The Case Against Homework

Apparently France’s president is advocating no homework for school students, mostly because students from more socio-economically advantageous households are likely to have support for doing said homework. Louis Menand suggests, well, I’m not quite sure what he suggests, but it sounds like no homework and more enriching after school activities like violin lessons and sports, etc. To a certain extent, I understand the naysayer rationale here–homework is busy work, teachers have to grade all that homework, etc. But here’s the deal as an English professor and as someone who taught high school, albeit briefly: there is not enough time in class to read, discuss, and write about texts. For instance, when I taught high school English IV, the senior level class, we had to make it from Beowulf to Macbeth in a semester. Not the school year, the first semester. And I say had because that was the time range the students were tested on by the school district, not by me. There’s no way to do that without the students reading on their own time. And as a professor now, all I can say, is that the students who didn’t have the discipline of homework in high school have a much harder time adjusting to college. I’m not saying all homework is worth it, but I know that you spend a lot of time working by yourself in college outside of the time spent in class. If you’ve been through K-12 and no one has taught you how to manage working by yourself, you’re going to have a rude adjustment period, especially since most colleges expect at least an hour’s worth of prep upon the students’ part per college hour. So a 3 hour course should equal 3 hours worth of class prep per week exclusive of time to write papers or do projects.  It also assumes students read at a fairly fast pace. I know it takes me an hour or so to read for every class. I don’t normally consider this time class prep mind you; class prep is probably another hour not to mention all the preplanning hours before a course begins. But I’m a fast reader to begin with (I read all of Julian Barnes’s The Sense of an Ending in four hours Sunday morning), most students are not, mostly because they haven’t been given the practice.

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