe to go to.

8h/weeks, 1h homework. Extra activities on 'spare time'. Extra homeworks for those who wishes to compete with elite/private schools on national exams while being substantially given less teachers, less rooms, less credits worse appreciation in a so called meritocratic egalitarian system.

This WAS SPARTA!

This how I was raised. And I wish that to no kids on earth.

EDIT: the idea you got it tough in life will makes you stronger and more likely to succeed is a plain big lie given by the one with a silver spoon in their mouth to divert the attention from their case. The first part is true : you get stronger. The success part is false. Success is mainly a game that is based on rigged randomness.


Is that really that different than an adult work day? I think I actually have more time off now than when I was in grade school.

I used to get on the school bus at 7, start school at 8, go to 2:30 with around an hour for lunch/recess, then two hours of sports practice (or two hours of killing time, then two hours of practice, during basketball season, since we only had one gym), and get home either at 5 or at 7. That's a long day, and throwing an hour or more of homework on top leaves you with pretty much nothing left.

College, now those were the days. 2-3 hours of class, and maybe half the time 2-3 hours of work study.


8:30 to 3, plus the hour on either side to get to and from school, plus the 2 hours of homework, plus extracurriculars 2-3 days a week. It varies a lot, but it usually makes for long days.


My school (private) had nominal 8 hour days (8-4), but 4 to 4.5 hours of class. The remaining time was spread between two breaks (we only had 3 classes on a given day).


I think 6 hours/day is pretty normal these days, based on my younger sibling and teacher relatives. Definitely less than a "normal" 40 hour workday.


I checked the elementary schools around me, and they all seem to have a 6.5 hour school day which includes a 45 minute - 60 minute lunch and 3 hours/week of physical education/recess.

They have a 180 day year spread over 42 weeks, so that's 30 days off during that time. If extended for a full 52 week year, that'd be close to 37 days of vacation.

Which schools are in session 8 hours/day? I'm ignoring optional extracurricular activities since those are at the discression of students/parents.


This is a fantastic, amazing, wonderful, and never mentioned point. I am beat after 8 hours of mental output. I mean, I sit in a chair (or stand) at my desk most of the day, and take frequent breaks, and I'm still tired.

Why would I expect more of a child?


I remember getting a ton of homework in kindergarden. I never did it, and I always felt guilty about not doing it. I expected something bad to happen at the end of the year, but nothing did. Lots of bad lessons for life were learned that year.


While not completely abolished, homework should be issued much more cautiously. Most of the reasons against homework listed in the article are rather signs of bad homework. Homework should mean that the child spends a reasonable (depending on age) time to try to apply the (hopefully) learned skills on her own and without supervision. Failure to do so should trigger some interaction with the teacher, not punishment. For that reason, parents should also mostly stay out of homework.

While traditionally school time in Germany ended at 1pm, there are now models, where the children stay at school after lunch and working on their "homework" in special sessions where some teacher is present for questions and interaction, not taking any of the homework home.


The 2 hour limit thing sounds fine, but I'm somewhat convinced that bad assignments and poor materials have to play a large part in the overall result.

At the very least I'm not convinced that reading a few chapters of an age appropriate book or the odd creative project (draw something, etc.) or short writing assignment can be bad (or take more than an hour).

On the other hand, I'm sure writing all 25 of your vocabulary words 5 times each isn't particularly helpful. (This was the main homework assignment I remember getting as a 2nd grader. I hated it because it made my hand sore (possibly because I was always trying to do it as fast as possible) and was boring.)


I've found over the years that my children's worst teachers were the ones who assigned the most homework. Invariably, they supplemented their poor focus on conveying concepts with lots and lots of homework.

A ton of homework is a smell that I've learned to look into in order to see if I need to meet with the teacher and possibly talk to the school administration.


I remember a math class from high school whose homework seemed like it took me way too long to complete. Looking back, the teacher was actually one of my best and the length of time I spent on that homework was more of a signal that I didn't excel in the course or subject matter.

But then I had other teachers who assigned homework which was likely motivated by a need to have things in the gradebook that weren't tests


If / when I have children, I'd make it a point to teach them how to program things like that instead of just doing it by hand. Programming is a much more useful skill than cursive in 2016, and I'm sure that that'll only be more true when the time comes.


There's some evidence that while producing cursive isnt useful, the process of learning and using it is useful: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2014/dec/16/cognitive-be... If you're taking over your kids education, you probably want to add some elements that replace it instead of just ditching handwriting altogether.


