Dulling effects of all homework and no play

4th November 1994 at 00:00
Everyone involved in education, from Gillian Shephard to Ann Taylor, from the rigorous right to the liberal Left is agreed. It would seem that homework, is a Good Thing.

I disagree. Although I am a teacher and well past the age when such views are common, I hate homework and I don't believe it makes any real contribution to children's education.

There, I've thought the unthinkable and said the unspeakable. I suppose I had better explain myself.

It's 8.30pm and we've finished . We started at 5.30 and since then we've researched, drawn and written a couple of pages about Quezal- coatl, the Aztec cultural hero. We've re-written a passage in French changing all the pronouns from "je" to "elle" and adjusting verb endings appropriately. We've written an explanation of how you separate sand from salt (which idiot mixed them up in the first place, I'd like to know?) and created an art work in the style of Leonardo.

Oh yes, and I nearly forgot the long division and the two exercise books requiring the sticky-backed plastic treatment.

Don't tell me I shouldn't help with the homework: I don't want my child to lose out in the Great National Middle-Class Qualifications Race and I know the rest of them are out there providing back-up for their competitors.

Our house now boasts a reference library to rival the British Museum so that we can cope with those "go to the library and find out aboutI" questions. Go to the library - who are they kidding? We've hardly got enough time left after this lot to draw breath.

And that's what I really resent, the time spent on futile, repetitive page filling.

All of us work hard at school all day. At the end of the day we want, we need, a little time for each other, a little time for family life. And aren't we all in favour of "family values" these days?

My children might like to talk, practise a musical instrument, perhaps, even watch a little of the demon TV. Why not? But by the end of the day all we've got is half- an-hour or so with all of us tired, bad-tempered, and grotty.

The wretched homework always takes twice as long as it's supposed to and the next day I find myself, with depressing inevitability, faced with the other side of the story.

As a teacher I ask my first class of the day for their homework. Most of my pupils don't come from middle-class, educated homes. Gavin won't have any to submit, he never does; Sarah will have copied hers, including all the mistakes, from Karen; others will hand in woefully inadequate work and I will have to take them to task.

The recipe that produces conflict and unhappiness at home repeats its magic in school the following day. And this is the formula that's suppose to create a bond between parent and teacher, and extend a love of learning beyond the school gates.

In reality, "homework" emphasises social differences, disadvantaging the already disadvantaged. It also impoverishes the lives of children who should have a right to some time of their own to develop as individuals.

It robs them of the last precious hours of childhood, propelling them mercilessly into the inhuman workaholic culture of which we, as adults, should be deeply ashamed.

All work and no play is a bad thing, even for adults. For children, it is a disaster.

Lynn Harries lives in Reading.

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