The Question Of Homework: Should Our Kids Have It At All?

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By Lauren Knight

I watch as my 8-year-old pushes through the front door ahead of me, tosses his coat to the right, somewhere in the direction of the coat hooks lined along the entryway, kicks off his shoes slightly further down the line, and grabs the thick sixth book of Harry Potter, which he is devouring in record time, for the fourth time. He then plops down on the couch, not to be disturbed or interrupted by even the loudest yells and shrieks of joy from his younger brothers for the next two hours. His after-school routine during the winter months looks something like this not because he has been prescribed a reading list by his teacher, but because he has been freed of the unnecessary burden of homework. Two years ago, at a different school, this was not the case.

Milo entered kindergarten a week after his sixth birthday, two weeks after he learned to read, one day after he sat in our living room and devoured an enormous stack of library books all by himself. He was unstoppable, proud beyond measure. His thirst for knowledge in the form of books, a new magical world suddenly and miraculously opened up to him. And then, during his first week of kindergarten, he came home with a thick packet of worksheets along with instructions to complete the work by the following Monday. At first, he eagerly tackled the work: the coloring pages, the sight words, the beginning math in the form of counting and circling things in different colors. But then as the weeks wore on, he started to dread the work. It wasn’t that the worksheets were difficult (on the contrary, they were more like busywork), it was that they were disruptive. They kept him from doing what he wanted to do with his after-school time, which was read, or sometimes play outside, or wrestle around in the living room with his brothers. More than once, the same packet was sent home — the same, exact worksheets, all stapled together in the same exact order — and the obvious pointlessness of it all was not lost on Milo. He whined, “I’ve already done all of these!” but begrudgingly went through the motions so he could get back to what he really wanted to do, which was learn.

And that was when I started to question it all. Was homework really necessary, and moreover, was it doing more harm than good?

The homework debate isn’t all that new. People question how much homework is too much, or too little, and ask How can we improve homework completion and How can we motivate our children to complete or be more enthusiastic about homework? But what if we, as parents, are asking the wrong questions about homework? What if, instead of asking How much time per night or How will this affect my child’s overall grade in this class or How involved should I be in getting my child to complete his homework? we asked, Why homework? What is the benefit of homework for my child? What effect will homework have on my child’s well-being and emotional health?

Articles entitled “Too Much of a Good Thing?” and “The Homework Ate My Family” freely cover the wide range of harms imposed by homework, yet fail to ask, Why should children be doing it in the first place? My argument: they shouldn’t be.

Alfie Kohn, author of “The Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad Thing,” examined the usual defenses of homework — that it promotes higher achievement, reinforces learning, and teaches study skills and responsibility — and found that none of these assumptions actually passes the tests of research, logic, or experience. The startling trend, despite research showing that homework for elementary students is not an effective predictor of academic success (and on the contrary, contributes to more negative attitudes towards school in general), is that the age at which homework is being assigned has dropped lower and lower over the past 30 years. School districts that used to hold off on assigning homework until the third grade are now piling it on to kindergartners on a regular basis. Kindergartners, some of whom just recently gave up taking afternoon naps, are spending seven hours in school only to come home to more work. Kohn argues that homework is a burden on parents, stressful for young children, and leads to family conflict.

In addition to these negative dynamics, homework leaves less time for other activities. Children spend all day in school. When they walk out the door of their school and into their homes, shouldn’t they have the right to just be home? Where is the time to just hang out with parents or siblings they haven’t seen all day? Isn’t seven hours a day in school enough?

Kohn and others argue that children and families need their time outside of school for living: for playing, exercising, cooking and enjoying food with their families, doing chores, playing music or drawing pictures, exploring nature, reading for pleasure, discussing things with parents and just goofing around. Children need time to be children. Just as your job does not have the right to dictate to you how you spend your time outside of work, neither should a child’s school be able to dictate how he spends his time outside of school. This is not a new way of thinking by any means; in the mid-1960s, the American Educational Research Association stated: “Whenever homework crowds out social experience, outdoor recreation, and creative activities, and whenever it usurps time that should be devoted to sleep, it is not meeting the basic needs of children and adolescents.” So why are we moving backwards, assigning more homework instead of less, or none at all?

Much of the push for homework comes from a mistrust of children’s innate need to learn. Parents and educators fear that without constant pushing and prodding, a child will learn nothing at all, seek out no knowledge, and fail to thrive academically. But the reverse may be true. Deborah Meier, American educator and founder of the modern small schools movement, stated in the Homework Myth, “Kids are natural learners: we do not need to inspire them to be so — we need to keep from extinguishing it.” Homework, unfortunately, seems to do just that. Most children hate and dread homework, put it off for as long as possible. According to Kohn, homework may be the “single most reliable extinguisher of the flame of curiosity.”

