GUEST POST: Glass Houses and Homework Stones
By April Schweinhart
Dr. April Schweinhart is a Post-Doctoral Associate in the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science at the University of Rutgers - Newark. Her research focuses on understanding early visual processes in the human brain. In this blog post, however, she is writing in her capacity as a parent.
WOW - So I just caught myself going down the same kind of dangerous, circuitous-logic path that I so often criticize:
I have recently seen A LOT of media relating to the impact of homework on kids, especially in elementary school. The headlines I remember seeing basically led me to the conclusion that homework was unnecessary and even detrimental to elementary-aged children. I have a child in elementary school and, seeing the kinds of work he has brought home in the past, these stories made perfect sense to me. My kid doesn’t need practice on mindless worksheets — they are not challenging, they keep him from more enjoyable activities that ARE challenging/enriching, and they put him in a bad mood.
Upon disencumbering his backpack this afternoon I discovered that in addition to his daily written spelling assignment, we would now have a weekly family-oriented, narrative assignment.
I began my fuming post-haste (sure, my anger was partially motivated by the fact that I now had homework too), resolving to write an email to the principal detailing the research on the uselessness of homework. Of course, to do this, I had to first find all the homework-related research I remembered encountering on social media over the past few months….
This proved harder than I thought — a quick Google Scholar search actually revealed a myriad of studies touting the benefits of age-appropriate homework, e.g. (1) – in fact, the first line of the abstract of this paper state quite definitively “There seems to be a general consensus in the literature that doing homework is beneficial for students.”
Thinking that perhaps I just wasn’t using the right search terms, I tried scouring the ‘regular’ internet only to, unsurprisingly, find poorly sourced info which just uses scare tactics, confirmation bias, out-right lies, and plain-old bad logic to make an unfounded claim (and, let’s be honest, was I expecting anything better from alternet.org?? FYI— the answer is, no).
I finally resorted to searching the book of face (my recollective source for most of the ‘HOMEWORK BAD!” stories) and finding a wonderful post from this blog detailing that my caveman fuming my have been completely baseless. This blog post, not unlike my own, takes a story from Salon and details the inaccuracies in the article. It turns out this probable source for most of my recalled social-media ‘HOMEWORK BAD!’ sightings may actually have been “misrepresenting the science.”
As Jones detailed in his blog post, the Salon piece took a study from over 25 years ago, pulled quotes that seem to only support her position, and completely ignored the rest of the study which indicated that homework can, in fact, be beneficial. Moreover, the author of the Salon article ignored the 25+ years of homework-related science that has come out since the ONE study that she is misrepresenting.
The moral of this story is obviously to follow your own advice — here I sit touting the benefits of staying informed and reading media with a critical eye and I was doing just the opposite. And, in case you are wondering, rather than throw the proverbial stones at my son’s principle, I instead sent her this post and praised her for recognizing that family narratives and parental involvement in homework are both important facets to early childhood education….even if I didn’t appreciate the adult homework assignment!
This post originally appeared here.
(1) Valle, A., Regueiro, B., Núñez, J. C., Rodríguez, S., Piñeiro, I., & Rosário, P. (2016). Academic Goals, Student Homework Engagement, and Academic Achievement in Elementary School. Frontiers in Psychology, 7.