To frame this discussion, I want to point out that I am speaking about elementary school, from first to eighth grade (even though this discussion can easily be extended into high school). Now, the question I want to pose here is: what are the intentions of giving out homework? That is and should always be the first question we ask when we make decisions in education. What are the benefits of doing such and such? If you take a glance at the “empirical evidence” about homework, you will notice that most points side with the camp screaming that homework is not necessary.


But I am not talking about so-called scientific proof. I am also not talking about what teachers hold on to as traditional notions of ways to teach. I am speaking about the conversation that rests somewhere in between the two.


So why do teachers send homework home with students? Most will say that homework builds a sense of responsibility, accountability for one’s personal welfare and greater learning. The honest ones who send homework home may include the fact that it, in some way, demonstrates a level of professionalism. To these humble teachers, not sending homework equates to teaching treachery. Teachers who are fighting the new wave against homework will argue that there is no correlation between giving students some practice math as homework and an increased aptitude for said math skill. So, is there a common ground?


Gut feelings

This is what teachers on either side of the fence are relying on despite their claims of the contrary. Regardless of their admission to this fact, teachers either send homework or do not for two contradictory reasons. It is either because they think that “this is the way they thought they learned and became successful” or because they have read a bunch a literature that espouse the opposite. So where does that teacher, teaching in her classroom, come into the mix of deciding whether or not it’s a good thing for her group of students to get homework?


When it comes to teachers teaching students, “gut feelings” get sent so far down the totem pole of education. Someone’s traditional way of doing it is dissected and then analyzed by academic scholars. The teaching voice, or experience, in the practice of teaching is silenced way before any new curriculum or philosophies hit the main market. One of the things that I have learned about education in my five years of teaching is that for almost all things education, there is no clear-cut standard. Each kid and each class deserves their own set of negotiations. Whether any teacher would like to admit it or not – this happens every year regarding curriculum and classroom management.


Teachers should continue to learn. That means reading the newest recommendations on curriculum delivery, curriculum itself and teaching practices. Most don’t. If you don’t keep up to date you leave yourself vulnerable to the ever dichotomous nature of education. When you don’t know the facts or the stats you sound ignorant when you say, “this is how I learned.” Give homework or don’t give homework, that is your decision as an educator. But, know the facts before you assert your opinion. Isn’t that what you usually ask your students to do? Whether you decide to or not, at least understand the philosophy behind something before you robotically hand out photocopies because “Tuesday is Math homework night.”


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Matthew R. Morris

Educator, Speaker, Writer

Matthew R. Morris is a writer, speaker, and elementary educator in Toronto. He has an M.A. in Social Justice Education from OISE at the University of Toronto and is the author of the forthcoming book, Black Boys Like Me. 

Matthew R. Morris

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