What homework does seem to teach is not critical thinking skills or a love for learning, but an ability to do what one is told, complete instructions, and regurgitate facts onto a test the following day. This is in fact an extremely shallow view of learning, as standardized tests are a poor measure of intellectual proficiency. In fact, more recent studies, such as those conducted by Sandra L. Hofferth and John F. Sandberg (Journal of Marriage and Family, 2001) show that time commitment to homework was “not associated with higher or lower test scores on any [achievement] tests.” Rather, the amount of time children spend reading for pleasure was strongly correlated with higher test scores. If, as Kohn revealed from such studies, there is no academic benefit to homework, why do some still argue its importance?

A common argument from homework proponents is that the act of doing homework every night is in itself “character building,” that it helps with study skills and self-discipline, initiative, and independence. However, these ideas are just that: ideas, with no studies to support them. One might argue that time management and study skills can be learned during the seven hours children are in school; nothing magical happens when they enter their own homes to make time management skill acquisition happen. Oftentimes the burden of enforcer simply transfers from teacher to parent once the child is home — the parent is expected to remind the child of her responsibility to complete her homework before she engages in any other activities, or even introduce reward or punishment systems in order to reinforce homework completion. If the parent leaves the child to remember to do her homework herself, there is often backlash from the school in the form of phone calls, emails, notes home, or meetings regarding the lack of homework enforcement. How much responsibility or independence is a child really learning through this dynamic? Perhaps what we mean here is “conformity” rather than responsibility, as in this sense, we are speaking of a child’s willingness or acceptance of what she has been told to do. True independence and responsibility (including greater academic self-confidence) comes when a child is given a greater sense of autonomy, which is, not surprisingly, associated with more successful learning. Homework, or homework, should be chosen by the child if it is to encompass true learning.

So what happens when a teacher decides to stop giving out homework, and instead focuses on covering the entirety of the material during class time? When students are intrigued or inspired by something they learn about in school, they naturally seek out more knowledge on their own, in their own time. They take charge of their own learning. Children and adolescents have an intrinsic motivation to learn; when freed from homework, they often create their own assignments and projects out of their curiosity and interest. I have seen this firsthand time and time again with my own children. Inspired by a lesson on geometry and interested in learning about algebra, Milo recently asked my husband to teach him the basics; they spent time on Khan Academy’s site together. Afterwards, Milo asked for equations to solve and sat at the dining room table completing them. Other times, I have watched as my 6-year-old, Oliver, writes out square root charts to himself (inspired by what he had learned earlier that day in school) while I read aloud at bedtime. They read constantly, and ask to be read to. No one forces them, or even suggests to them that they should be doing this work. They do so because they choose it, because they are inspired, because they have been allowed the space to learn.

To those who will inevitably jump to the conclusion that parents who don’t support homework don’t support education — think again. It is exactly those parents who support a true and genuine love of learning, who value curiosity and observe the human desire and thirst for knowledge, who will question and research and challenge the status quo. It may be argued that parents who question homework policies love education most of all, for to challenge a position, one must thoroughly think about it. One must hold it in one’s mind, turn it upside-down, and dump its contents out, sift through its components to discover and rediscover its value. Out of love for our children and their joy of learning, we must realize that there is a different way to approach education — that just because we have always done something does not mean it is the right path for the future. More parents are saying no to homework. Maybe you should too.

(C) 2016 The Washington Post · Lauren Knight 



  1. Homework helps students transfer the information they learned that day in class, from their short-term memory to their long-term memory. This IS proven by research.
    Although the author makes great points, I feel like a short/concise review of the concepts learned that day is reasonable and truly assists students to excel.

  2. This is such a great article. Homework is such a stress on the kids, and once you have a bunch of kids, it’s a stress on the whole family bc the whole house is focused on the stressful task of doing homework.

    But what is there to do? I’ve heard that R Matisyahu Solomon is against homework to, but which school is going to be the first one to drop it? No one has the guts, so how can we actually make this a reality?

  3. A few thoughts:
    1) If the exact same homework is sent home more than once, the teacher may just be too lazy to set up useful assignments. This can’t be defended.
    2) If the homework is far too easy then either the child is advanced (and possibly should be skipped if the regular classwork is also too easy), or the teacher should make it more interesting and challenging.
    3) Homework must have an objective. It should provide a review of the work, not just be there to be yotzeh giving homework.
    4) It shouldn’t be overly burdensome either regarding its difficulty or the time it will take to complete.
    5) One point the writer missed is that homework can provide a window for the parents to see what’s being covered and how their child is doing. Addressing a weakness can be done far earlier than after a failed test comes home.

  4. Abolish homework! “Work” and “home” should not mix. The home should be a persons comfortable haven. School or the office is where you go to work and home is where you should relax, have fun and recuperate from the day…. Do we like it when our spouse brings “work-home” ? So why do we make our kids bring “home-work” ? If the kid is the type that enjoys reading and learning new things… He will do that on his own and will choose the subjects that interest him most.

  5. It is wrong to give homework! This article says it all! it fosters a bad relationship with learning. It makes the parents into slave drivers. HaRav Mattisyohu Soloman writes in his book on cinuch that he is against it. I don’t understand why nobody listens to him!!!!!!!!! ABOLISH IT PLEASE.

