More art, less homework

The youngest of our three children is heading off to college this fall. Through the years our children have experienced both traditional public schools and charter schools, as well as private schools and home education.

Though I’m not formally trained in the fields of education or child development, more than two decades of hands-on experience informs my views of everything from standardized testing and class size to teacher training and homework.

Even at the schools we’ve been most pleased with, I’ve always felt frustrated by the time homework takes from other things I consider essential to raising healthy, well-rounded children. Regular physical activity. Experiences with music, dance, theater and art. Reading and reflection.

In a day and age when too many budgets signal decreasing education resources, I’d like to see the opposite take place. Given the chance, I’d infuse more resources into K-12 education — making school and class sizes smaller, helping teachers get training that truly equips them to meet the many challenges of teaching in today’s complex society and assuring great teachers are paid what they’re worth.

I’d extend K-12 education to a year-round enterprise, and lengthen school days to parallel typical working days for most parents — solving many of our struggles with child care and giving schools more time for things children are missing nowadays but still very much in need of.

A longer school day would allow more time for physical activity, more time for tutoring or small group work for those falling behind, more time for classes involving arts and culture. And somehow, we’d need to build in teacher prep time during the day — so teachers could go home to their own families without hours of additional responsibilities.

I don’t know that much of this is likely to happen in the near term, so here’s what I’d propose within our current model of education. With rare exceptions for things that require rote learning and practice, like multiplication tables, I’d do away with homework. I’d return the time spent on homework to families — so they have more time to enjoy enriching activities together, and more time to expose their children to diverse experiences in the community.

Imagine a world where time once spent on homework could instead be spent on visiting museums or cultural centers, exploring libraries, playing in parks or neighborhood recreation centers, participating in local sports teams, taking classes in visual or performing arts, enjoying free time with friends or family, caring for pets, performing volunteer work.

Few homework assignments my children have received through the years (with the exception of those from Desert View Learning Center — which often involved outdoor, community, artistic or literacy-based projects) have been as valuable as the activities I’ve noted above.

I recently learned of a book titled “The Case Against Homework: How Homework Is Hurting Our Children And What We Can Do About It” by Sara Bennett and Nancy Kalish. I look forward to reading their work, and to reflecting further on ways we might enhance our children’s lives by offering other ways to spend time outside of the classroom.

If you’ve got something to say on the subject, please comment below to let our readers know.

— Lynn

Note: Click here to learn more about a film titled “Race to Nowhere,” which examines ways our education system might be doing more to hurt our children than to help them.

Coming up: Community theater meets classic children’s literature

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