Reading one age appropriate book per week has a huge compounding effect. This is known and studied. That counts as homework and clearly refutes the primary statement: "There is no evidence that any amount of homework improves the academic performance of elementary students."

As in many things, there is a balance somewhere. You need some level of rote homework to drive home basic concepts. Sorry--vocabulary, spelling, and times tables, for example, need spaced repetition and learning them sucks. But they suck whether you are 5 or 50.

However, I find this statement laughable: "Can it be true that the hours of lost playtime, power struggles and tears are all for naught?" If doing homework is a power struggle in elementary school, you're a poor parent and are raising an entitled brat.


> However, I find this statement laughable: "Can it be true that the hours of lost playtime, power struggles and tears are all for naught?" If doing homework is a power struggle in elementary school, you're a poor parent and are raising an entitled brat.

Depends greatly on the reason. "I don't want to do homework because I'd rather play video games" isn't generally going to fly (though having some free time is not something to discount entirely). "I don't want to do homework because I'd rather be reading" seems a lot more more reasonable. "I don't want to do homework because I already know all of this material and I'd learn nothing of value by doing it" is often completely reasonable, and a sign that either there's far too much homework or the class is far below the student's level.

And, to put it bluntly, quite a lot of K-12 school is a power struggle, and an object lesson in how power can be abused when one side has no recourse. Learning that meta-lesson, recognizing it as a problem, and finding ways to solve it is a critical life skill. Long after K-12 school ends, adults regularly encounter systems that are partly or completely broken. Sometimes the correct solution is "screw this system", and other times the preferable solution is "right or not, do I really want to pay the cost of fighting this battle in this case, or should I choose to lose and deal with it despite being right?". But 13 years of the former always being the only option on the table will not help people learn and maintain that skill, which will not help people learn to find, fix, or build new systems that suck less, whether in education or other areas of life.


If a child says they already know their elementary school homework, which the GP said should be learning spelling or times tables, it's very easy for a parent to test this. "What is 6 x 9?" "Umm."


And when the answer turns out to be that they can, in fact, prove it?

Also, at least today, that isn't the extent of most homework.


If they can do it, there's no need for further work. Or, perhaps, they could read a book they enjoy instead.

Until a couple of years ago, the British government recommendation for children aged 5-7 was 1 hour a week, which includes simply reading. There's now no official guidance, schools decide themselves, but I don't think it's changed.


If you read the article, it clearly states: "What works better than traditional homework at the elementary level is simply reading at home". I think where the author would disagree with you is how you encourage them to read. By forcing reading, you're turning it into a chore and presumably get worse results.


>Reading one age appropriate book per week has a huge compounding effect. This is known and studied. That counts as homework and clearly refutes the primary statement: "There is no evidence that any amount of homework improves the academic performance of elementary students."

If it's forced reading then you're likely to sap intrinsic motivation from many of the students. I would imagine that the studies you're referencing don't disambiguate whether the child chooses to read the book or is assigned it. But this is speculation since you didn't actually cite anything.


>Reading one age appropriate book per week has a huge compounding effect. This is known and studied.

Source? I don't know your study, but most these reading studies just end up measuring socioeconomic status. Rich people make their kids read more, and rich people's kids are more successful, therefore reading as a kid correlates with success.

But I don't see any reason to believe those kids would be any better off if they didn't read. It's not like reading increases your IQ or gives you knowledge you couldn't learn much more efficiently elsewhere. At best reading increases your skill at... reading. Which is valuable, and I will mention that next. But it isn't magic like many people believe it is.

>As in many things, there is a balance somewhere. You need some level of rote homework to drive home basic concepts. Sorry--vocabulary, spelling, and times tables, for example, need spaced repetition and learning them sucks. But they suck whether you are 5 or 50.

And yet people who grew up without homework in elementary school seem to be able to do these things fine. Why can't they be learned in the 6 hours of school they are already attending? Why do they need even more hours of studying to learn these basic things?

I also object to the idea that learning needs to be tedious and boring, but that is just my opinion. Still, you learn vocab best through just absorbing language naturally as all children do. Not being forced to memorize vocab words. Spelling likewise comes naturally after you learn to read. Times tables are basically unnecessary in the age of calculators, and just teach children to grow up hating math.

>However, I find this statement laughable: "Can it be true that the hours of lost playtime, power struggles and tears are all for naught?" If doing homework is a power struggle in elementary school, you're a poor parent and are raising an entitled brat.

