Around the time I was about 11 years old, I remember being saddled homework. I was one of those really skinny kids with the enormous backpack who I often see now on the train with a Jamba Juice. Sixth grade, junior high, marked the beginning of honors classes and so this meant double what the other classes were doing. As I got older, I was particularly drawn to advanced placement English courses which meant massive Norton Anthologies that my teacher’s refused to let us cut in half. I remember my parents commenting on the increasing load with comments like, “I never had that much homework when I was your age,” and my Grandmother worrying about what the load was doing to my spine. My family probably would have been in support of this movement of New Jersey parents to ban homework, especially considering that with the exception of English, a large majority of it was busy work: endless worksheets and stapled packets — essentially child-appropriate versions of the forms my father used to fill out at the DMV.
However, when I got to my liberal arts college, I remember being confronted with a different student work ethic that I hadn’t really encountered in my public high school: kids who weren’t willing to work at all. As evidenced in this study, almost half of college students don’t really learn anything in US colleges and universities. I came across this study earlier this year, but when reflecting on my own college experience and that of friends, the numbers do seem about right. While there were those of us who practically lived in the library, there were clearly others who never so much as visited — about half.
A girl in my tiny French class once pulled me aside and said that she would be transferring to the larger public school in the next town. When I asked her why as we exited class, she said that her friends at the public university weren’t held to such high standards and could have more of a “life.” A friend from high school emailed me freshman year to say that she would be transferring out of Stanford — a place that she had applied to early decision. When I inquired what brought this on, she said simply that she didn’t want to work that hard anymore.
Assigning loads of homework to students isn’t going to make them anymore inherently college-bound. In fact, a lot of my millenial friends found themselves to be burned out by the time they got college because of such huge volumes of homework. Assignments that proved to be more tedious than challenging left them too mentally exhausted for college — when real ideas and assignments were demanded of them. Perhaps this “ban” on homework may spur a more thoughtful discussion of what should constitute as suitable homework in the first place.