French Prez Wants to Ban Homework. He's RIght, But for the Wrong Reasons.


y u no useful?

French President François Hollande proposed banning homework as part of a school reform package last week. French schoolkids already put in long school days: 8:30 to 4:30 or longer. But that's not Hollande's concern. In fact, he wants to extend the school week from 4 days to 4.5.

Instead, he is worried about the inequality factor—kids who get extra help at home have an unfair edge, he frets. "An education program is, by definition, a societal program. Work should be done at school, rather than at home."

He's right that homework sucks. But not for the reasons he thinks. Kids with involved parents will always have an edge, whether or not they have a pile of books to schlep home every day. But new research suggests that slamming kids with extra work may be counterproductive, especially for younger kids: 

Inundating children with hours of homework each night is detrimental, the research suggests, while an hour or two per week usually doesn't impact test scores one way or the other. However, homework only bolsters students' academic performance during their last three years of grade school. "There is little benefit for most students until senior high school (grades 10-12)," Walker [says].

One solution to fixing the broken homework system that is gaining currency in U.S. circle is flip teaching, or flipping the classroom. Why not have kids work on problem sets, art projects, and writing assignments while they're in class, with access to extra help? Let them do the passive consumption part of their education—listening to lectures, watching educational videos, or reading textbooks—on their own time at home. Online learning tools make this a more viable option than ever.

Kids who quickly grasp a concept can speed through the tutorials, while kids who need to hear or see (or both) the explanation again can repeat it as many times as they want without slowing down other kids or fearing embarrassment. The result would be less homework overall and more flexibility for kids. 

Even if we can't achieve this kind of radical reform, though, that's no excuse for giving a second grader three hours of homework. Free play time helps grow smart kids. Let the kids go!

Unfortunately, homework tends to come back into style when people fear that Americans are falling behind (ahem, winning the future, ahem, China, ahem), which means we're probably in for another uptick in homework, evidence to the contrary be damned.

Bonus: The kicker of The Washington Post's coverage of this issue won my heart.

His homework position is not original; some school districts in the United States did the same thing going back more than a century. Early in the 1900s, the influential Ladies' Home Journal magazine called homework "barbarous," and school districts such as Los Angeles abolished it in kindergarten through eighth grade.  In fact, some educators said it caused tuberculosis, nervous conditions and heart disease in the young and that children were better off playing outside. The American Child Health Association in the 1930s labeled homework and child labor as leading killers of children who contracted tuberculosis and heart disease.

Homework kills!

NEXT: Doctors Impressed by Pakistani Teen's Recovery

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  1. “But new research suggests that slamming kids with extra work may be counterproductive”

    Gee, now that I’m 41 this comes just in time. Homework essentially ruined my academic career (well that and my lunacy, but I would have gotten away with the latter if not for homework). Even in college I got stuck with classes with endless amounts of homework.

  2. I’m not a fan of giving children hours upon hours of homework, but I’d say that a few hours a week is okay. It helps instill work ethic in them and teaches them to prioritize their activities.

    That being said, I’ve always learned the most from interactive instruction and lectures in class than reading the book.

    1. Homework’s great Rick, but you’re right in that you can definitely overdo it. For elementary school, one hour a night seems about right. For high school maybe one to two hours. That’s total, not per class.

      A friend’s kid is saddled with five to six hours of homework a night. Looking through it, it’s all useless busywork.

      1. “Looking through it, it’s all useless busywork.”

        Of course it is. Unless he needs the kid to re-design reactor 3 down at the plant, what the hell other use could that amount of work go to?

        The main problem is that this sort of regimen seems specifically engineered to get kids to actively dislike learning.

        Now granted, my view of my personal high school experience is that it’s as close to prison as I ever desire to have to endure, but still I’m not completely off base here.

      2. Five to six hours?!? That’s utterly fucked. Of course, I never did any of my homework so even an hour sounds like a lot to me.

        1. Homeroom is for homework.

          If I couldnt get it done in 10 minutes, it was too much.

    2. I was always the exact opposite.

      Listening to lectures – useless. Doing exercises – useless. Interactive instruction – useless. Just give me the damn book and I’m good.

  3. Wait… France only has a four day school week? WTF?

    1. Gets them used to the 4 day work week.

  4. Instead, he is worried about the inequality factor?kids who get extra help at home have an unfair edge, he frets. “An education program is, by definition, a societal program. Work should be done at school, rather than at home.”

    We can’t have children learning diligence, responsibility, initiative and self reliance. They might not become faithfull wards of the state.

    / snark.

    *looks for soap and water to wash hands after typing above*

    1. Remember, according to our progressive friends, we each owe society the state a certain level of productivity.

      1. And the peasants owed a certain amount of labor every year in the lord’s fields.

    2. children should be separated from parents at birth and taught to be entirely dependent on the state as a source of knowledge and wisdom and authority. indepently managed actity outside the institution undermines the concept of education as social acculturation.