You have no idea. I was that kid. I fought so hard in the fourth grade against excessive homework. I had very bad ADHD. I just couldn't focus. Forcing myself to do hours of homework, at that age, was torture. I had to be prescribed large doses of stimulants, as a child, to keep up.


> However, I find this statement laughable: "Can it be true that the hours of lost playtime, power struggles and tears are all for naught?" If doing homework is a power struggle in elementary school, you're a poor parent and are raising an entitled brat.

Yeah kids are so entitled these days. They'll have all the time in the world to have their childhood, when they get to 65.


The article states:

"Before going further, let’s dispel the myth that these research results are due to a handful of poorly constructed studies. In fact, it’s the opposite. Cooper compiled 120 studies in 1989 and another 60 studies in 2006."

However, the 2006 meta-analysis explicitly says that all 60 studies had design flaws. To quote the conclusion:

"We hope that this report has demonstrated the value of research synthesis for testing the plausibility of causal relationships even when less-than-optimal research designs and analyses are available in the literature."


I think there's a fundamental flaw in this article, which is that it uses the blanket term of "homework" to probably mean simple revision of theory taught in class. Coming from a rural primary school where education was subpar, I remember my Mum would make me do maths exercises from a book, with varying levels of difficulty. She was say, "do this chapter", and then I would have to read the entire chapter and work out the answers to the questions just based on the reading - a fantastic exercise in problem solving at that young age.

There were annual mathematics competitions which placed your ranking compared to other students in Australia, and - at the time I did that homework - I was in the top 1%.

Fast forward a few years where we stopped doing maths exercises and just started relying on what the primary and then subsequent secondary school taught. My grades dropped, going from top 1% to 10% nationally and then lower still. The reason was that I wasn't exposed to enough content from the school itself.

Simply put, it is fallacious to argue that less exposure to learning materials puts children in better stead.

As far as the idea of disillusionment of children with the world goes: this is more a function of teaching things in an interesting and real-world-applicable way. Entertainment is the name of the game here, not less work. Kids are inspired by what they find fun.


I agree. As the father of an 11-year-old 5th grader, I have absolutely no qualifications to say that, except for how I see the excessive homework they pile on ruining her childhood.

She should be out of doors riding her bike, exploring the woods, discovering weird new bugs in the dirt, interacting with friends, reading books, building stuff, play-acting, playing music, dancing, and generally being the amazingly creative kid that she is, that most of us should have been, had that creative spark not been quantified and tested and pigeonholed out of us by years of dreary deadlines and shouting matches and power struggles.

The poor kids. I hated homework, school in general actually, for most of my student life, and now I get to watch it crush the next generation. Very jealous of the families who home school.


What might happen if you encouraged her to skip homework? Is there any mitigation for whatever harms you'd see?

I'm just interested in ideas about this: I've been seeing schoolwork darken the life of my niece; her parents are trying to help, and all I can do is mention my opinion to my brother once or twice. I also think homeschooling would be better.


She'd start getting all these blue slips, then eventually letters and phone calls from the teacher and the principal.

School is all-in or all-out. You either play by their rules, or go somewhere else. I think for grade 6+, we're going to look around a bit but the reality is, we're like most other families, too busy and stressed and not enough funds to really do the right thing which would be home school, or else alternative school.

But, maybe we will. She's worth it!


Good luck!

Yeah, I know there'd be a reaction from the school, but I wonder how much real trouble it'd bring. (Of course it's way easier for me to wonder than for you all to try it. I hope I'm not annoying you here.)

When I was a kid I skipped a lot of homework -- for some classes in high school, basically all of it -- which got me in some trouble with my parents and got me kicked out of the honors English tracks twice (in middle school and then in high school), but FWIW I still got into a good college via test scores and (surprisingly) teacher recommendations. Unfortunately I can't claim this would generalize -- these were California schools in relatively affluent neighborhoods, and decades ago, and I'm not your daughter... and I'll shut up now. But I hope this might've been vaguely helpful to hear.


Opt your daughter out of homework. I'm not entirely sure how it works yet, mine is still a toddler, but I won't be letting her childhood be wasted away with busywork.


In seventh grade science that year was "life-science" I don't remember shit from that class. In fact the only thing I remember being taught before the 8th grade was how to math, read, write, and some stuff about the presidents and how a bill becomes law (which turned out to be a big fat lie).

Why are we so crazy about cramming so much info into the minds of children? Short of reading, writing, and math what does a kid need to know that can't be taught (probably faster) starting a bit later in life?

Shouldn't kids be playing with sticks and frogs and getting fresh air and sunshine? Not having the creativity squeezed out of them in buildings that resemble my office on the inside?


