A school in New South Wales is giving parents the option to excuse their primary school kids from homework. Decades of research that shows homework before sixth grade makes no difference in how well kids do in life. The school in New South Wales points to a recent OECD report showing that kids in private schools do two hours’ more homework each week than their public school peers but their results were are no better once socio-economic advantage was taken into consideration.

One thing homework does accomplish is to teach kids to wait for someone to tell them what to do. In the world of assembly line workers, this is a great skill. But why would parents today want to train their kids to wait for someone to tell them what to do? Those people never get far in the workplace and they wilt as soon as they are laid off once.

Homework takes away time that kids could learn to think independently and keeps the kids under the thumb of the school. Teaching kids they have to do work they don’t like teaches kids to be second-class citizens in the era of job-hopping, knowledge workers.

The real thing homework does is teach kids to give up control. How can teachers get kids who are craving independence to sit still? School turns learning into a matter of obedience, according to Baltimore public school teacher and author Jay Gillen. And homework is an extension of the idea of keeping kids in line, by keeping them busy, by telling them what to do and what to think.

What we should really do is educate for insurgency. We should teach kids how to take control of their learning and, in turn, of their life. This is why it should surprise no one that kids who play video games instead of doing homework do better in adult life.  The gamers literally have the control levers in their hand. They determine what happens next. And much more than being good at following commands, learning to take control of your life is the best education you can get.

41 replies
  1. not convinced
    not convinced says:

    The gamers I know have continued to choose video games over jobs and relationships well into their 20s.

    • Karelys
      Karelys says:

      I’m not convinced either but only for lack of good examples.
      The thing is, I’m used to questioning everything I think and believe. Also, we’re talking about the next generation, not the ones past us or the one right in front of us.

      Video games in the 80’s and 90’s, even early 2000, weren’t that impressive in comparison to what we have going on now. Never mind the fact that the digital art is shockingly amazing, the ability of the designers to weave a plot and character development is amazing. There are two towers in Dubai and Kwaitt that look like they were fashioned after a tower in a video game (can’t remember the name). It truly is a feat or architecture and engineering.

      In the beginning stages of the computer people wouldn’t understandably say that they were not impressed and unwilling to abandon pen and paper processes and let the computer figure it out. Now I go to job interviews and people ask if I know excel. I have to find words to kindly tell them that it’s 2015 and there’s an app for that (anything really).

      I wonder how a lot of these people who don’t take charge of life and instead they play games not because games are bad but because these people don’t know how to take charge of their life. And they stick to games for the opportunity of being in charge at least some. Like women who read a lot of romance novels and they have a disastrous love life. It’s not that the novels are causing distrophy and that’s why their relationships are bad. It’s because their life is unsuccessful in that area that they read the novels.

      I love glancing at the COD screen when the guys play it. MILLIONS of people playing at the same time while others are sleeping or working but will log in soon enough. It must be amazing being a part of a global community, talking on the headphone with a guy in Finland telling you in broken English to “comer me mate!”

      Millions of people. I doubt all of them are leading pitiful lives.

      • Pirate Jo
        Pirate Jo says:

        Video games are fun. That’s why people play them. You still have to pay your bills, but once your needs and responsibilities are met, is there anything wrong with striving to spend as much of your time as possible doing things you enjoy?

        • Karelys
          Karelys says:

          Not at all. I lot of people look down on those who don’t seek “to improve ” their situation. I used to be one of those.

          Some people don’t want to improve because they got everything they want and are happy that way.

          • Pirate Jo
            Pirate Jo says:

            That is so true – if you embrace the idea that you should always be trying to improve your situation, it kind of assumes that you will never reach a point where you are happy and satisified with your situation and no longer feel the need to improve it. How odd to view reaching your goal as some kind of moral failing.

            Not to mention everyone sees “improvement” a little bit differently. For myself, success means maximizing the amount of my time I spend on things I enjoy. The amount of time I get is fixed and limited, so it’s important to me that each hour of it should be spent as happily as possible. And sometimes that means playing a video game! (Can’t wait for Elder Scrolls 6.)

            I know there are Puritans who view things differently. I hear them get into their Martyr Olympics on a regular basis. ‘No, I get to spend LESS time with my kids and MORE time at work than you, I’M the more miserable one, which makes me the winner!’ Of what, exactly? A contest over who is doing it wrong?

  2. Pirate Jo
    Pirate Jo says:

    Maybe gamers choose video games over jobs and relationships because they are more rewarding.

    I think schools’ focus on obedience and teaching kids to wait for someone to tell them what to do is great preparation for corporate life. It’s not just for assembly line workers – corporate office drones, who still have enviable positions compared to service sector jobs, are expected to obey, conform, and not take initiative. They won’t tell you this in the interview, but I myself watched in a meeting as two young guys from the marketing department, desperately trying to do for themselves what the glacial corporate culture was too slow in providing, were brought down a peg by senior managers who told them to wait for a company project plan.

    Maybe then you strive to reach that higher level of senior management, in which case you are expected to work long hours and put work before family, which is what homework prepares you for.

    You can find someplace to work besides big corporations. But small and medium-sized businesses are now dying faster than they are being born. You can start your own business too, but unless you already have a bunch of money you can risk on it, you risk homelessness. Or you could start your own business as a side thing until it grows enough to pay the bills, in which case you still need a full-time job somewhere in the meantime and you’re right back to square one.

