It doesn’t happen often, but this morning I find myself in agreement with Jay Mathews.
In the quarterly Education edition of the Post Magazine (a great place to sell ads for private schools and colleges), Mathews says we should eliminate almost all homework in elementary school.
Except for reading.
So, let’s get rid of elementary school homework. Toss those 50 addition problems in the trash. Stop cutting up your magazines. Forget about flashcards.
Instead, let’s have children that age sit in a nice comfortable chair, with the television off, and read something they choose for 30 to 60 minutes a day. It can be a classic novel, such as Charlotte’s Web. It can be a comic book. It can even be — forgive me for sounding so desperate — this newspaper.
If they need help with their reading, a parent can sit with them. But we ought to make reading a fun habit, like feeding the ducks or playing Monopoly or having pancakes on Sunday morning.
Great idea. But why stop at elementary school?
The idea of dropping all the trivia that makes up most homework assignments and emphasizing non-academic reading is a good one for kids at the secondary level as well.
However, we should also add a writing requirement.
High school kids especially should also be writing about what they’re reading. And that writing should be for an audience outside of the closed classroom and go beyond the formal, structured assignments traditionally imposed in class.
Whether this is on a blog available to the whole world, a closed discussion board, or somewhere else isn’t as important as students having the experience of reflective writing in a format that can be read, and commented on, by other than the teacher.
Mathews is right that we need to drastically restructure the concept of homework. He just doesn’t take it far enough.