Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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October 26, 2005
By: Kevin Drum

HOMEWORK....Brad Plumer argues on egalitarian grounds that homework in primary grades is "most likely evil":

Any educational system that relies on parents at home to help with the "learning process" will only end up perpetuating inequality, as long as some parents can help their kids and some cannot; as long as some parents can speak English and some cannot.

Is this true? As it happens, my parents didn't help me much with my homework when I was a kid, possibly on the "builds character" theory and possibly because it didn't occur to me to ask. In fact, I remember as do all California children having to build a model of a mission in fourth grade and receiving no help at all none! solely because I had left the job until the day before it was due. The result was predictable: a hodgepodge of margarine boxes wrapped in brown paper and set in a pattern vaguely resembling the grounds of Mission Santa Barbara. My brother, on the other hand, got help aplenty when he entered fourth grade, and as a result he turned in a magnificent styrofoam model of Mission Somethingorother, complete with miniature orange trees and a little blue reflecting pool. Not that I'm bitter or anything. Still, I like to remind my mother about this at convenient intervals, right alongside the Eiffel Tower fib she told us kids when we were in Paris in 1967. Maybe I'll tell you that story later.

Back on the homework front, however, Brad does have a point. Take my 11th grade American Literature class. At one point during the year we were all assigned a poem to analyze and report on, and I got assigned some monstrosity masterpiece by Charles Bukowski that made no sense to me at all. Luckily, mom has a master's degree in English and set me on the road to understanding in no time. A few days later I regaled the class with a world class explication of whatever poem that was, and Mrs. Randall commented that I sure was a smart kid. You betcha, Mrs. R.

Now, that wasn't exactly a make-or-break assignment or anything, but still, my classmates who didn't have a parent with a master's degree in English were certainly at a disadvantage. So Brad is right about that.

Still, that was high school, and the part that remains sort of hazy to me is how big an issue this is in the primary grades. My recollection is that I had no homework at all in grades K-3, and not really that much in grades 4-6 either. There was definitely some preparing for those dreaded morning talks, for one but not a lot.

Has that changed a lot since the halcyon 60s? Are K-3 kids in modern classrooms sent home groaning under the load of math sets and handwriting exercises? Are they barely able to squeeze in ballet and soccer practice in between their Gameboy time and five hours of TV? Or what? What's the deal in primary education these days? Inquiring minds want to know.

Kevin Drum 9:26 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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