The institution of homework is deeply embedded in the American culture. How many times as a child have you heard your parents say that you can’t go outside, play games, or get dessert until you have finished your homework? Or how many times have you uttered that phrase to your own children? Although the concept of a homework assignment has been questioned throughout history, and probably will be, time and time again, it is still viewed as something normal, and as a part of every student’s life. Even outside the school, phrases like “you haven’t done your homework on that pitch/project” are used to suggest that a person hasn’t done all they could have done to prepare for a certain challenge.
Now, over time, the public’s attitude toward homework has changed numerous times, keeping in line with then active social trends and philosophies, and that battle is still raging on today. But before we take a look at what the future holds for the concept of homework, let’s take a trip down memory lane first. You will find that the arguments in favor or against homework were almost exactly the same as they are today.
Homework through History
Seeing as primary education at the end of 19th century was not mandatory, student attendance couldn’t be described as regular. The classrooms were a lot different, as well, with students of different ages sitting together in the same class. Moreover, a very small percentage of children would choose to pursue education past the 4th grade. Once they have learned to read, write, and do some basic arithmetic, they would leave school in order to find work or to help around the house. Homework was rare occurrence, because setting aside a few hours for learning each night interfered with their chores and daily obligations.
As education became more available and more progressive at the turn of the 20th century, there was a strong rebellion against homework taking place in academic circles. Even pediatricians got in on the debate, stating that children should not be made to do homework, as it robs them of all the benefits provided by physical activities and time spent outside the house. Seeing as conditions such as the attention deficit disorder were not diagnosed back then, homework was to blame.
This anti-homework movement reached its peak in the 1930s, with a Society for the Abolition of Homework being formed in order to prevent schools from giving students homework, with numerous school districts following their lead. Even in those schools where homework was not abolished, very few homework assignments were given. This continued all the way until the end of the 1950s, which marked a sharp turn in country’s attitude towards homework.
The reason for this was the launch of the Sputnik I satellite by the Soviet Union in 1957. Seeing as the entire Cold War era was marked by the constant competition between USA and the Soviet Union, U.S. educators, teachers, and even parents were afraid that their children, and the entire nation, would be left behind by their Soviet counterparts, who would lead the way into the future, which meant that homework was once again back on the map, and more important than ever.
Things changed again in the late 60s and early 70s. Vietnam War was still raging on, giving birth to civil rights movement and counterculture, which were looking to shake up all of the previously established norms. Homework was yet again under the microscope. It was argued that homework got in the way of kids socializing, and even their sleep, which meant that homework had yet again fallen from grace, just like it had at the beginning of the century.
In the 1980s, the climate changed again, spurred on by the study called A Nation at Risk which blamed the shaky U.S. economy on schools which weren’t challenging their students enough. As a result, the entire school system was labeled as mediocre in an age where the entire country was striving toward excellence, as saw the bright young minds of tomorrow as its way out. There was more of everything: classes, grades, tests, and more homework. This trend spilled over into the 90s, as well.
At the end of the 90s, homework was yet again under the attack. It was cited that children are overworked and stressed out. The increasing demand for tutors was the key argument. If students needed homework assignment help, there was too much of it. But, besides homework help, homework was also viewed as an obstacle for families with two working parents. The only time parents would get to spend time with their children was being usurped, as kids were forced to work on their homework for hours.
While few will argue the role homework plays in reinforcing the information taught in class, there is still talk about how much homework is too much. According to certain studies, the effectiveness of homework starts to decline if the students are given more than 90 minutes of homework every day, which is evident by their test results. Current trends are not concerned with whether or not homework has its merits. It does, there is no question about it, but the main goal right now find the right balance between quantity and quality.
Also, homework in a traditional sense might be susceptible to change, because of the increasingly important role modern technology plays in our lives, and it affects the students, as well. We don’t know what the future holds, but one thing is for sure: we should always do our homework and be prepared.