As I type, my eleven-year-old daughter is still up finishing her homework. It is a quarter to midnight. She is in the sixth grade. She is on her 7th hour of homework tonight. She paused for dinner, and she has emerged to use the bathroom once since she got home from school. She understands what she is doing – she made honor roll, and has very good scores in school. She also has way too much homework, and far too much stress for a child of this age.
I recognize that many teachers are instructed to give their students a great deal of homework. I know many teachers who think homework is too much for kids under a certain age. What I hear from most parents I know is that there is too much homework. This is especially true among parents I know here in New York, (though it seems to be a widely held feeling throughout the country). When I was a child, we rarely had work outside of school. We had a chance to relax and be kids after school. We would go outside and run around, or stay inside and build things out of Legos. Homework wasn’t a THING until junior high school, and even then, it was never seven hours of homework in a single night! The NEA suggests that children should be assigned 10 minutes of homework per grade. For my daughter, that should equal one hour of homework. I understand that, since she is in the honors program, she might be expected to have double that, but SEVEN HOURS? That’s each of her teachers assigning at least one hour of homework (or her science, ELA, and Math teachers each assigning two hours, while her social studies teacher assigns one hour since there is no homework for PE or chorus). This is too much. My son is in the 4th grade, and is not in an honors class despite his rather high IQ. His homework generally takes him two hours a night. A portion of this is due to the fact that he inherited my Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, and his hands are heavily affected by this. But the thing is, this really leads to burnout and stress. When kids have too much work to do, they don’t get a chance to be kids. They don’t have a chance to unwind, or to spend time with family. Putting such a huge homework burden on kids leads to stress and anxiety, which in turn can hurt the health and well-being of the child. In fact, research suggests that too much homework can lead to “alienation from society” – something that is not helpful toward raising kids to be compassionate, responsible adults. I know that my own kids become so stressed about homework sometimes that they experience trouble sleeping, difficulty focusing, and burnout on subjects. My daughter, who has done exceptionally well with her science tests and had her science fair projects featured two years in a row, is learning to associate science with being stressed and unhappy because the homework load is so extreme (not to mention, her teacher often tells the kids they have no homework, and then posts an assignment on the class website at 5am, expecting them to have it ready when school starts).
There are other things we should consider here, too. What happens when the child is part of a low-income family that needs said child to help mind younger siblings? With homework such an enormous part of the overall grade for kids, it must be especially hard for poorer kids to keep up. My daughter is expected to use a computer and access assignments and tests online from home regularly. She has mentioned that some of her classmates don’t have computers at home. The school’s answer is always to go to the library, but if the family is struggling financially, getting to a library before it closes in order to utilize a computer is not always an option. This system is setting poorer kids up for failure. It is my opinion that kids below the 4th or 5th grade should have very little homework, and kids in 5th – 7th grade should have no more than an hour maximum. I can see two hours for high school, but it shouldn’t regularly be more than that. We live in a time where children are constantly monitored, where they often don’t have anything like a regular recess at school, and have no time to unwind and just be kids. By assigning excessive amounts of homework to these kids, we are sending a message that their grades and classroom performance are more important than their hopes and dreams, more important than their friends and family, and more important than their sense of self. When we consider that, in NYC, a child’s performance in 4th grade determines which middle schools they are eligible to apply for, and their performance in the 7th grade determines which high schools they can apply for, we are putting even more pressure on our kids than people in most other cities and towns in this country. Childhood is supposed to be a time full of happy memories and carefree fun. Instead, we are giving our children fewer breaks than most adults receive. We are filling young children with stress and anxiety, and taking away time for social interaction and learning personal skills. I think it is time that we stop this nonsense and allow kids to be kids again, instead of pressuring them to be high-performance androids.