If I were to ask you who discovered America, you would probably answer Christopher Columbus in 1492. If I asked you what was learned by his discovery, you might say that the world was round instead of flat. Well, neither of those answers is correct. There were other far earlier explorers, the Vikings and even the Chinese for example, who had landed on the North American continent centuries before Columbus did. Furthermore, at the time Columbus traveled the educated world knew the world was not flat.
I find it interesting that despite our level of advancement and technology, so many Americans still do not know this history. What does that say about our educational system or our experiences with it?
As a Montessorian I consider myself a non-traditional educator. I no longer believe ideas about education which have been proven wrong even if they are still part of the mainstream body of educational thought.
For me this is easy in a way because my children are already grown and educated, so I don’t need to worry about them getting into a great college or being prepared for a wonderful working career! I’m no longer responsible for their education. But for you all, things are different. You must bear the responsibility for your child’s educational opportunities. I can imagine how challenging it is for you to opt for a non-traditional education for your children because you might wonder if this different way of educating children will give your child the same result as a traditional system. You might be further confused by the look of the classroom. In a Montessori classroom, children aren’t quietly sitting in seats listening to teachers the way we did when we were little.
But let’s look at something that has a lot of research around it to see whether we should still believe in it. Let’s look at homework. In a traditional system, homework is vital. This is because the whole curriculum is based on memory. A child must remember his lessons. The teacher and her textbooks are considered the fount of information and he or she stands in front of the class and leads the group. She flows forth with information which the child is required to learn. Because memory is not one of our best modes of learning, many children forget the lessons. Teachers know this will happen so they have several ways to reinforce the child’s memory. Repetition is one way. It helps a child remember if the teacher repeats the information several times. Thus the child is given many papers that reinforce the information; some are done at school and some are done at home. There just isn’t enough time for the child to repeat the work at school so the work overflows to the home arena. After the homework there is usually a review of the material, and finally a test is given to see what the child retained. Many times there is a grade given to represent the level of the lesson that was learned by the child. Sometimes, if the child did poorly on the test, the material is again reviewed for the child, perhaps during school or after school or even with a tutor. More frequently, however, the child accepts the test grade as an evaluation of her work and moves on to the next lesson.
Alfie Kohn, reputed author and parent, has researched homework to see whether there is an advantage for the child to have homework. The book, The Homework Myth, is available in the parent’s library at our school in case you want to read it. Here is some of what he found:
At best, most homework studies show only an association, not a causal relationship. As statisticians will tell us correlation does not prove causation. Most research cited to show that homework is academically beneficial does not prove homework is the reason behind the benefits.
Homework studies confuse grades and test scores with learning. In 1998, a study was conducted with both younger and older students, grades 2-12, using both grades and standardized test scores to measure achievement. The effect on grades of amount of homework assigned, for both younger and older students, showed no significant relationship; the effect on test scores of amount of homework assigned, for both younger and older students, demonstrated no significant relationship; the effect on grades of amount of homework done, for younger students, demonstrated a negative relationship, for older students a positive relationship; the effect on test scores of the amount of homework done, for both younger and older students, showed no significant relationship.
There is no evidence of any academic benefit from homework in elementary school.
The results of national and international exams raise further doubts about homework’s role. Fourth graders who did no homework got roughly the same score in the 2000 school year on the math exam as those who did 30 minutes a night.
I’ve had it in my mind for many years to write a book called, In Defense of Children. I have felt all my professional life that children need advocates who are knowledgeable about what kind of education is truly best for them. Homework is one example of too many educators and parents thinking the world is flat just because the horizon is. It’s time to free ourselves of wrongful thinking and to grant our children the kind of support they truly need to be all they are capable of becoming.
Director/Elementary 1 Teacher