From: Dom on
The folllowing op-ed piece generated several letters in The Boston
Globe. The way in which the assignment (or non-assignment) of homework
has degenerated is another indicator of the demise of education in the

The Boston Globe April 3, 2010

Nurture vs. homework
By Joanna Weiss, Globe Columnist

I DON'T remember much from my kindergarten days, but I do remember
crying piteously once because I didn't want to go to first grade. Why?
I heard they gave you homework in first grade. And after five years of
blissfully carefree afternoons, I wanted no part of that.

Flash forward 30 years or so to my daughter's full-day kindergarten
experience, which includes substantial amounts of homework. Real
homework: Scrambled sentences and flashcard drills. Addition and
subtraction. Word problems.

It's a way to reinforce what she's learning in school, her teacher
once explained. And on that level, I'm not complaining: My daughter
usually loves school and learning, and applies her newfound skills in
creative and practical ways. Once, she came to my office and, without
prompting, drew an x- and y-axis on a white board. Her class had been
charting the weather every day. I welled with maternal pride.

On the other hand, she's 5. She's supposed to do her homework at the
end of a long day, when she's tuckered out, her baby brother is
fussing, and her parents are desperately trying to get dinner on the
table. Homework can be a family project--some coaching with an abacus
helps the math problems go down--and it can be stressful. Even more
so, I gather, in later grades, when kids are often saddled with hours
of nightly work from teachers who don't coordinate, at times when
they're supposed to be busy with sports and music lessons and,
theoretically, the act of being children.

And there's no real proof that all of that homework helps, says Nancy
Kalish, co-author of the 2006 book "The Case Against Homework."
Research shows no correlation, she wrote, between volume of homework
and test scores or success in life. Other developed countries give far
less homework than we do. Yet while parents and educators across the
country have thanked her for the book, Kalish says, very little in our
national school culture has changed since its publication. That's
partly due to our new emphasis on standardized testing, which prompts
more drilling of academic skills. But it's partly because of our
pervasive and pressure-filled culture of kid achievement.

To many well-meaning parents, "achievement" is a term that's so vague
it can be a trap--a message that we don't just need to give our kids
the skills to live productive lives, but also to make sure those
skills come early, in ways that can be measured. There's a reason why
so many baby toys have "Einstein" or "leap" in their names, and why
companies peddle high chairs that purport to be educational. And
there's a link between an early focus on academic gains and the fact
that so many high school seniors, trained early to link test scores to
success, believe their futures hang on which colleges they happen to
attend. (That's an especially noxious idea at a time when private
college tuition can top $50,000 per year.)

We're far more malleable than that, both in our capacity to achieve
and in our rates of learning. Kalish notes that, no matter when they
start reading, most kids reach the same level by third grade. If
they're given too much homework before they're developmentally ready,
she says, kids can internalize the notion that they aren't natural
students. But as David Shenk argues in his new book "The Genius in All
of Us," natural talent or intelligence aren't what determine
achievement; discipline and hard work matter more, whether a kid's
passion is physics or piano.

Book title notwithstanding, Shenk isn't advocating that we all create
child prodigies. But he does believe in nurturing kids' interests, and
he thinks that homework can get in the way. That's why--like many
parents, I suspect--he thinks homework should be flexible and, to some
degree, optional. He'll send a note to his daughter's teacher, saying
she wanted to modify her assignment, or that it was more important for
her to get a good night's sleep than to finish every question. And
when his first-grade son would rather make a home movie than fill out
a worksheet, he indulges. Good teachers, he says, are more than
willing to be flexible with him.

Joanna Weiss can be reached at weiss(a)