The Case Against Homework

My daughter’s schoolwork should be done during school hours

LLike most nine-year-olds, my daughter hates homework. “My brain is exhausted,” she’ll tell me, as she slogs through that evening’s hour of assignments.

Generally, when my child doesn’t want to do something that’s required of her, I tell her what my parents told me: Life isn’t fair. We all have to eat our vegetables, go to school, be polite, and suck it up.

But when it comes to homework, she actually has a point.

American children have way too much homework these days. Younger children are sometimes getting up to three times the amount recommended by the National Education Association, and teenagers are doing twice as much as I did when I was in school in the mid-’90s. For kids with after-school activities, it’s even worse — just an hour of homework can become a mad, stressed rush for my daughter if she’s not home from school right away.

This stockpile of work causes stress and sleep problems and interferes with social and emotional learning. Worse yet, according to the most recent research, it’s not necessarily terrific for school performance, either.

America’s homework problem isn’t just about kids.

What’s the point of all this homework? If we want to teach our children to love learning — to foster their sense of curiosity — homework is working against us. It’s teaching kids that learning is something to dread.

When left to her own devices, my daughter loves to learn. She loves graphic novels and sketching out ideas for inventions (the latest: a flying car). But add in a mountain of worksheets or make her “log” her reading pages, and all that joy disappears.

America’s homework problem isn’t just about kids, though. Parents are often expected to help their children with homework or to check their work. We’re told that if we can’t, we’re putting our kid at a disadvantage in the classroom.

The implications of that are as political as they are personal: Women do the majority of childcare and domestic work, and hours of homework add even more stress and time to women’s already burdened second shift at home. And for lower-income parents who work more hours and come home exhausted, helping their children with even more work is simply unrealistic.

The truth is that we don’t need homework to assess how well children are comprehending their lessons, or to teach them time management — those are things that can be accomplished from 9 to 3.

Our kids are in school over six hours a day; whatever they need to learn, they can learn in those hours. Once the school day is done, children should be able to be children. I want my daughter to spend her afternoons having a playdate or going to join a soccer game. Reading for fun or taking our dogs for a walk or just spending a few hours doing nothing at all. Schoolwork can be done during school hours; leave the rest of the day alone.

Feminist author & columnist. Native NYer, pasta enthusiast.

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