  5. Finally, the true cause of all those deaths in Europe in the 20th century revealed: homework!

    The Russians did it, the Prussians did it… no wonder that the whole continent went to the dogs.

    “homework and child labor”

    Homework is worse: totally make-believe labor and the little tykes didn’t even get a nickel per hour for it. Worse than slave labor, too: not even pyramids to show for it, except pyramids of workbooks.

    1. Why I hated homework. And why I never made my kids do it, although I would always help them learn the concepts and ideas behind the homework.

  6. I’m not sure I agree.
    When I was in grade school, my homework was so easy I could finish it in 15 minutes per assignment. I recall laughing with a college friend over an Onion article titled “High School Students Complain: Classes Unchallenging”. “The secret is finally out!” she exclaimed. We both could have learned a lot more in high school if we’d had teachers who were dedicated to filling out heads with as much knowledge as we could take. I probably could have skipped a few grades if I’d actually been working up to my capacity.

    I don’t know if school has changed much in the interim, but I sense that homework loads are likely to be lighter these days, not heavier.

    1. You would be wrong. Look up the averages. The hours per night estimates have shot up.

      1. I’ve seen those numbers. I think they are as reliable as any other government statistic.

        1. Are you saying Randian is wrong? Then HazelMeade is right. But Randian says HazelMeade is wrong. Then who is right?

  7. Siounds good to me dude, homework is stupid anyways.

  8. I am going to contradict the general flow of arguments here:

    You cannot truly master any subject by sitting in a classroom for a few hours a day. If you are going to learn mathematics, learn physics or learn a language, it takes many hours of practice. Homework is essential to obtain that practice.

    1. MAYBE a language, sure.

      1. MAYBE a language, sure.

        As a linguist, DEFINITELY a language.

        Unless you’re this guy.

      2. Not maybe on that one, Fluffster. Aresen is 100% correct on the language claim, especially for written language skills.

        Oral skills also require practice, and a shitload of it to approach anything close to fluency of a native language, and I happen to be a polyglot.

        Think of it this way, Fluffy, were you innately born knowing how to read, write and speak your native language?

        1. Think of it this way, Fluffy, were you innately born knowing how to read, write and speak your native language?

          Aw Hell no! Tell me you just didn’t get all Chomsky up in here!

          1. Far be it from me to argue with a professional linguist, and I am no fan of Chomsky, but that particular theory holds water, HM.

            Particularly in the areas of grammar development, as many languages, such as English, Romance and Slavonic languages occupy similar sentence structure even if English has all but abandoned a case system, for example.

            1. I do agree there must be some underlying grammar to human languages by virtue of the structure of the human brain. Hopefully Geoff Nathan will hop on this thread to give us his point of view.

              1. I tend to think that subject / action / object relationships are just implicitly obvious in reality-as-it-is, and human languages reflect those relationships broadly because we aren’t fucking retards.

                1. If that were true Fluffy, every language could be translated word for word, with no loss in translation. You know as well as I do, this just isn’t so.

                  Acculturation and reinforcement by, you guessed it, homework, to speak a language, and more germane to the subject at hand, read and write it, solidify both the obvious and the nuanced aspect of a given language. I don’t buy the implicitly obvious argument for language acquisition, otherwise, there would be no such thing as a grammatical error, either diction or syntactical.

        2. I’m not disputing the need for practice to learn a language.

          We’re specifically talking about homework.

          I’m sure I’d learn French better if you airdropped me into Paris with a fistful of 100 Euro bills and some condoms than by doing written homework.

          1. Absolutely. But until we pass the No French Whore’s Behind Left Act, we’ll have to settle for conjugating verbs as opposed to people.

          2. I’m sure you would too, Fluffy, but I didn’t learn Russian that way, as dropping me in the middle of Moskva with 10,000 bapki wasn’t feasable. So, I had to learn with homework, even if my teacher instructed me informally. I didn’t learn in the classroom proper, but was given a battery of assignments that would be congruent to a classroom setting, and during my residency tenure, no less. I learned Ukrainian (such as it is), basically the same way.

            Immersion by living in said country is best, and I will be living overseas very soon. Second best, is the Pillow Method, i.e. a significant other who is a native speaker. Third, good old fashioned course work and, wait for it…homework.

      3. Mathematics require drilling to. To really get algebra, you need to be at the point where arithmetic is second nature. To really get calculus you need to be at the point where algebra is second nature. The only way to get to that point is by doing the operations over and over again.

        1. Absotively, Stormy. I concur with this; there was no way I could have learned medicine and many of the hard and abstract concepts without repetitive based homework.

