The Homework Myth:

Why Our Kids Get Too Much
of a Bad Thing


(Da Capo Press, 2006)

Practical Ideas for Parents

1. Educate yourself.
Make sure you know what the research really says - that there is no evidence whatsoever of any academic benefit from homework in elementary school, little reason to believe that homework is necessary even in high school, and no support for the assumption that homework promotes good work habits, independence, or self-discipline.

2. Check the policy.
Compare how much homework your child is being assigned with school limits and also with teacher's estimates. If the guidelines call for students to spend only a certain amount of time on homework each night - say, ten minutes multiplied by the grade level - don't be shy about speaking up if your child is being asked to spend more than that. Similarly, let the teacher know if he or she has significantly underestimated how long a specific assignment should take.

3. Focus on quality, not just quantity.
The problems with homework aren't limited to its excessive length. Don't assume all is well just because kids are getting what we (or even they) decide is a reasonable amount. Even if this is true, the assignments themselves may not be reasonable; they may not be worth even five minutes of our children's time. If children are being required to do something that fails to help them think more deeply and become more excited about learning, then there's a problem.

4. Ask the probing questions.
Homework is not like the weather, something to which we just have to reconcile ourselves. Don't limit your questions to the details ("Can kids consult the Internet for this assignment?" "When is it due?" "What sort of binder should they have?"). Focus your attention on - and respectfully insist on answers to -- the far more important questions: What reason is there to think that this assignment is worth doing? What evidence exists to show that traditional homework is necessary for children to become better thinkers? Why didn't the kids have a chance to participate in deciding which of their assignments need to be taken home? Would my child really be a less proficient or enthusiastic learner if there was no homework at all?

5. Remember that your primary responsibility is to your child.
The well-being of your child (and family) matter more than whether a worksheet is filled out or a report is written. Too many parents understand the pointlessness of many homework assignments, witness the toll they take on their children, dread the nagging and arguments each evening - and yet allow themselves to be intimidated into going along with what they know doesn't make sense. Your job is to support your child's emotional, intellectual, social, and moral development, not to be the school's enforcer.

6. Organize.
Speak out on the issue - to teachers, administrators, school board members, and the general public. Talk to other parents at birthday parties, at the hairdressers, on the playground, even in line at the supermarket. Share publications that debunk misconceptions about homework and let educators, as well as other families, know how many common beliefs on the subject (e.g., it "reinforces classroom instruction" or "teaches responsibility") are nothing more than folk wisdom. Encourage other parents to speak out as well - and bring some of them with you when you meet with teachers and administrators. One parent with a concern can be dismissed even if she's right. Ten parents saying that homework does more harm than good are hard to ignore.

About The Homework Myth

A compelling exposé of homework – how it fails our children, why it’s so widely accepted, and what we can do about it.

Death and taxes come later; what seems inevitable for children is the idea that, after spending the day at school, they must then complete more academic assignments at home. The predictable results: stress and conflict, frustration and exhaustion. Parents respond by reassuring themselves that at least the benefits outweigh the costs.

But what if they don’t? In The Homework Myth, Alfie Kohn systematically examines the usual defenses of homework – that it promotes higher achievement, “reinforces” learning, teaches study skills and responsibility. None of these assumptions, he shows, actually passes the test of research, logic, or experience.

So why do we continue to administer this modern cod liver oil – or even demand a larger dose? Kohn’s incisive analysis reveals how a mistrust of children, a set of misconceptions about learning, and a misguided focus on competitiveness have all left our kids with less free time and our families with more conflict. Pointing to parents who have fought back – and schools that have proved educational excellence is possible without homework -- Kohn shows how we can rethink what happens during and after school in order to rescue our families and our children’s love of learning.

Where to buy it:

In Association with or -- © Alfie Kohn