As the school year revs up, social media has been flooded with back-to-school pics and viral parenting videos about the joys of sending kids back to school. But one thing that nobody is smiling about is the prospect of homework. It's so hated by parents and kids alike that a recent announcement by a teacher in Texas to do away with homework has been met with generous praise.
So if everyone hates homework, why do we make kids do it? And whose idea was it to have homework in the first place?
That dubious honor is likely held by an Italian educator named Roberto Nevilis, who is said to have assigned homework to his students in 1095 as a punishment for unruly behavior. (It should be noted that while this story is repeated in many places on the internet, there really is no definitive proof that Nevilis invented homework.)
But what is true, according to the Brookings Institute, is that in 1900, Edwark Bok, the editor of the widely popular Ladies Homes Journal, published an impassioned article entitled "A National Crime at the Feet of Parents," an editorial accused homework of destroying American children. Bok argued that homework took away from the time kids should be playing and moving, that it threatened children’s physical and mental health, and that it challenged a parent's rights to decide how kids should spend their time. Sound familiar?
The article was so influential that it prompted an anti-homework movement that resulted in many school districts banning the practice. California even passed a state law in 1901 making it unlawful to assign homework to any child under the age of 15.
But when the Russians launched Sputnik in 1957, there was a general fear that American students were falling behind. Homework made a resurgence. That surge has continued to this day, with federally mandated core curriculum standards that place greater emphasis on test scores.
So is homework an effective way for students to learn?
Proponents of the practice argue that it helps students in three ways: It gives them the opportunity to review material learned in the classroom, allows them to take responsibility for their education, and it gives parents a heads-up about what their kids are learning in school (provided they review their child's homework).
But the negatives of homework that Bok pointed out in 1900 still ring true today. And as Young points out in her note, there have never been any studies that prove that homework is beneficial.
What does help students learn? A good night's sleep, a healthy diet and plenty of opportunities to exercise. Sounds like a good homework assignment to me.