homeworkGrade Expectations is a weekly look at education from a parent’s perspective. We’ll talk special needs, gifted & talented, and everything in between. 

It’s the bane of every student’s existence. It’s the most eye-roll inducing part of high school. Of course I’m talking about homework. No one likes it. All that pointless busy work sucks up a students time. All the hours spent in the evenings when kids should be outside playing or involved in extra curriculars is obviously unfair. Even parents think that the intense level of homework has gotten completely out of hand, right? Actually, I don’t think that at all. I think homework is important. And I’m not talking about a single research paper every grading period, I’m talking about lots of homework.

During class time, teachers focus on instructing their students. They teach lessons. They give lectures. They work on explaining a concept so that their students understand it. Homework is how teachers check to make sure that students comprehended the lesson and can utilize the skills taught on their own. It’s how teachers can make sure that kids are ready to move to a different lesson, or a more advanced part of the initial lesson. Homework has a purpose, and those who think that their child is just so smart that they don’t need any practice is setting their kid up for a big shock when they encounter something that’s actually difficult. By the way, that time will come sooner or later.

When I was a sophomore in high school, my American History/English block assigned groups of students different books. They were important pieces of literature, but they were also representative of time in American History. We looked at things like The Scarlet Letter, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Their Eyes Were Watching God. Each group prepared a three hour presentation on their book, its influence and the time period it represented. That’s right, a three hour presentation, complete with class handout and activities. At the end of the presentations there was a test for the whole class about the books, so that the audience needed to learn and understand the pieces that were being presented.

Myself and three other students were assigned Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. That’s right, we had to read and report on a book that was over a thousand pages long. We ended up lecturing on our work, as well as the other works by Rand, for three class sessions. It was an eight-hour presentation, discussion and debate. Between reading and preparing for that single assignment, I probably spent at least 30 hours. Does that seem like an excessive amount of time? Yes, it does. Did I gain knowledge and understanding that I never would have had without reading the book on my own and analyzing my own thoughts about the philosophy? Absolutely.

Those big projects taught me how to tackle a tough problem. My group and I spent weekends sitting around kitchen tables with discussion points and activity ideas. We had to work together to divide up the work, trust each other to complete our personal projects and come together for the final presentation.

Big, overreaching assignments like that are easy to defend. It makes sense for students to learn how to research and analyse. They take an enormous amount of time, but most will agree that the sacrifice is worth it. Parents and students get more frustrated by math worksheets and chemistry memorization. They refer to that as busy work. They think they’re assignments just for the sake of assignments.

Personally, I think that type of homework has its place too. I used to spend hours in the office of my calculus teacher, going over problem after problem. I needed that repetition to understand complex math work. I needed to memorize those equations in chemistry to get through an experiment. Those countless problems and hours repeating the same skill prepared me to actually utilize those concepts without hesitation.

And even more than the specific assignment, homework teaches work ethic. It helps students learn about working on their own. It forces kids to work through their problems without help or instruction. These are skills that shouldn’t be overlooked or under-appreciated. These things are necessary.

Homework isn’t just there to annoy student athletes, confuse parents or take time away from other, more enjoyable activities. It’s important. It’s necessary for a student’s education. And I don’t want my daughter going to a school that doesn’t understand that.

(Photo: Dmitriy Shironosov/Shutterstock)