Why do schools give so much homework
Learning after class : "Homework is pedagogical nonsense"
Mr. Himmelrath, what is it about homework that really annoys you?
They bring strife into families, force children to lie and have no educational use. I have three children and the subject has been with us since the first child started school. All in all, that's 32 years of homework experience.
What did you experience as a father?
I felt degraded to the teacher's tool. Most of the time, the children didn't do their homework voluntarily. So I had to put pressure on that I didn't like at all. It's not a nice role, and I don't see my job as a father in passing on the teachers' threats of sanctions. Because it is often said that if you don't do your homework, you will get a bad grade. This is actually black pedagogy.
That makes the children lie?
Yes, to the parents and the teachers. At home they say they have nothing to wear and at school they make excuses why they couldn't do homework. Sometimes even the parents do the homework for the students. It already happens with second graders, one elementary school teacher told me. Even then, the children have to lie in school.
You write that the subject has been discussed for centuries.
That surprised me too. School regulations from the 15th century already deal with homework. Since 1880 there have been repeated scientific research on homework. And nowhere have I found any evidence that they bring anything. In the best case scenario, they don't do any harm. Most of the time they are just nonsense.
What's the nonsense?
It takes valuable class time to discuss, assign, and chase the assignments. It is usually not even possible to discuss the homework in detail or to give everyone individual feedback. When it comes up, the teacher puts a tick behind each task. In an hour there might be two or three students doing their homework. The others learn from it that their work didn't really matter. At least not important for class.
You also write that homework is socially unjust. Sociologist Jutta Allmendinger, for example, also criticizes this.
When it comes to homework, the parents are crucial. The teacher puts the responsibility on them. Regardless of whether it is an unskilled worker or a family of professors. These are very different starting conditions! And that often leads to the students who have to catch up not doing their homework. And those who might not need them do them regularly.
What about the thesis that the subject matter can only be consolidated through repetition?
Students learn best when they are highly motivated. My children speak better English than I do because they learned it from a computer game that interests them dearly. If you only learn vocabulary because you are afraid of a punishment or a bad grade, things will go wrong and will not be of much benefit in the long term.
But why are so many teachers, but also parents and students convinced that homework is a must?
It's strange. I think the idea that homework is part of school has seeped so deep into the collective consciousness that no one asks whether it makes sense. Actually, no matter who you ask, everyone is dissatisfied with the situation. A teacher once told me that he has been teaching for forty years and in all that time homework just never worked.
What do you suggest as an alternative?
Homework would have to be moved back to school. The tasks should not be assigned as a lump sum, but only if they are meaningful for the lesson and the students experience their effectiveness. Such a new concept can be better implemented in the context of all-day schools. By the way, schools that try without homework reported amazing results.
In a primary school in Braunschweig, the pupils were supposed to read at home for a quarter of an hour every day. This also took place in the educationally close families, but hardly ever in the educationally disadvantaged families. The school then decided that the third lesson would be shortened by a quarter of an hour for the entire school. Everyone is reading now. In the beginning there was huge resistance, also from the teachers. But now everyone can see how great the children's progress is in reading and that this is an asset for all subjects.
What do you think of presentations?
In principle, I find them very good. Pupils can learn to acquire knowledge independently and they see that their results are important for the classroom. But lectures can also be moved back to the schools. There must be suitable rooms and capacities there for this. I know of a high school in Switzerland that no longer gives homework. Instead, the students now do so-called homework in the first lesson. You learn independently, but there are always teachers around. This is a much better learning setting than at home.
What do your children say about the book?
They are of course enthusiastic. But otherwise I have to justify myself quite often, especially with teachers. The topic pokes at something that everyone knows is not going well. You have to expect resistance.
The interview was conducted by Sylvia Vogt
Armin Himmelrath, 48, is an education and science journalist. His book “Homework, No Thanks!” Has just been published by Hep-Verlag (152 pages, € 16).
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