Is it Homework or Homeschooling?

The Problem

Homework remains a very hot topic, even being addressed on national news programs. Advocates for homework claim that it's necessary in order for children to keep up with other countries. Due to the recent emphasis on standardized tests, many schools have added test-prep practice to be done at home. Still some advocates hold the notion that homework is a means for making children into high achievers. On the other hand are those arguing against homework, or to be specific, too much homework for young children. Those in this camp hold that elementary children could develop a dislike for school and have mental health problems due to stressing over homework. In addition, the argument has been made that homework interferes with family time and the free time that young children need to develop extracurricular skills in sports and the arts.

The Perspective of the Teacher

Some elementary schools require their teachers to send schoolwork home with the children as homework assignments. Teachers can also feel pressured by colleagues and even parents to assign homework. Another reason teachers might assign homework is that this is the way they were taught in their teacher preparation program or during their internships as student teachers. There is also pressure from the generally held public opinion that if children are going to learn to be responsible for their schoolwork, then they need to be assigned homework. Another popular belief is that if children are going to do well in school, there needs to be a home-school connection, which sometimes is misinterpreted to mean assigning homework. Whatever the case may be for assigning homework, teachers are experiencing the pressure to do so from multiple sources.

The Parent Caught in the Middle

Schools have changed considerably since parents were in school themselves. From the perspective of a parent whose child is defiant towards homework and in addition, struggles at school, the homework situation may be overwhelming to the point of frustration, anger, hopelessness, and helplessness. The parent herself may feel inadequate to help her child, and therefore, worries about appearing as a failure in the eyes of the child. Another tension builder is that sometimes teachers punish the child for not returning the homework on time and completed. This can make the parent feel responsible for defending her child and coming to his rescue. This stance may manifest as a confrontation with the teacher; however, many parents fear reprisals from the teacher against the child, so another alternative is to just do the homework for the child to save him from any repercussions. Parents in situations like this may also feel unsure about expressing their concerns to the teacher or school principal, because they think that they may be harshly judged as not being adequate parents or supportive of their child's school.

Taking a Deeper Look

Homework widens the gap. The practice of sending schoolwork with elementary children to be done at home assumes the erroneous notion that anybody can teach, that you don't need a degree in elementary education for the preparation of teaching children. Therefore, this practice puts the parents in the role of teacher. This idea holds many problems. If the parent has limited English skills, how will she be able to teach her child? If the parent has limited education or struggled in school, how will she be able to teach her child? If the parent has limited financial resources, e.g., does not have a computer or the Internet in the home, which is now widely required in order to do schoolwork at home, how will she be able to teach her child? What if the parent works 2nd shift and the child is in daycare after school, how will that parent be able to teach her child? Compare these challenging situations with parents who have advanced education, time, and financial means, and their ability to teach their children at home. The practice of sending schoolwork with elementary children to be done at home widens the achievement gap across many demographics of people and sets up some to fail and some to succeed.

Fueling the potential for dropping out. So, what about the failures? What happens when the child and parent are struggling with schoolwork sent home? What if the schoolwork does not get done? It is a common practice in elementary schools to punish children who don't bring back to school completed and accurate schoolwork. They may get a punishment with a catchy title such as Zeros Aren't Permitted (Z.A.P), which is a slip of paper that the child and parent have to sign indicating that they had problems with the schoolwork sent home. As a result, the child may lose recess, have to stand against the wall, go to the principal's office, serve lunch detention, suffer a reduced grade, or call the parent from school, which all add up to forms of shaming the child. How do children respond to situations such as these? Usually with anger, frustration, depression, or an acute sense of failure. Ultimately, the child becomes at risk for later dropping out of school. Dropping out of school is more of a sequential process than a single, isolated event. It's the result of multiple negative events surrounding schooling in the child's life, and they begin in elementary school.

The Solution

Elementary teachers need to do their jobs and teach children the curriculum of math, science, social studies, reading, writing, language, and technology. When children don't understand or make mistakes in their schoolwork, it should be the teacher-who has been educated to teach and is being paid to teach-that guides, supports, and reteaches them until they learn. Elementary teachers should not be shirking their duties and assigning schoolwork to be done at home and punishing children for not doing it. If children are going feel inspired and motivated towards school and learning, they will need to experience multiple situations of success in doing their schoolwork, and it is the teacher that is best prepared to make this happen.

About Author / Additional Info:
I am a retired elementary teacher and now teach literacy and literature methods courses to students majoring in elementary education at the University of Northern Iowa, USA.