Is Homework an Advantage for the Rich?

 

In this week’s The New Yorker, Louis Menard writes about the French president’s efforts to eradicate homework. The move comes, Menard writes, from the argument “that homework gives children whose parents are able to help them with it—more educated and affluent parents, presumably—an advantage over children whose parents are not. The President wants to give everyone an equal chance.” The logic, as Menard explains, is based on the premise that wealthier and more educated parents give their children an advantage on homework assignments; research consistently supports that premise, that the greatest indicator of academic achievement is socioeconomic class, where greater assets yield higher test scores.

Though the effort to equalize the academic playing field is not unique to France, and in itself, is an admirable goal, there

Said no kid ever

are many problems with this recommendation. The first, as Menard indicates, is that research is inconsistent in its findings about the utility of homework in the first place. A second issue is that the wealth connection illustrates the influence of home life, which is unlikely to be altered significantly by homework or the lack thereof. In households with poor literacy rates, homework is likely to be a struggle because parents lack the resources (time, finances, educational background, etc.) to help their children. Assigning homework or not doesn’t address the root issue there—the cyclical correlation between poverty and low literacy. In highly-literate households, parents can help with homework or, if they are affluent, hire tutors to help; abolishing homework simply frees up the children of wealthy parents to do other things, most of which will likely support academic achievement. And children in highly literate households will remain there, surrounded by educationally-enriching materials.

Educational inequity is often a problem foisted upon schools, yet it begins before schools and transcends beyond schools, and rarely are schools given the resources necessary to seriously address issues of class discrepancy. Especially in this country, where school funding is typically tied to local property taxes, the cycle is self-perpetuating, with well-funded schools offered to affluent, highly-literate children and poorly-funded schooling offered to children in poverty. I can’t speak to the class situation in France, but in the U.S., education is one of the few factors that can change a person’s socioeconomic status, but the odds seem stacked against students from the start. Menard concludes his essay with the claim “If we provided after-school music lessons, museum trips, and cool sports programs to poor children, we could abolish homework in a French minute. No one would miss it.” That sounds like a great idea, and I think it requires Christians to think clearly about what it means to care for those less fortunate, to give up your coat along with homework and the illusion of social mobility.

About Erin Wyble Newcomb

Erin Wyble Newcomb earned her Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction and Women's Studies from Penn State University. In addition to parenting her daughters, running marathons, and making things with glitter, she teaches in the English Department at SUNY New Paltz. Follow Erin on Twitter @ErinWyble or at http://phdmama.com/.

  • http://www.Christviewmin.org John Turner

    I agree. Homework, in my pre-college experience (now ancient history), was essentially busywork, designed to create those painful writing callouses on third fingers without engaging much of the brain. In my opinion, our daughter, whose high school homework had far more substance and creativity than mine, nonetheless had much more homework than was good for her…although learning to manage heavy workloads undoubtedly helped her succeed in college and grad school.

    Despite my writing callous, I found myself greatly under-prepared academically for my undergraduate days at the University of Chicago. My family income was not much more than two notches above the poverty line. I was there on a full scholarship designed for students from small town (under-resourced) schools. U of C was trying to balance its student body a bit, to mix a little more down-to-earth life experience in with its students from elite schools. I think it worked. Those of us who started behind tended to work hard to catch up, and we were so relieved not to be the odd intellectual duck in the small high school pond that we thrived more socially than we had in high school.

    The point that I draw from my history is that education is far more complex than most reform programs recognize. The French president’s theories seem a little ham-handed, but if he reduces dependence of homework as an education tool, that is probably good.

    I would not say, “No homework.” I would say that homework should generally be either remedial (with tutoring made effectively available to the students needing it) or for creative (perhaps interdisciplinary) enrichment.

  • http://www.acumeneducation.ca Azadeh

    Homework helps children improve in study skills, time management, responsibility and problem solving. Children can ask help in their assigned homework, but most of the time they take responsibility for that. In my opinion, providing equal chance would not be possible only by removing homework!


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