Rav Yaakov Bender: Stop the Homework Madness

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By Rav Yaakov Bender

First published in Mishpacha Magazine

The letter I received from out of town contained a plea for help and guidance from a frum father navigating a particularly onerous challenge in chinuch habonim — and a relatively new one.

My son spends close to eight hours in school. When he arrives back at home we want to be able to kick back and relax together. We would also love to be able to spend the time with him and our other children pressure-free, playing a game, having a catch, reading or just stam schmoozing — which, by the way, all psychologists say is invaluable and the foundation of creating a warm relationship.

Instead, after supper is over, a big dark cloud begins to descend over our home. A nightly point of contention begins to roil, creating a negative and toxic atmosphere in our home.

It’s called homework.

This father is hardly alone. Countless other parents have expressed similar sentiments, lamenting the fact that after a long day in school — particularly girls’ schools — our children are expected to spend hours on homework.

Please do not misunderstand me. I am not against homework per se. It is important for children to briefly review the material they have learned in school and for their parents to keep abreast of their progress. Homework enables both. But the operative word must be: brief. And I believe that it is incumbent on us as mechanchim and mechanchos to take a step back and ask ourselves: Is the homework load that we are placing on our students — and their parents — a component of effective chinuch? Or is it cruelty?

I do not enjoy writing harsh words, especially about our educators. Today’s rabbeim and teachers are the best of the best and truly care about each student. But how can we demand of parents that they spend, often after a full day’s work, whatever remaining waking hours they have together with their children helping them with their homework?

Boruch Hashem, the Torah community is blessed with large families. Let us picture the scene in a home with six children:

Yanky, the toddler, needs to be put to bed. Heshy, the five-year-old, has an earache and cannot find his favorite book. Chanale, eight years old, has homework tonight, in both limudei kodesh and secular studies. Shani, eleven, is studying for not one, but three tests. And Bracha, the teenager, has not had a moment of peace since she walked in the door, as her workload makes it seem as if school and home are seamless: one long day/night of studying and reviewing. Baruch Hashem, at least Meshulem is taken care of, away at yeshivah gedolah for night seder, learning with his chavrusah.

(Many of our families have more than six children. Kein yirbu. We’ll just use this hypothetical family as an example.)

Mommy, who has taken care of her children’s many and varied physical and emotional needs today and also invested several hours at her job, would like to sit down to supper with her husband (if he does come home at a normal hour tonight, before he rushes off to Maariv and a shiur). But she is now also expected to be a teacher. When did hours of nightly homework — much of it outside her intellectual and academic comfort zone — become part of a mother’s responsibility? Is she not overworked enough, running the household and helping her husband pay the bills?

Can mothers and fathers be expected to start mastering volumes of unfamiliar material in order to save their children from embarrassment and poor grades the next morning?

Even an accomplished talmid chochom with broad knowledge in multiple miktza’os haTorah can have a difficult time tackling the obscure subjects included in his children’s coursework. So he sits down at night and immerses himself in a difficult topic — often effectively doing his children’s homework for them — all the while neglecting his wife, who is desperate for his help, and his shtender, which is beckoning for a few minutes of peaceful learning.

And what about the children? When do they actually get to be children?

Yes, they need structure, and yes, hefkeirus is never good for kids, but don’t they need some time at night to unwind? Isn’t it critical for their wellbeing that they be able to share their day with their parents, play with their siblings, perhaps get some fresh air, and prepare for bed peacefully? When, exactly, does school end?

It is 12:45 a.m.

Eleven-year-old Shani has just fallen asleep, her pillow drenched with tears. She has spent the last several frustrating hours studying nonstop, yet she still feels ill-prepared for her impending tests.

Eight-year-old Chanale went to bed in a miserable mood, having failed to secure an audience with either parent to vent her distress at being picked on that day by her classmates.

Thankfully, five-year-old Heshy is sound asleep in his bed. Yanky the toddler is in his crib, dreaming and still clutching his favorite book. In between them is their exhausted mother, who, shortly after leading them in Krias Shema, fell asleep right there.

Meshulem, arriving home from an extended night seder, discovers his teenage sister asleep at the dining room table. Her books are her pillows tonight.

Beside her is Totty, still in his chair, his head slumped forward in slumber, his precious sefer still open in his hands.

How did we get to this point? What, precisely, is the elusive goal that some of our chadorim and Bais Yaakovs are chasing that compels them to saddle our children with a nightly burden that they cannot possibly bear alone, and that their parents are begging for relief from?

