The Homework Lie
Every year, dozens of parents sit at my desk and describe to me the intense frustration they feel as they watch their children get churned through the public schools. One of the refrains of their complaints: endless homework.
And no wonder:
- The work itself is largely pointless. Students must complete countless contrived worksheets meant primarily to satisfy state standards for homework volume.
- Their children are overwhelmed, trying to cram this busywork into car rides between after-school activities.
- Parents do not know the material themselves. They are often unable to help, and sometimes they even hinder the children with their own confused instruction.
- There is no sacred family time. Instead, the time for bonding between parents and children is compromised by battles over homework.
- There is no sacred free time; the time the child should be allowed to rest, play, spend time with family, and pursue personal interests is compromised by the looming responsibility of performing hours of homework drudgery.
VanDamme Academy has a policy of no homework. Yes, you read that correctly.
At VanDamme Academy, the only daily, on-going responsibility given the children outside school hours is to read. Reading is an activity best done alone, in the quiet of the child’s own bedroom. It is a very independent and personal task, and—if it is the right book and taught properly—a very pleasurable one, too.
Math practice is done in math class. We give students ample time to learn, practice, and master new concepts under the close supervision of the teacher. Essays are written in writing class. Writing, which is one of the most challenging and comprehensive skills a student must learn, demands the constant monitoring and assistance of the teacher.
That such disciplines are neglected during the day—and then sent home in a mad-dash effort to get the kids up to speed for standardized testing—is criminal.
It is not surprising that our no-homework policy does wonders for parents’ relationships with their children. I will never forget when a parent sat at my desk one day and, told me, with tears in his eyes: “You have given back our family life.”
But, you might ask, how do VanDamme Academy students fare when they are sent off to high school with their homework-laden peers? Well, consider this typical comment by a parent of a high school student at a school attended by several VanDamme Academy graduates—each of whom had several homework-free years: “Do you have to be a complete genius to go to that school?”
You don’t have to be a genius to go to our school or learn from our courses—but the level of knowledge and caliber of thinking that our curriculum instills can make our graduates seem like geniuses.
Our students shine because we make efficient use of the school day, focusing on those subjects which are most essential to the cognitive development of the child—because we give students careful supervision in the development of academic skills instead of shunting that task off to parents—because we revere and enjoy the work itself, and do not feel compelled to “jazz it up” with treats and distractions—because we present the material in a careful, systematic, hierarchical manner, one which allows the child to grasp and keep the knowledge presented—and because the effect of all of this is intelligent, driven students who love to learn.
A few concrete results:
- Many VanDamme Academy graduates leave 8th grade having completed Pre-Calculus or Calculus. Over half the 8th graders have completed the school’s rigorous grammar curriculum, and can both write with impeccable grammar and parse any sentence under the sun. Their parents refuse to send me an e-mail until it has been edited by their children.
- And our students often do voluntary “homework”—inspired, ambitious, personal homework. When I assigned the abridged version of Les Miserables, half the class purchased the unabridged version, and read it in pace with the rest of the class.
- One year a 10-year-old student, inspired by his study of European history and Shakespeare, took up fencing, and wrote an entire iambic pentameter play over the summer.
Here is the prologue:
This sad tale of Phillippe Joan and his love,
The beautiful Milady Hauthorne Grey,
Doth sadden many of the stars above.
In effort to be with her every day,
He was forced to fight, and sail the great seas,
And slave for pirates in his captured care
And dueling. Love had him down on his knees
As he yearned for his lady. O, she was fair,
And more so than Helen. A man would lay
Gladly his life down for her. He was lost
His country, though, which was her husband. Hate
For Phillippe was on all his lips. That host
Ingracious was both of their tragic ends.
So, gentles, do patience to this play lend.
Remember this poem the next time you hear that the problem with American education is that kids don’t do enough homework.