Educator Lisa VanDamme on The Tyranny of Homework

by Kevin Delaney

Renegade educator Lisa VanDamme explains what’s wrong with the traditional notion that young students must be saddled with hours of homework in her article “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 runs a private grade school in Aliso Viejo, California, where the approach to learning is vastly different from that of the mainstream “system.” Sacrilegious as it might seem, with the exception of reading assignments, The VanDamme Academy does not issue homework.

Reading VanDamme’s writings (and having heard several of her recorded lectures on education), I’m struck by the enormous respect she has for her student’s minds. One dreadful fact about most modern schools is that — in addition to their complete failure to teach — they tend to inculcate a “herd mentality”; a follow-the-follower attitude that upholds conformity to the expectations of others as one’s all-consuming purpose in life.

The results of the VanDamme Academy appear to be extraordinary: students graduate from Junior High with a head start in calculus; a 10 year-old student wrote a play in iambic pentameter that resembles Shakespeare.

Best of all, writes VanDamme: “[The] 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.'”

For more info: Pedagogically Correct

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

J. Humble October 15, 2009 at 12:55 pm

This article is spot on. I teach primary school children in the UK(elementary level) and occasionally I’m criticised for not setting enough homework. I ask kids to read each night and sometimes to do a bit of preparatory research, but always give plenty of notice and a clear deadline. My daughter who has just begun her secondary school career, has been inundated with masses of work to complete at home, which, bless her, she does diligently after working her socks off during the day. The benefit of this additional workload is lost on me. I believe that kids who are motivated and have a good learning ethic could be ground down by this regressive idea of ‘homework’. Give them chance to breathe and relax and set their own learning agenda in their own time. Three gold stars Van Damme!

Lindsay Rayner October 16, 2009 at 8:41 am

I agree with this article completely. Too many teachers have the mind-set that giving a lot of homework makes them good teachers. Homework should be a means of learning and not a grueling exercise in tedium. Thus, it should not be graded.

I know, it sounds like sacrilege, and many teachers may feel that lightning will strike them if they don’t grade homework, but honestly, what’s the point? The homework should be a means to help students learn–which is measured by performance on tests and projects.

Use homework as a learning tool–not a system of punishment and reward!

Steve Tuttle October 16, 2009 at 1:13 pm

My philosophy is homework is practice. The assignment is to *attempt* the homework to see if they grasped the concept – not to perfect the lesson – so I grade them on attempting the homework rather than grading the homework itself, & I keep the assignments as short as I reasonably can. If I were to never check the homework, kids are kids & they would simply stop doing it.

I do not believe I could do away w/ homework completely, however. We have so little time & so many interruptions to the school day that they really do need a little more time reinforcing the concepts. (I teach trigonometry)

George Reading October 16, 2009 at 6:07 pm

Inspired by your blog I visited Ms. VanDamme’s website. My impression:

“In discovering your website, I had a “Benjamin Button” moment: a wish that I might re-enter the world through the doors of such an academy. A new zeitgeist. I have long been impressed with cognitive approaches that explore and encourage instead of interfere with the creative minds of children. Public education tends to beat creation into conformity.

As a reporter, I’ve often observed an education system that hires high paid lobbyists to support an education bureaucracy (at both the state and federal levels) which is uninspiring . . unless you’re an administrator or a teachers union interested foremost in public employment – not public education. So we have a herd approach to education, what to me is the destructive “lemming” of children (tragically in their most creative years).

I recently sent your story to a friend who will be teaching a MBA course at Stanford. She, like me, was impressed with such respect for the mind. She plans to integrate it into her course. It’ll be interesting to see her students reactions.

Maybe someday there will be more schools like yours . . and more writers of iambic pentameter.”

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