I have two elementary school kids. In my view the biggest benefit of the homework is that I can observe if my kids lagging behind in some topics and help them to catch up if necessary. Usually this happens because teachers did not do good job explaining those topics.

So it looks like the homework in public schools is a stopgap for lousy teachers.


This is a stopgap that is only effective in cases where the parents are knowledgeable and interested in their children's education and have free time to assist. It would be better to do this from within the educational system, because everyone would be covered. Team teaching, anyone?


My school district has a limit - 10 minutes per night per grade. Then they throw all the rules out the window in high school if you are in honors classes.

I was skeptical moving into the district, but I'm actually kind of surprised at how little of a difference it makes. Same grades, same progress, less stressed kids.


Where do you live?


Palo Alto


There are three key arguments in the article: homework saps intrinsic motivation to learn, harms relationships at home, and has an opportunity cost in sleep, rest and play.

It all makes a lot of sense to me, but I have one thought. In many activities I find I need an initial period of tedious repetition before the fun part kicks in. Things like playing an instrument, learning a language, and some parts of mathematics. And nothing saps motivation at school more than being behind the class from the start and completely lost.

So is there a role to play for homework in pushing through the hard part at the beginning?


   is there a role to play for homework 
   in pushing through the hard part 
Yep, you got it exactly right.

A N Whitehead has said it better than I can, so let's quote him: "Many think we should cultivate the habit of thinking of what we are doing. The precise opposite is the case. Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking about them."

Homework helps with repetition even for extrinsically motivated students, which leads to the ability to perform without thinking, which is the basis of mastery and enjoyment.


My kid gets elementary homework. It's nearly all bullshit coloring in / drawing stuff related to what they should be learing. A total waste of time.

I can agree with this for math homework or word puzzles etc but much of what he gets is not useful.

To cap it all off, often I find they have a day doing very little. How about they master maths during school time and not for parents to educate their kids after school!


Sure there is a place for repetitive reinforcement based learning, but kids already spend 7 hours a day at school. There's no reason we can't cut out an hour of instruction and replace it with guided homework time.


Sure, but do schools do this? Moreover, some people cannot focus well in the presence of others (see also the complains about open-plan offices), and for them repetitive reinforcement just works better at home.


No schools in the US don't do this, but we are talking about ways to improve school. I realize that some people work better at home, but forcing everyone to spend 7 hours at school and then 1-2+ hours practicing at home isn't the best option.

Many countries with very high performing schools have a much shorter school day than we do, and I think asking kids to devote 10+ hours a day to school (including bus time and homework), is a bit ridiculous.


I strongly agree with you. School shouldn't take up too much time. The drive towards longer hours in schooling has little to do with improving learning, but more with (1) enabling (forcing) women to work and (2) equality, because the more learning is done at home, the more pronounced the difference in ability between children becomes. That's because some parents focus on educating their children well, while others don't.


Maybe mastery, but enjoyment?

Einstein is quoted as "Never memorize what you can look up in a book."


In my experience it's impossible to enter "flow" in a task unless I've practised to a certain level of automaticity. After that it becomes effortless and very rewarding.

It's not so much about memorising facts for recall (boring!) but training the mind for automatic action. Like offloading the grunt work to a subconscious co-processor and letting you focus on the bigger picture.


In my experience, I just find things enjoyable. I stumble through them. Then, because it's enjoyable, memorization of common tasks is just a byproduct of me partaking in something that I enjoy.

Why would entering "flow" be a criteria for something to be enjoyable?


If indeed he said this, Einstein was wrong, he didn't understand, or think about computational complexity. To see how wrong, just consider the special case of guitar playing. In this instance what Einstein amounts to is: "never memorize chords when you can look up how to play them in a book".


You should memorize if the memorization cost divided by the number of uses over the lifetime of the memorization is less than the information retrieval cost for a single use (e.g. multiplication tables). You should also memorize if the retrieval latency is too high for your needs (e.g. guitar chords).

But I think Einstein would be a fan of web searches for a lot of memorizable information, as am I.


Of course there is a lot of repetition in the beginning, because you only have so much to work with, so the iterations are shorter and plentiful.


Interestingly enough that just yesterday I read that the famous "ego depletion" theory backed by tons of serious research might got debunked. And today, "the research is clear" that we should ban elementary homework. I just can't help but think how "clear" the research actually is....


I'm skeptical too. But getting lots of homework unquestionably imposes a high cost on the children -- especially the younger ones. If you're forcing this cost on the most powerless people around, shouldn't we insist on clearly seeing the benefit?

