Good question, and before we go any further, it needs an answer.
Homework is important for reasons that are obvious and reasons that are not so obvious. Unfortunately, most people – teachers and parents alike – see no further than the obvious.
The immediate, obvious aim of assigning a child homework is to provide that child with an opportunity to practice and strengthen academic skills. By devoting adequate time to homework, the child stands a better chance of making good grades. Right? Right!
But homework is important for reasons other than good grades. Homework can and should be a character building experience, a stepping stone toward emancipation. Managed properly by teachers and parents who have an appreciation for its “hidden values,” homework can help a child become equipped with certain very essential emotional and behavioral skills, skills he will eventually need to successfully negotiate the oftentimes complex demands of adult life. These include the skills of responsibility, autonomy, perseverance, time management, initiative, self-reliance and resourcefulness.
Let’s take a closer look at of these attributes, sometimes called “The Seven Hidden Values of Homework.”
Responsibility: The ability to assume “ownership” of that which rightly belongs to you, to fulfill your obligations, to not hesitate to pick up the ball when it bounces into your court, to hold yourself fully accountable for both your mistakes as well as your successes. Homework is a responsibility that rightfully belongs to the child, not the parents. When parents get too involved, they set the process on its head. The “lessons” get done, but the real lesson doesn’t get learned.
Autonomy: To be self-governing, to stand on your own two feet. Homework is the first time someone other than a parent has assigned tasks to the child on a consistent basis. In that sense, homework breaks new ground. The child is now accountable outside the family. The manner in which this golden opportunity is managed will either enhance or obstruct the child’s gradual emancipation.
Perseverance: To confront challenge with determination, to strive in spite of difficulties, to complete what you set out to accomplish. If the Little Train that Could had had a mother train who, upon seeing her child struggle up the mountain, got behind and pushed, there would have been no point to the story. Likewise, there’s no point to a child doing homework if everytime the child becomes frustrated, parents absorb that frustration and make it all better. It’s a sad fact that many, if not most, of today’s parents act as if one of their primary tasks is that of protecting their children from frustration. They seem to believe that standing aside and letting a child grapple with frustration, especially when the grappling could have been prevented, is neglectful, and perhaps even abusive. Little do they realize that more often than not, making a child’s life easier in the present will only make it harder in the future.
Time Management: The ability to recognize time in an effective, productive manner, to complete tasks on schedule without compromising quality. In this regard, it’s most unfortunate that most parents tell children when to start their homework, but not when it must be finished. This sets the stage for a nightly homework marathon. Instead of learning to manage time, the child learns to waste it.
Initiative: To be self-motivated and assertive, to be decisive in defining and pursuing personal goals. It boils down to this – Who decides when it’s time for the child to begin his homework? Initiative is like a muscle. If it’s exercised, it strengthens. If, on the other hand, other people are assuming initiative for the child, he will not ever develop the strength to exercise it on his own.
Self-Reliance: To have trust and self-confidence in your abilities. Managed properly, homework empowers, affirms, enlarges, fulfills, actualizes, and enables the child’s capacity for competence. Mismanaged, it diminishes, deflates, and disables. And there is no in-between.
Resourcefulness: The capacity to find, invent or adapt creative means of solving problems. This is the business, the very stuff of being human, isn’t it? Homework provides the (but not the only) form, the child provides the substance. Assuming everyone can see past the report card, that is.
And to what, pray tell, do those “Seven Hidden Values” add? Why, to self-esteem, of course! Homework, therefore, provides children the opportunity to develop positive self-worth – homework’s 8th, and most important, “hidden value.”
The manner in which the issue of homework is negotiated, managed, and otherwise handled within a family will set certain precedants that will impact greatly on how the child in question responds to future challenges, how the parents respond to future problems, and most importantly, whether or not that child ever fully develops the skills he or she will need in order to establish and enjoy a successful adulthood.