The cry to ban homework is one which has been around for a while. Educators like Alfie Khon have been campaigning for it for years, echoing what students have been saying forever. The President of France, Francoise Hollande, recently announced his intentions to do this in primary and middle schools, stressing the inequalities which homework merely emphasises. Many may cheer, many may rejoice but I’m not totally convinced. In an era where learning is more and more the social currency in which we expect our children’s future’s to be negotiated, it would appear that banning homework seems mental.
Let’s be honest. Homework is something which nobody enjoys. Kids hate it eating up their free time. Teachers generally hate marking it. Parents find it an endless source of stress at home. ‘Twas ever thus though. I left school in 1984 and things don’t appear to have changed much. Rarely was it linked to anything worthwhile. Rarely was it connected to learning above merely doing. Homework was issued as a matter of school policy rather than educational necessity. Under those circumstances is it any wonder that homework has such a bad reputation.
However, before you come to the conclusion that I’m a yoghurt knitting leftie – I may well be but not in terms of homework – it is not learning at home I object to. It is this imposition of ‘work at home’ which creates so many problems. That it enhances and increases inequality of opportunity is difficult to argue against. Those with warm, comfortable homes, modern computers, nice desks and supportive parents are already at an advantage. For some kids, even getting to school is tribute to their tenacity and perseverance. Adding homework to the list of difficulties at home is not only self-defeating but cruel.
But we must not inhibit learning by banning it. Learning at home must be encouraged. I recently, very publicly, shared the best piece of homework I have ever received. Did the student learn from this experience? I’ll let you decide. What I would say is that the learning experiences of both of us have been enhanced by the process. I am very aware that not every student would even have had the tools to create something like this, never mind the will or the talent, but to ban homework seems to be cutting our noses off to spite our faces.
It is not the word ‘homework’ which I object to but the ‘banning’ of it. We could be setting a very dangerous precedent if we do so, inadvertently placing learning way down the list of priorities. So here’s the thing. Let’s stop calling it homework; it’s only a label. Let’s start talking about learning at home. I believe that learning at home needs to be encouraged. We know the students who will do it and do it well and we know the ones who won’t, often for very good reasons. But banning won’t help anyone. Encourage it but don’t punish those who don’t do it. It may well be the last things on their minds when they’re at home.