          In HS, I had to do exactly as you prescribe for maths, as most medical concepts are expressed mathematically, and described then executed in mathematical equations. These skills had, and have to be, second nature and reflexive.

        2. Ditto physics. Re-deriving key equations yourself is essential to truly understand them.

          That’s not what young children are doing, mind you. Anything involving construction paper should be banned as homework.

    2. You don’t actually learn mathematics, physics or languages in high school. You get the basics, pass the standardized test and move on.

    3. Not in grade school or even high school. They don’t MASTER any subject, usually.

      Unless they put in voluntary hours outside of school in a subject they love. But it’s never necessary to graduate from any public high school to actually master any subject.

    4. Homework does not equal discipline, or teach discipline. Homework, as I have seen it used in the public education system, is about teaching mindless obedience. The educrat piles hours of crap on your personal time and wields the cudgel of damaging your academic career should you fail to jump through the appropriate hoop in the appropriate manner.

      1. I take it you threw your homework ON THE GROUND!

        1. No, but I did rub the finished product on my balls every once in awhile before I turned it in. 😀

  9. The really funny thing about having “hours” of homework a night is –

    What the fuck does it consist of? Doing the same basic problem over and over again a thousand times?

    WTF good is that?

    The Khan Academy has it right: the correct amount of homework should be “as many repetitions as it takes you to show us you have mastered the concept”.

    After the first ten times you graph 3x + 6 = y type equations properly, what benefit could you possibly get from continuing to do similar problems?

    1. Fluffy, I seem to recall your defense of homework and the grading system a couple of years back. I wish I could pull up the exact exchange, but you said something to the effect of, “Sure, I could have aced everything and graduated early, but the rigors of having defined deadlines and explicit expectations did prepare me socially for how life works outside the classroom.” And that very thing of doing repetitive tasks helps reinforce the new concept to the point of being able to reproduce it without even thinking about it and it becomes reflexive.

      Another thing is just because you show short term mastery of a given concept, unless one is a savant with eidetic recall, does not equate to lifetime mastery of said concept.

      The saying, “Either you use it or you lose it,” still hold water.

  10. i kind of disagree about Homewok=bad

    most ‘time consuming’ homework is simply reading

    id argue kids are under-read already = id probably double the number of required readings.

    then again, if the school didnt require this of my kids, id make them do it myself. fuck “unfair”. growing up stupid is mostly ones own fault

    1. My parents never had to make us read. In fact, when my sister was punished she was banned from reading rather than TV. Horrified the other parents, but if it’s not a hardship, it’s not much of a punishment is it?

  11. “Why not have kids work on problem sets, art projects, and writing assignments while they’re in class, with access to extra help? Let them do the passive consumption part of their education?listening to lectures, watching educational videos, or reading textbooks?on their own time at home. Online learning tools make this a more viable option than ever.”

    Ridiculous. All that does is move around time frames for the same amount of work. If the argument is to do this because of parents that are useless for homework getting done, then those parents still aren’t going to give a shit about the “home learning” getting done.

    Just cut down on all the home shit.

    1. It’s much easier to do the passive lecture type stuff at home, rather than go to the school building and listen to a teacher do the same thing.

      Doing the active problem solving, projects and writing assignments in school with access to the teachers, forces the teachers to actually teach, and make sure the students learn and understand, rather than just lecture and draw up lesson plans for the administration.

  12. From the HuffPo link:

    Assigning homework “appeared to be a remedial strategy (a consequence of not covering topics in class, exercises for students struggling, a way to supplement poor quality educational settings), and not an advancement strategy (work designed to accelerate, improve or get students to excel),” LeTendre wrote in an email.

    This type of remedial homework tends to produce marginally lower test scores compared with children who are not given the work.

    Maybe, just maybe, the conditions that cause remedial homework (not teaching, stupidity, vague gibberish) also cause low test scores.

  13. I used to take my homework to my girlfriend’s house and make out all night instead. Maybe that’s why I’m a failure now. Crap.

  14. Almost 10% of 4 classmates around the world spend several hours each night for homework. Every fifth 4 classmates makes homework in mathematics for 30 minutes or more, three to four times a week.
    Empirical studies associate an excessive homework with sleep disturbance, indicating a negative correlation between the number of homework tasks, stress and physical health.
    The impact of excessive homework varies by age, as well as by cultural or family expectations. Teens in high school or adolescents in high school can study longer than the children of junior high school. However, for elementary school students, even 30 minutes of homework per night combined with other sources of academic stress can have negative consequences. Researchers from China have found that homework for 2 hours or more per day disturbs sleep.
    Some cultures normalize long-term training for young children, but there is no evidence that high levels of homework have academic qualities. In addition, when parents and children conflict through a homework, there are strong negative emotions, homework can actually have negative links with success. That is why, more and more children are forced to use different online services, such as ?research paper service and upwork.

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