Our culture celebrates the idea of the workaholic. We hear about people burning the midnight oil. They pull all-nighters and sleep at the office. It's considered a badge of honor to kill yourself over a project. No amount of work is too much work.As a teacher, I read this thinking of homework and how kids play the game, jumping through the homework hoops that teachers hold in place. Too often teachers make students who don't do their homework feel inadequate for "merely" working reasonable hours during the day.
Not only is this workaholism unnecessary, it's stupid. Working more doesn't mean you care more or get more done. It just means you work more.
Workaholics wind up creating more problems than they solve. First off, working like that just isn't sustainable over time. When the burnout crash comes - an dit will - it'll hit that much harder.
Workaholics miss the point, too. They try to fix problems by throwing sheer hours at them. They try to make up for intellectual laziness with brute force. This results in inelegant solutions.
They even create crises. They don't look for ways to be more efficient because they actually like working overtime. They enjoy feeling like heroes. They create problems (often unwittingly) just so they can get off on working more.
Workaholics make the people who don't stay late feel inadequate for "merely" working reasonable hours. That leads to guilt and poor moralle all around. Plus, it leads to an ass-in-seat mentality -- people stay late out of obligation, even if they aren't really being productive.
If all you do is owrk, you're unlikely to have sound judgements. Your values and decision making wind up skewed. You stop being able to decide what's worth extra effort and what's not. And you wind up just plain tired. No one makes sharp decisions when tired.
In the end, workaholics don't actually accomplish more than nonworkaholics. They may claim to be perfectionists, but that just means they're wasting time fixating on inconsequential details instead of moving on to the next task.
Workaholics aren't heroes. They don't save the day, they just use it up. The real hero is already home because she figured out a faster way to get things done.
Alfie Kohn explains how simply adding more time to the school day is a poor way to make educational reform:
To begin with, let's consider the assumption that homework ought to be useful just because it give students more time to master a given topic or skill. Plenty of pundits rely on this premise when they call for extending the school day - or the school year. Indeed, homework itself can be seen as a way of prolonging the school day on the cheap. After-school assignments ratchet up the amount of time students spend on academic topics by an hour or two. Ergo, higher achievement.Okay, maybe time on task isn't all that effective, but maybe it's the best we can do? Kohn puts this misassumption down just as fast:
Unfortunately, this reasoning turns out to be woefully simplistic... It's hard to deny, for example, that lots of kids spend time in school looking at books or listening to lectures without getting much out of the experience. Would more of what the experts call "time on task (ToT) be likely to make a difference? The answer to that question is so obvious that ToT proponents were forced some years ago to revise their original proposition. In the amended version, learning was said to improve in proportion to the quantity of engaged time on task... compelling students to do more school assignments at home is not especially likely to maximize engaged time.
This really shouldn't surprise us. As teachers, how often do we say it is the quantity of your learning that matters more than the quality? I couldn't imagine saying this.
Instead of asking, Does more time for academics help? maybe we should ask, Does more time for academics help more than other things we could do instead? A Stanford University study compared four different reforms: peer tutoring, smaller classes, increased use of computers, and adding an hour of instruction each day. The result: "On a cost-effectiveness basis, the time intervention was found to rank at the bottom with respect to improving student performance in mathematics and third out of the four [in reading].
Students are already fulfilling the quantity of time by attending school. If we think that assigning homework will do anything to address the quality or engaged time spent learning, we are kidding ourselves.
I stopped assigning homework 5 years ago, because I came to see homework as not something to be assigned but to be inspired. When I poll my students to find out how many of them willingly do more of what we do at school on their own time, half of them put up their hands. Perhaps surprisingly, some of that half are students who typically wouldn't do their homework if it was assigned.
If children want to continue their learning at home, then more power to them, but let's not be so arrogant to believe that without school no learning would occur. We know this to be bullshit because far too many students have to leave school before they can find their true passion.
I believe we can agree most, if not almost all, students dislike or even hate homework. Because of this, we need to seriously rethink its use. The perceived gains of homework are largely a myth; however, because the harmful effects of homework are very real, we need to seriously rethink whether we should be asking kids to go home and work a second shift.