We all want our boys to become masmidim and our girls to be knowledgeable and conscientious students. But how do you explain the mindset of mechanchos who assign projects and homework on subjects far outside the ken of the average yeshivah-graduate parent, or who expect their high school students to spend ten hours studying for a Chumash test?

What, exactly, justifies the hours upon hours of agony that our children and parents go through every school night? When are we as a society going to say, “Enough is enough! Dayeinu!”?

The time has come for us to look in the mirror and ask ourselves: Is academic achievement now the only barometer of our sons’ and daughters’ success, to the point that we can allow homework to encroach on the smooth functioning of otherwise peaceful and stable homes? Are we so afraid that our daughters will breathe a bit at night before going to sleep that we must ensure that their every waking minute is filled with study, review, and test preparation?

The time has come for each menahel and menaheles to impose strict limits on the amount of homework that each student is given, taking into account the average family size in that school, as well as the unique circumstances of individual students.

The time of year must be a factor as well. (I once assumed that it goes without saying that homework is not assigned at hectic times such as the week before Pesach, or over Yom Tov, but apparently that is no longer the case.) Perhaps limudei kodesh and secular studies homework should be assigned on alternate nights of the week.

I am not here to impose specific solutions; every school is different. Rather, I am pleading for a return to sanity — not only by our schools, but by their “customers,” the parents, as well. Is it pressure from some parents to outdo competing schools that is forcing the hands of the hanhalah? Is it the mirage of potential acceptance into elite seminaries that is blinding us to the quiet churban going on within our homes on a nightly basis?

Throughout the millennia the Yiddishe shtub has always been more than just a physical house or dwelling; it has been an ideal. That ideal, of a Jewish home suffused with love, yiras Shomayim, simcha, and tranquility, is what has enabled generations of parents to raise beautiful children who walk in their footsteps. It is that ideal that is under attack.

It is time for us to reassess our priorities and take corrective action.

May our parents, teachers, children, and all of Klal Yisroel merit a kesivah vachasimah tovah.

Rav Bender is the rosh yeshivah of Yeshivah Darchei Torah in Far Rockaway, New York.

{Matzav.com}

26 COMMENTS

  1. Sorry, the rabbi is out of touch. Kids come home from school and all they want is their iPhone or computer. No smoozing, please this isn’t the 1960’s anymore. My kids and his Artscroll gemormoa knows more than I did in the 6th grade. His English is better too and has a higher game score in many online games that most kids his age. And by 12:30-1:00am he is tired so he goes to bed nicely. He will be ready for cheder at 7:00am. I give him a milkey way candy bar just in case. Shhh don’t tell my wife or daughter.

  2. Thank you Rosh Yeshiva for a wonderful response to such a serious problem. Please help implement this all over. You have the Koiach to do it. As the Rosh Yeshiva of one of the largest Yeshivos in America and a member of the Torah Umesorah Vaad Roshei Yeshivos your voice is strong. We the parents have no voice. Please help us. I try so hard to make my home a wonderful calm enjoyable place for my family. A home where my children will want to be in rather than want to go elsewhere, but the challenge is incredible because from Shabbos to Shabbos the only family time we have where as parents we are not having to work and our children are home is the evening and night hours. Then along comes the Malach Hamoves called homework that destroys any chance we have at serenity. Please please please help us parents. Don’t just write an article and let it be.

    Perhaps if the Vaad Roshei Yeshivos publicly announce Takonos on Homework with permission for parents to use that Daas Torah against any individual in any school who feels they do not have to follow the directive of the gedolim, perhaps, just maybe, we can get our homes back, get our children back and have a chance.

    Dear Menahalim, Mechanchim, Menchanchos and Moros,
    Chazora is good so please find time in the long day of school for most of it. Parents can get daily sheets from teachers letting us know what was learned so parents can stay informed. Send optional homework so those children who like the idea of homework can have something to do. Please just give us back our children and our homes. Please!!!!

  3. the sad simple truth is that its the incompitant teachers who cant for whatever reason properly deliver there lessons that ultimately come to rely on homework.

  4. Mr ball habos

    Maybe your children come hone asking for I phones

    Mine dont as they no phones are not toys

    sorry you goofed your own kids
    Rabbi bender is so right as he usually is!!!!

  5. Next time you go to your doctor, make sure that all that he knows is from class an that he never read a medical book or journal for homework.

    • I don’t see anywhere in this article where it says doctors or any other college level courses shouldn’t have homework. This article is referring to children and homes where parents need to spend hours per night helping their children with their homework. Please read the article more carefully.

  6. @geshmak – what connection does an ADULT in medical school have to do with CHILDREN doing homework???

