It’s four o’clock and my fourth grader has been out of school for two hours. Plenty of time to wind down, I guess — but after a long school day, I am hesitant to think he requires more academics. He has homework to complete, and with basketball practice a little over an hour away, this is his only window of pre-exhausted brain functioning before bedtime. So, I call him to the kitchen, motioning for him to sit at the counter as I grab his school bag. Before his take-home folder is even revealed, the battle begins. Complaining, protesting, loud sighing — oh, homework. How I loathe you.
And to be honest, in the last few years our school has minimized homework, requiring fewer completed sheets and projects and more suggested reading and math app times. But still, it’s a battle that requires a lot of coercion and monitoring. It causes family feuds and increases frustration and most times I simply wish it didn’t exist.
But I get it. I understand that our teachers’ hands are a little tied here. That they are working tirelessly in an incredibly underpaid industry, giving all of themselves for the betterment of our youth while needing to comply with state requirements. Standardized testing benchmarks require a certain level of achievement that teachers understandably feel pressure to meet.
But does homework help with learning? Does it increase a child’s rate of comprehension and achievement? When I looked, studies and results seemed more complicated than I anticipated. Because while there does not seem to be much concrete evidence to support homework being directly correlated with higher academic achievement, supporters of homework say that is not the point. They believe that homework, especially at the elementary level, is important as a value, to instill responsibility and positive learning habits at an early age. And when they put it that way, I have a hard time arguing it.
After all, I am no expert in homework effectiveness. What I am an expert in, though, is the impact that it has on my home. The chaos it sparks and the complete and full-body resistance that it triggers from my kids. But is pushing through their resistance a necessary thing for their growth? Will it ultimately lead to increased responsibility and life skills? I don’t know if I am sold. Because although they ultimately surrender and complete the assignments, the relationship turmoil it causes at home might not be worth it.
And to be successful — as a tool for learning or life skills — it requires a certain level of privilege. Especially in elementary school, completion of homework requires a safe home, sound parental guidance, organization, materials, access to the internet, etc. Honestly, I often worry that any out-of-school requirement for kids (as well as many in-school ones) put certain populations of kids at a steep disadvantage. So why not minimize that when we can, and even the playing field a bit? Or maybe that’s life — another lesson in reality that they should learn early. Who knows.
The issue is a little more complicated than I would like. I understand the value of instilling certain life skills in kids, and I certainly understand why our poor teachers are trying to maximize the comprehension and achievements of their students. But still, being the homework police is hard. And as a mom of four whose days are filled with endless difficulties and conflicts already, I just really wish the homework battle was one I didn’t have to fight.
Samm is an ex-lawyer and mom of four who swears a lot. Find her on Instagram @sammbdavidson.