  6. As a Rebbe, teacher, (7th and 8th grades) and a parent of high school and elementary school children, I have stopped giving homework about 10 years ago. I discovered then, that the nights I did not give homework, the students (of which I have almost 100 a day) were more refreshed and willing to learn.

    A. G. Instead of HW, I allow the students to do a quick review IN CLASS at the beginning and end of each period. The day before a big exam, the entire period is dedicated for studying. This accomplishes a few things.

    1. I can’t rely that the parents know the material to hep them.
    2. If the student needs extra help, I can help him.
    3. I see who really does the work – this avoids copying answers from other students.
    4. Children come home more relaxed.
    5. I avoid confrontation with the students: I forgot it at home; I didn’t bring my material home; My parents went to a Chasuna; and all the other myriad excuses children give.

    Additionally, all projects and reports which I assign are done IN CLASS. When the projects are sent home, parents end up doing it, and teachers get complaints that one child, I mean parent, did more work than the other. The child doesn’t get the skills to do the report and the teacher can help guide the students when needed.

    As far as keeping parents informed, I have a website which parents access on a daily basis to see what we have done, photos of us doing it, when the upcoming exams are, review sheets that we use in class, and a way to contact me. I also use an app called CLASS DOJO where I can quickly and efficiently take attendance, and write comments directly from my phone. Parents have their own password to monitor their child’s progress, test scores, behavior, tardiness, and awards, on a daily basis. For those parents who do not have access to internet, I text or call as needed.

    Think about the last time your child came home saying “there is no homework tonight.” What was his reaction? What was yours? Relief? Happiness? How was the evening? Enjoyable? Less stressful? Today more then ever, when many families are forced to have both parents working full time, every moment spent with them is precious.

    A Rebbe and Teacher

  7. This is an awesome article about a topic that has been addressed over and over. Unfortunately, the schools dont care and don’t listen. Rav Matisyahu pleaded but the Menahalim and principals think they know better. The same Mechanchim who teach the importance of listening to Daas Torah do not follow it themselves. What a contradiction. The Mashgiach who thinks and sees Klal Yisroel as a whole somehow, according to our esteemed educators, lost his mind on this one.

    We certainly all understand that there is nothing greater then Chazara. It is critical. It must be done. Who says though it should be done as a homework assignment. I know a Mesivta in Brooklyn that every Monday night night Seder is an Avos Ubonim night Seder. Its not homework, its enjoyable that one night a week my father comes to my Yeshiva to lean and we Chazer the Gemora. THAT’S a way to get it done. It is enjoyable not a Chiyuv!

    Our children are taxed to their limit. We do not allow them to be kids anymore. We have them in school for Minyan by 7:45 (so for some they are up at 6:30am), we keep them there until (fill in the blank for your kids school) then we pile on more work. Then we want to know why they are frustrated, why they give up, why they go off, why they rebel and of course the finger pointing then starts as to who is at fault.

    Mt personal opinion is that the parents can’t fight this anymore because the schools just won’t listen. Therefore, it is the Rabbonim who need to take care of this. The same Rabbonim who are so intimately involved with their Mispallelim and give up hundreds of hours dealing with Sholom Bayis issues in their Kehilla, must go to the schools and help relieve the extra horrific havoc homework causes in homes. Rabbonim know the truth. Parents are tired, they work hard, long hours, KA”H have many children, there are all types of pressures, financial, social, family and whatever. Then of course, fathers need to also find time to learn so mothers get stuck home alone even more and usually are stuck with the battle to do the work assigned. Then the ridiculousness of the school / teacher reaction to when homework is not done (extra assignments, lost recess to do the work instead, missing trips, sent to the office, notes home, suspensions etc.) This creates a resentment between parent and school and does nothing to foster a healthy outlook and ability to work together.

    Schools don’t want me (parents) to tell them how to run their schools. Well, parents don’t want you (schools) telling us how to run our homes.

    There is a fair compromise. Its called optional. Make homework contests. Rabbeim and teachers can give out homework each day and then parents and their kids can decide if they want to do it or not. We all know, if it is exciting, stimulating and interesting, the kids and parents will choose to probably do it because then it is stress free. If not, then the parent and child have the right to choose not to.

  8. A child should be assigned small home work assignments that are under an hour long for his growing elementary years if at all. If he has to work more than 2 hours a night before 6th grade, there is no better experience that will destroy his growing id and fame in his values.

    I would however make an attestation that the nice people who try to post things to most of the jewish web sites are so poorly organized and educated that they likely did not do their homework at all in high school.

    If you can not write a sentence, use a dictionary or understand the literature at your level of education; you are way against a human skill.

    Think and assign as a human being can learn.


  9. Learning and review should be done in class. Often, a teacher is not able to connect to a child, fails to teach in class, then relies on parents to do the teaching during the “homework” time. If a teacher does his job properly, there is no need for homework.

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