Editor's note: Come meet Dahlsgaard and ask her questions related to mental health during a session at the Healthy Kids Fest on Sunday, September 18, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Please Touch Museum. Tickets are available at www.philly.com/kidsfest.
An elementary school teacher in Texas became a hero to many overnight after her letter to parents informing them of her new homework policy went viral. "After much research this summer, I am trying something new. Homework will only consist of work that your student did not finish during the school day. There will be no formally assigned homework this year."
She went on to remind parents that "research has been unable to prove that homework improves student performance" and implored them to "spend your evenings doing things that are proven to correlate with student success," such as spending time together as a family, playing outside, and getting to bed early.
She's not wrong about the research: The association between homework and school success, even among older adolescents, is nonexistent or weak.
What hasn't been researched as thoroughly is the association between homework and misery. Homework and lost opportunities for joy. As a child psychologist, I see this up close every day, where over-tired kids and stressed-out parents regale me with problems that could certainly be improved if families had more time to relax and reconnect.
Herewith, a list of reasons that homework is bad for families and bad for mental health.
It steals children's souls. Grown-ups, do you want to come home from an endless day of work only to sit right down and complete several more hours of paperwork? No? Then why do we expect this from our children? Who, by the way, are children. Our kids deserve better after their long day at their own office – they deserve exercise and play and wonder and time to develop friendships and learn skills and unwind with their families. Instead we ask them to hunch over a table like Bob Cratchit and fritter away their leisure time for no glory and even less pay. Then we have the audacity to wonder why they are so cranky.
It steals parents' souls. Worried about your children's attachment to you? Want to spend time loving and reconnecting with them in the few precious hours you have together after work but before bath and bedtime? Forget it – you have been hereby deputized as the Homework Police and assigned the role of Bad Cop. Your job is to spend that time nagging and cajoling your children to do something they absolutely, positively do not want to do. No hazard pay or overtime for you, either.
Children deserve better than second shifts as textbook mules. Have you tried picking up a student's backpack recently? Lift from your knees! Our children appear to be lugging sacks full of rectangular boulders on their backs – in the form of spine-hating textbooks – to and from school every day. What a heavy burden to assign them, not just psychologically, but literally. Sisyphus should have been so lucky.
Homework probably doesn't teach executive functioning skills. Though research shows that more homework is not correlated with academic success, some argue that homework nonetheless teaches our children other, more general skills, such as prioritizing, setting goals, and meeting deadlines. But can't they learn these with daily classwork, too? Just like grown-ups do with their work at work. At home, such executive functioning skills can theoretically be learned via hobbies, chores, and getting to bed on time.
It makes us look foolish in front of the Finns and therefore compromises our national self-esteem. Finland, that frosty utopia of heavy metal, reindeer, and the least corrupt police force in the world, assigns little to no homework. Yet its school system is envied around the globe, and Finnish students typically score at the top on the Program for International Student Assessment tests, which are given every three years to 15-year-olds in dozens of countries. U.S. students, despite all their homework, tend to score in the middle or bottom half of the pack.
I guarantee that, on our death beds, none of us will be wishing we had spent more time nagging children to do their homework. Homework murders joy. Let's ban it.