Parents of children that attend elementary school in Kips Bay, N.Y., are angry with a decision the school recently made. They’re not introducing sex-ed. It has nothing to do with what conservatives call the “gay agenda.” They’re not requiring specific extra-curricular activities, or threatening to hold children back a year for something dumb. It’s not about bullying. It doesn’t have anything to do with guns. This school has decided to ban homework for children in the fifth grade, and under.
The move, according to Fox 31 Denver, has some parents so upset that they’re threatening to pull their children out of P.S. 116, because they fear that their children are no longer getting a quality education. For its part, P.S. 116 has done something many other schools haven’t; they’re taking studies that show too much homework too early is actually damaging to children’s academic performance later on.
According to DNAinfo, Jane Hsu, the principal of P.S. 116, said in a letter sent home to parents:
The topic of homework has received a lot of attention lately, and the negative effects of homework have been well established.
They include: children’s frustration and exhaustion, lack of time for other activities and family time and, sadly for many, loss of interest in learning.
She went on to explain that the school had spent more than a year going over studies that focused on the effects of traditional homework. She realized it was more important for students in pre-k through fifth grade to focus more on reading at their own pace, playing, family time, and other activities that have been shown to have a positive impact on both academic performance and social development.
Is our heavy focus on higher education as the cornerstone for a lifetime of success actually self-defeating? An article in The New York Times explored the way 5-year-olds are starting to get some college prep. Some compare this kind of focus to the focus a child athlete must have if they want to succeed. Wendy Segal, a tutor and college planner, said:
It’s sort of like, if you want your kids to be in the Olympics or to have the chance to be in the Olympics, you don’t wait until your kid is 17 and say, ‘My kid really loves ice skating.’ You start when they are 5 or 6.
But even that can have negative effects on children. Too much focus on success too early can set children up for failure later, especially when they don’t learn how to fail. When they’re taught that failure is when you give up, rather than one of the best ways to learn and grow, they lose out on valuable life skills. The New York Times piece quoted Joan Almon, founder of the Alliance for Childhood, as saying this:
Children need to make mistakes and find themselves in dead ends and cul-de-sacs. I’m concerned that we are putting so much pressure around college that by the time they get there they are already burned out.
Which goes back to what P.S. 116 is doing. They’d rather not send burned out students on to middle school and high school. It’s almost like we’ve forgotten that children actually need playtime and free time to learn to deal with life later on. One P.S. 116 parent, who thinks his daughter won’t learn discipline if she doesn’t have homework, said:
They’ve decided that giving homework to younger ages [elementary school students] isn’t viable. I don’t necessarily agree. I think they should have homework — some of it is about discipline. I want [my daughter] to have fun, but I also want her to be working towards a goal.
This is their time to learn now, when they have good memory.
I give him extra work, though. I go to Barnes & Nobles and give him my own homework.
When are children learning social skills, and learning how to handle real-life mistakes, though? Traditional schoolwork and homework isn’t the be-all and end-all of life, and we shouldn’t try to make it such. Nor should we be teaching children that you live to work, and that you’re defined solely by how prestigious a school you went to, and how prestigious a job you have.
With that in mind, these parents’ concern is understandable. However, it demonstrates a much, much deeper, and more complex problem in our society.