Also, from my experience as a student my prior for that benefit is pretty low. I went to what turned out to be relatively good schools for the U.S., and I still think that before college they were mostly a waste of time that actively turned people off learning. What I mean by skeptical, above, is that hearing of these studies only shifts that opinion a little.


I'm convinced that if I hadn't done all that mindless arithmetic homework in elementary school, today I wouldn't be able to calculate a tip. Some material just has to be practiced so that it is properly internalized.

If all you do is absorb lessons without the underlying practice, the material will evaporate from your brain within a short time.

Imagine if you had only seen division or multiplication being done on the blackboard by the teacher, and never practiced it. Today, you'd at best have a faint, dim recollection of having seen such a thing, and you'd be powerless without a calculator when confronted with some matter involving two digit numbers.

We should also look at other things that impose a "high cost" on children: spending hours playing video games or noses constantly buried in mobile devices.


There was an HN comment thread about an experiment: some classes with no math lessons before, like, middle school or something. (Sorry I don't have the link.) The experimental group soon surpassed the controls once they did get into math, presumably because nobody tried to cram abstract procedures into their heads at too tender an age making them think of math as unpleasant arbitrary magic. This is about what I'd expect from both the idea of Piagetian stages and actual acquaintance with average people who jettisoned most of their school math as soon as they graduated.

I agree that you learn by doing and that teaching can guide you to learn more efficiently and broadly, when it's done well. It can even benefit you when mediocre, though the vast majority of schoolwork didn't pay its freight.


That requires a follow-up: how much does the surpassing group remember 30 years later.

In 2007 I got into keyboard; I learned a whole bunch of Bach pieces on the piano in just a matter of months. I was surpassing the people who did years of piano for many hours a day as little kids to get to the same stage!

I could rip through the two-part invention #13 in A minor, #8 in F, and others. I got an old-fashioned wind-up metronome and was dropping that weight lower and lower ...

Someone---LOL---asked me where I studied music. :)

Then I somehow dropped out of it, and stopped playing. Today, I can hardly remember anything. I can get through a few bars of that Minuet in G, and then draw a blank.

It was "fake" learning, in a sense. A flash in the pan epiphany that fizzled away.

But I can wake up in the middle of the night and manipulate polynomials, remember trig identities, do arithmetic like long division (and do it fast), multiply and divide numbers in my head, manipulate fractions, logarithms, you name it. It just stuck, from the years of steady practice.


It doesn't surprise me that after not playing for a decade you can't remember the pieces you learned. I took a couple years of lessons and kept playing for years afterwards, and now I'd never make it far into Invention #1 from the Well-Tempered Clavier without the sheet music.

I doubt much of the math you're talking about was drilled into you in elementary school and rarely used since. As a teenager and adult I'll do most of that sort of thing in my head (not long division, normally); I didn't bother as a younger kid, but it's kept coming up enough to be worthwhile, for me; I wouldn't expect so for most people in today's society, which is sort of a disappointing fact about society, but one that matters if you think of people as free agents.


All homework for kids is utterly stupid. Adults work 8hrs and come home and are free. Asking kids to continue working throughout the night is freaking stupid. Whoever thought this up was asinine. The only reason teachers assign homework is because they are brainwashed and believe it's just part of life. It doesn't have to be. All it does is make kids less and less interested in perusing learning.


Hmmm... it's funny this. I think the pressure of completing set homework causes a lot of pressure for young children. My daughter is now in year 3, and I get her to do a small amount of homework but I've never pushed it and if she's very tired or emotional then I see how she's going, and skip it if things are too bad.

My son is in year 1, and he doesn't have very much homework (neither does my daughter to be honest), but after getting him settled at a desk he just tends to do it very quickly then run off and plays.

I found that for my daughter, I was able to imbue a love of learning when she was in Kindy and year 1 by buying a whiteboard and getting her to do her work on it. Also, my clear excitement and my own love of learning (I was and still am studying mathematics) rubbed off.

In fact, I was going through Trigonometry again at one stage and she was interested why there were circles and triangles on the whiteboard, so I explained what an angle is and that trigonometry is the relationship between angles and sides. I would say she was the only year 1 in her school who knew what trigonometry was - I think her teacher was rather surprised when she used the word, and even more surprised when she was able to explain what it actually was! :-)


Next, teach her radians. :)


Ha! First I'll need to explain circumference and pi


She sounds like she'd be good with that. :)

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