Homework, authoritarianism, and student choice

Homework is often justified with the “real world” argument. When I point out that kids should have the freedom to learn independently, play around with friends and socialize in their free time, I hear the rationale that in the real world they will have to work hard whether they want to or not.

In the real world, extra hours will get overtime and people get to choose their jobs. Only in the most authoritarian of nations do we expect people to work additional hours in jobs that are forced upon them by law.

Homework is often justified with the excuse that “the homework is intense in college.” True, but so is the free time. And in college, students have freedom of space, freedom of choice and additional responsibilities that come with adulthood.

So, if you want to make homework like the real world, it needs to be extra credit and it needs to be based upon student choice. If you care deeply about mirroring school and the real world, you need less coercion, more freedom, more choice and more self-directed responsibility.

John Spencer via http://www.educationrethink.com/2012/09/homework-and-real-world.html

5 Responses to “Homework, authoritarianism, and student choice”

  1. Hey Scott, I would take a slightly different angle, though I think I agree generally with the conclusion. I’ve never heard the “real-world” argument about homework; I’ve mostly heard the “practice” argument. But I would suggest that if we had adaptive, mastery-based instruction (with embedded practice) that was truly effective in classrooms then the entire issue of homework would be moot. If kids demonstrate mastery of the material via their performance in class (taking into account accuracy and speed), the very idea of needing more practice with homework would be kind of ridiculous, wouldn’t it?

    • On re-reading the original post, I should revise my statement to say that I generally agree with the conclusion that we don’t need homework, not that I agree about the student-choice and self-directed responsibility parts, with which I wholeheartedly disagree. Thx.

  2. Homework, as most teachers know it, tends to be either boring or frustrating. This is a good enough argument to rethink it. There is a big push to flip the classroom so that kids watch videos of direct instruction outside of class. Another practice that shifts homework to something else comes from the project-based learning community. Here students work on projects that they chose or designed when they are not in class. In my mind, either approach beats the old do the odd problems on page 50 routine. I agree that students need to play more, so how about giving them some cool play activities to do when they are not in class? Some of this should be outdoors, but in 2012, most parents do not let their children play outside without supervision and they don’t want to or can’t supervise themselves. This results in a lot of TV watching mixed with boring homework.

  3. I like the idea, Doug, of having kids work on projects of their choice outside of class. I think that builds in the “student-directed” piece that so many seem to be clamoring for without taking time away from instruction in class. And although I don’t think that homework should be used to solidify instruction, per se, I do like the idea of using it to teach kids some responsibility for completing something on their own. That doesn’t mean hours of homework, for me, but you get the idea.

    But speaking of playing outside without supervision, did you hear that story on the news recently about the woman who was arrested because she let her 6 and 9 year old children play outside (on a cul-de-sac) without supervision? A neighbor called the police.

  4. I share similar views on homework. The children who most need enrichment will not do homework and will receive some sort of punishment (reprimand, loss of privilege, lower grade) at school. Those who complete homework come from homes where the family activities and conversations are much richer than any homework schools could ever provide. Homework detracts from family learning and independent discovery.

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