Is homework harmful for kids?


First aired on The Homestretch (08/05/12)

Children's education has been a hot topic in North America in recent years, as several studies have suggested that kids in Asian countries are surging ahead in terms of academic performance. In the face of such global changes, a traditional solution would be to challenge students to study harder and tackle more homework.

But Alfie Kohn, author and education analyst, argues that not only is forcing kids to do homework an ineffective way of learning, it could lead to emotional troubles.

"It tends to make kids less excited about learning, makes many frustrated, exhausted, [and] creates family conflicts," Kohn told CBC's The Homestretch during a recent interview. "My argument is that six hours a day of academics is enough. And family time is for families to decide what to do with, not for schools to presume to tell kids what to do and, by extension, make their parents enforcers of the school's agenda."

hmwrkmyth.jpgKohn's book The Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad Thing is his attempt to dispel the notion that doing homework equals better academic performance. In actuality, Kohn says that research has yet to show that homework benefits kids academically before high school. And when they're in high school, there's a small correlation, but "no proof of a causal relationship."

"In other words, it's true that some kids who do more homework also get higher grades in test scores, but there really isn't any reason to think that they get better grades and test scores because they did more homework. And it's not very difficult to think of other things that could explain it." Some children have access to tutors, for instance, who often work through homework with the students.

So why is the concept of homework so fiercely protected by educators and many parents? Kohn says there are several reasons, but pinpoints three in particular. First, most adults don't trust kids with dictating how they use their own free time, something that Kohn thinks is unfair but also detrimental, as leaving children to structure their own afternoons and evenings is good for them socially and offers them a chance to relax. Second, there's the concern that in a globalized economy, kids need to compete harder for places at post-secondary schools or for jobs, and therefore need to raise their test scores. Third, Kohn believes that many educators are wrongly focused on having students memorize facts as oppose to internalize what they're learning.

"Homework persists because of lack of understanding about understanding."

Do you agree with Kohn's assertion that homework is a negative thing?