When Homework Fails to Be Helpful

When Roberto Nevilis first assigned his class homework in 1905, it was used as a tool to punish his students, rather than to reintegrate and practice material as we see it today. While the intention of assigning homework has shifted overtime, the over-assigning of it, which causes stress, anxiety, and more, has started making it lose its effectiveness and purpose.

Roanna Pham , Staff Writer

Homework has been a staple to academic success for over a century, but should it be compulsory for all students? Surely everyone has felt, to some capacity, that if you are confident in the material and are not in need of that extra reinforcement, homework crosses from being helpful to harmful. Homework is meant to help the student, and therefore, if it no longer serves its purpose, it should not be mandatory. Given this, homework should be optional and should not be graded. 

To better understand this topic, let’s delve into the history of homework. Homework made its first appearance into the lives and nightmares of students in 1905 courtesy of Roberto Nevilis. In fact, if you have ever felt that homework felt more like punishment rather than a tool to help, you would not necessarily be wrong. Nevilis invented homework as a form of punishment for his students, showing that the initial intention was not to help students and was instead, just torturous, incessant busy-work.

So having established that, you may be thinking: why do all schools in America still subscribe to this institution? According to Duke Today, in 35 studies, 77% find the link between homework and achievement is positive. However, for high school students, the positive line continues to climb until 90 minutes of homework a night, after which returns diminish. While this proves the efficacy of homework, it also proves that an excess of it can be detrimental to the success of students. If homework were optional, this problem would be resolved. Teachers would still assign homework and clarify doubts at the start of each class like normal, but the only difference is that they would not grade the work. This way, the students who need extra resources and time to independently hone their understanding can do so while those who are secure in their understanding of the topics are not forced to waste unnecessary time. 

Furthermore, implementing optional homework would allow ample time to pursue more extracurricular activities and sports. According to a study published by Science Leadership Academy, 16 out of 19 of the students surveyed agreed that homework induces stress and takes time away from things such as sports, extra classes, extracurricular activities, and family time. With so much of our time going into homework rather than into building skills through various extracurriculars, overworked students are forced to miss out on major life experiences. 

Beyond just being a hindrance to enjoyment and dampening the joy of being a kid, a surfeit of homework can play a major role in the deterioration of health of students. With the average workload for highschoolers being upwards of 3 hours per night, mounted on top of all the other obligations students have to uphold, this leaves students very little time to sleep. Reports by Nationwide Children’s Organization state that 14-18 year olds should be getting 8-10 hours of sleep per night—a far cry from the average of 6 hours a night that high schoolers actually get thanks, in part, to excessive busy-work. With prolonged sleep deprivation, effects ranging from headaches, exhaustion, mood swings, weight loss, stomach problems, to many more can be felt, further emphasizing the need for change.

One might argue that without homework being compulsory, students would not have the incentive to even attempt it. To that I counter, by choosing to opt out of doing homework when still unsure of the material, students would be hurting no one but themselves. Similar to a college setting, the resources for success will be available, but it is up to the student to put in the effort to make the most of it. Seeing as Mitty is a college preparatory school, it would be most beneficial to abide by this college standard to allow students to learn how to effectively study without having homework grades to keep them accountable. This isn’t to say that homework itself is innately bad, just that due to its excessive quantity, the priority if often takes over extracurricular activities, and its negative effects on health, homework would be better left optional.