    Nobody is saying not to work hard or not to shteig or not to do chazora. All that is being said is that the current crush of homework is a disaster to CHILDREN. We are talking kids here. There is much more to the development of a child then just school and schoolwork.

  7. I fail to see why an article that is clearly aimed at mechanchim and mechanchos should be published in a family publication. If Rabbi Bender really wanted to affect change, maybe he should get up at a Torah Umesorah convention – that is attended by mechanchim/mechanchos – and makes his pitch!
    Or he should send a letter/email to menahelim across North America and let them know his personal feelings.I
    All this article does (no matter how many times he says how stellar the mechanchim are, and how good our schools are, etc…) is rile people up.

  8. When I was a child, I learned in yeshiva all week, and my father tested me on Shabbos to see how well my Rebbe taught me during the week

    Nowadays, parents study with their children every night and on Shabbos. On Sunday, the Rebbe tests the children to see how well their father taught them in the past week.

    Ideally, Yeshivas should be the place where children go to learn Torah and home should be the place where they feel loved and cherished. Unfortunately, the Yeshivas have given up on their role. Homework must be assigned of necessity because the only thing keeping a child from growing up to be “am ho’oretz” is the Torah that he learns at home.

    Today’s yeshivas are not about learning Torah; they are about making the children feel good about being Jewish and to teach them to cheer for their favorite Gadol. Limud Hatorah has become a spectator sport instead of the mandatory obligation of every Jew.

  9. As someone who taught in a Yeshiva High School for several years, I can say that many times the administration uses homework to make sure the teacher is doing his job, and to impress the parents. I had, in one of my classes, a son of the Rosh Yeshiva, who simply ignored the homework I assigned [he wasn’t planning on college, and he certainly wasn’t worried about flunking out]. I was told by the principal that the Rosh Yeshiva wanted me fired because I wasn’t assigning homework. This despite the extremely high performance of my classes on national tests.

    And on the receiving end, I have children who are great talmidei chachomim and mechanchim who have to call me occasionally for the answer to a question a teacher assigned to one of my grandchildren. And I usually have to dig up an obscure midrash, often only tangentially related, to answer the question. Does the teacher really expect a 12 year old to know tanchuma or sifrei? Or was this to impress the parents? [Sometimes I think that the teacher’s own child was asked the question by their teacher and couldn’t find an answer, so my grandchild’s teacher passed to question on hoping someone among the parents or grandparents could give an answer they could pass on to their own child’s teacher.]

  10. As a parent of Darchei students I can attest that the Yeshiva is true to its word and does not give more than a few minutes of homework each night.

  11. Finally a article from someone who can actually effect change and has. We usually get all the stupid points from big talkers as opposed to actual decision makers. Maybe he should get all the rabunim to sign onto this. If anyone can do this it’s him. Especially if he has proof of concept in his school.

  12. The core of the issue at hand is that the schools especially for girls absolutely lost focus of what their goal should be. It should be first and foremost live for the beauty of yiddishkeit. Not scholastic achievements. That can come later and as a byproduct of a healthy focus of life.

  13. I would suggest that no HS/Mesivta have school past 6:00. Start Limudei Chol at 1 or 1:30 and then have serious secular education classes until 6. And those classes should come with an appropriate amount of homework and accountability. Have a once a week Mishmar on Thursdays. This will better prepare the guys for higher education as opposed to what goes on now.

    Anyone who has seen a Mesivta Beis Medrish for Night Seder knows that it is largely an exercise in organized Batala (even for those who are in the Beis Medrish). Maybe some social engineering by some Mechanchim to keep kids from going home and surfing the Internet. But, if more serious attention were given to Limudei Chol and reinforcing learning through homework and projects, they will not have too much time on their hands.

  14. VERY WELL WRITTEN
    I ALWAYS TOLD MY GIRLS WHEN THE TEACHER SEND THEM HOME WITH AN EXTRA CREDIT QUESTION WHICH NOBODY KNEW THE ANSWER; THEY SHOULD TELL THE TEACHER THAT MY FATHER SAID THAT HE GRADUATED FROM SCHOOL MANY YEARS AGO

  15. Growing up I never did homework I got punished in Yeshiva for it and until today I hate Yeshivas for not understanding what children need. No it’s not gadgets or computers, it’s a little human interaction with their family and friends something to a mechanech is unheard of. I do not make my kids do homework and when the teacher calls I explain that their job is in school and they can’t run my home or how I chose to raise my kids. Lucky for me it just so happens that generally the home take just a few minutes and they do it on their own. If it’s a child that has difficulties doing their homework and or learning the homework can cause such stress in the house and shalom bayis issues that these Yeshivas will have to answer for in he next world. I don’t want to be them

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