Too Much Homework

New Column on Anash.org: Renowned chinuch expert Rabbi Michoel Gourarie of Sydney, Australia addresses readers’ questions on all things chinuch.

Question

My daughter just entered 7th grade. Before the year has even taken off, she is already drowning under numerous tests: Chumash, Halacha and lehavdil Math, Science and spelling. Besides preparing for tests, she has daily homework in almost all subjects.

Not only is our daughter finding this very difficult, we as parents are struggling. We need to help her prepare for her tests and aid her with homework. This is besides the time and energy we put into helping our other children with their homework and tests and juggling life’s responsibilities.

Is this the way school is meant to be? Is there another way?

Rabbi Gourarie’s responds: 

I understand this problem both as an educator and as a parent. A number of years ago, my daughter who had just entered seventh grade received piles of homework that took her hours to complete. Being a compliant student she completed every task but the frustration, stress, and resentment were obvious. 

I called the principal to respectfully share the problem with her, but she answered that homework is a really important component of the educational journey. In addition, she said the students seemed to be responding well. 

I replied with the following  points:

  1.  In my opinion, the school, in this case, was ‘winning the battle and losing the war’. Compliance is not a sign of success. My daughter was completing the task but beginning to hate the subject. 
  2.  In recent times, even in the secular world many schools are questioning the value of excessive homework and are beginning to change school policy.
  3. There are alternatives to mainstream homework. With creativity and modification, homework in moderation can become an effective educational tool.

The gemara states that a student should learn “Bemokom Shelibo Chofetz’ – in the area that his heart desires (Avoda Aara 19a). Without analyzing the exact practical application of that statement, one thing is clear: success in learning needs to include an element of geshmak and desire, not just kabolas ol.

Nowadays this is so much more important. The Rebbe has pointed out so many times that we live in a world where the home environment is not as strong as in times of old. Yiddishe values, yiras shamayim, hashkafa etc. are no longer absorbed from the walls in the home.

The role of a teacher is no longer simply to impart information. The Mechanech must instill a love of learning, proper hashkafa and yiras shamayim. One clear path towards that goal is to ensure that the learning is not just deep, rigorous and on a high level (which are, of course, all-important); it is imperative that learning also be a positive experience. 

When a teacher gives homework or a school sets policy, a simple question must be asked: What is the goal and educational benefit of this homework experience?

The benefits of hours of repetitive writing exercises and assignments are questionable. What is almost certain is that it creates boredom and resentment towards the subject and learning in general. Furthermore, it often diminishes much needed ‘downtime’ and family bonding which younger students crave and need. 

If the school or teacher feels the need to encourage revision and independent learning at the very least they should:

  1. Give much smaller tasks 
  2. Make them enjoyable and attractive to the learner so that they want to do it. 


Homework can be an opportunity for students to explore “Libo chofetz” in areas they enjoy without the restrictions of the classroom curriculum. There are many ways this can be done. It is beyond the scope of the article to go into specifics, though I am always happy to discuss this with any educator. 

In conclusion, I understand your problem well. You cannot and should not undermine the school to your child. But I would suggest that you, together with other parents, respectfully meet with the teacher and/ or school administration and plead with them to explore more effective strategies. 

Hatzlacha and lots of nachas!

Rabbi Michoel Gourarie is the founder and director of BINA, an educational institution for adults in Australia. Having served for many years as a teacher and principal, he is now a sought after chinuch consultant and teacher trainer. To send a chinuch question to Rabbi Gourarie, email inbox@anash.org.

Discussion
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  1. I agree with the woman who says there is too much homework.
    I find that Chumash the girls are learning deeper than the boys. The girls are learning with more mefarhim than the boys. Parents who have small children and need the help of the older daughter’s can’t get enough help from them because they are overwhelmed with homework.
    l believe Rabbi Heller is against too much homework. The schools are making it hard to fulfill the Rebbe’s horah of having large families.

  2. This populistic attack on our chinuch infrastructure, is not constructive.

    This peice will certainly win popular votes, but what we need today is to strengthen our teachers and the trust in them. Not to undermine them.

    Indeed, some valid points have been made, but this should not be the message for our times.

    Our children, and their parents, need to stop blaming their missteps on their dedicated teachers. More confidence in mechanchim will lead to more success in and out side the classroom.

    I was expecting more from anash.org.

  3. as a former student and teacher and current parent 1. too much homework destroyed my handwriting and a lot of my interest in learning as a teenager 2. homework should never require parents help 3. homework shouldnt be stuff that the teacher didnt get around to teaching in school

  4. My son is in 7th grade in Oholei Torah. He has to prepare for his bar mitzvah. He goes to school from 7:30 AM until 5 PM. Bar Mitzvah prep in our house is limited to 20-30 minutes a day. His Rebbeim understand that he is NOT a machine. They get that my son needs to prepare a maamer, leining, and for the chidon. Therefore at meet the parents night they explained that they dont give homework. I am so grateful. There is no pressure.

    1. If there is no homework you normally won’t know what is happening in the classroom and your child will tell you everything is excellent when it may not be so.
      Rabbi Gourarie clearly wrote it should not be excessive, but that does not mean that there should be no homework.
      Obviously the principal should see that the teachers of various subjects realize that they should coordinate their homework and tests.
      Furthermore some teachers are acutely aware of what the students do in their free time and feel that an abundant of work and studying can save some children from these dangers that too many parents ignore.
      So it is not just a one sided question there are many components involved.

  5. As a rebbee, I am totally against giving homework on any subject. I send a message to the parents what we learned and if they are interested they review. If a teacher gives homework it should never be more then 10-15 minutes.

  6. I feel that it comes from there concept that teachers are afraid of students being bored and when they do that then they will have time to do things that are not in line with Torah. I believe that this line if thinking doesn’t apply to today’s say and age. The Rebbe saids in lekutai sichos chelek alef parshas vayera that children can do good things not for the sake of prizes. I feel that children can be taught values so when the child comes home they won’t be doing things that is not in line with what Hashem wants.
    I feel that the teachers that issue so much homework many of them are doing it because they overwork themselves so they think that the only way to survive is the way that they know how. It’s not their fault their parents our grandparents could have been in Russia where they weren’t able to do things that they loved because they were living in survival mode. Today we are not living in survival mode. The Rebbe says how we need to open our eyes to see that Moshiach is here- we don’t need to be living in survival mode – we can do things and learn things that we love and we need to be an example to our children and students to do the same. Hope could the child ever develop what they love if there only way to survive in school is to overwork themselves. Also if the teachers are trying to avoid social drama by overworking the students maybe the students could have an aprotunity to learn healthy communication skills instead.
    Thank you for this it is really important.

  7. It seems that this issue is mainly in girls schools. Since they have a different teacher for each subject, each teacher gives their own homework and tests. However in the boy’s yeshivos, they usually have 1-2 rebbes, so its not so much of an issue in my experience.

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