    I don’t think it’s a matter of school not preparing kids for the realities of the workplace – I think it does that quite well. It’s just the workplace sucks. At any rate, it’s full of people who went to public school, which may be why it’s like that.

    I recommend people live debt-free and focus on working as little as possible. This guy gives great advice for Millenials:

    http://www.sacredlands.org/workingsucks.htm

  3. Karelys
    Karelys says:

    Can we talk about what insurgency looks like?
    I’m barely getting used to recognizing the game of schooling and career climbing and American pie and all that. I can’t see that further down.
    Or maybe is the barely one cup of tea I’ve had so far.

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      I’d like to discuss what education insurgency is specifically. Isn’t this just another education reformers-patting-themselves-on-the-back idea?

      The ideas from the article seem to be re-branded education philosophies. End homework…but replace it with this new thing over here instead. It doesn’t really solve the issue. I applaud districts ending homework, but I don’t see how you get around mandatory subjects, mandatory learning, and mandatory attendance in this setting.

      While I appreciate video games and see their usefulness as well as don’t limit screen time, I don’t see how video game/role playing correlates to insurgency because you are still playing a game created by someone else and within the rules of that system.

      I feel like schools are years behind homeschoolers as far as incorporating and implementing ideas. We have always included video games and topics outside k-12 walls, and now schools use video games and media in its classrooms. This makes me want to do something different again…anyone else feel this way?

  4. Jana
    Jana says:

    My brother cut out homework in his public school classroom this year. He is in the Irvine, CA school district that is extremely competitive. Not one parent has complained. And he’s seen a bunch of positives out of the trial run.

  5. Gretchen
    Gretchen says:

    Why this obsession with video games? I don’t see a problem with them, if in balance like anything else, but “The gamers literally have the control levers in their hand”? They are controlling…a game.

    That said, my kid, in a public school with a teacher who is very gracious and flexible, has been pushing limits lately, and I am so on her side as far as supporting her “weird” actions and coaching on how to “be” in the mainstream while still being your weird self… so I am so interested in this idea of “insurgency” …but the post fell flat. Video games. Meh.

    • Gretchen
      Gretchen says:

      I just clicked over to the post “kids who play video games do better…” and am beginning to wonder if this whole blog is rationalization for PT to let her kids play video games all the time while she does whatever.

      • Kristin
        Kristin says:

        You have no idea what Penelope’s kids do all day. Why would you say something like that? You ought to also read all the posts about her older child’s quest to prepare for graduate school, her younger son’s amazingly rigorous cello schedule, or the list of chores her kids do on her farm. You probably didn’t read the post about how her son taught himself how to read and you probably also have no idea what it means to play video games. Most likely you think it means they sit there and kill the enemy all day. In fact, for most kids video games mean designing, creating, negotiating, and strategizing. A lot of schools actually use Minecraft in their curriculum! I think you should do your research before making such comments. Penelope provides a forum for people to exchange ideas.

      • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
        YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

        Gretchen,

        If you follow her blog often enough, you know that isn’t true. They have tutors and music lessons and field trips. We don’t get the “day in the life…here is what we study” here and I appreciate that, I can find that other places. We are never told how much video game consumption actually happens. I try not to assume too much.

        My friend’s son played minecraft for two months straight when he was 9, he is 11 now and hasn’t played since he stopped after that two months. But it led into his love of programming and now he is at a professional level of programming. If he hadn’t gotten it all out of his system several years ago he may never have come to the conclusion on his own that video games are addictive, and chose on his own not to play but rather create.

    • Commenter
      Commenter says:

      I don’t know whether we will ever see any kind of serious insurrection in this country, but I don’t see one being led by the pimply legions of the 101st Fighting Keyboardists. What will they do, fling painfully hot microwave burritos at The Man?

      • Karelys
        Karelys says:

        Hehe funny visual!

        But seriously, I just cry when technology doesn’t work how it’s supposed to. Can you imagine when the government is completely digitized and then you have the pimply ones know the system inside out.

        I am afraid to disrespect waiters lest they spit in my food.

        It’s fun to mock pimply kids who can eat a box of pizza pockets until you realize some of them could breach NSA if they wanted to because that’s all they do all day so they know those things inside out.

        Don’t be rude to the waiter!

        • Commenter
          Commenter says:

          Karelys, I’ve worked for the government in a high-tech area, and I don’t fear digital infiltration from acned miscreants. Government systems are typically decades behind the times; youngsters wouldn’t even know where to start. A grizzled cobol master with a will to destroy, however, could bring our nation to its knees.

      • Heather Bathon
        Heather Bathon says:

        Ahahahahahahahaha…hahaha….hahahahaha…hmmmmm….

        Commenter, (brother, as I know now), thou art both erudite and funny. The winningest combination.

  6. Kelsey
    Kelsey says:

    A fellow homeschool mom put her kids back in public school in highschool. She put them back in a known-to-be-failing high school because of where she lived. She said the school has changed policies in major ways multiple times in 5 years that her boys were there. Which means they never really gave new policies time to work. Anyway, one of the failed policies was “Re-Teach and Re-Test” and had no homework. She said it basically meant that teachers were super busy before and after school re-teaching. There was no homework so the students hadn’t practiced what they were taught in class and weren’t prepared for the test. But it didn’t matter because they could just meet with the teacher, be re-taught and then re-test. Maybe it’s because it’s in a poor, failing district to begin with, but it didn’t work. They eventually changed to the next policy that failed.

    A teacher in my high school (who was talk-to-a-sock-puppet-in-class crazy) had a policy that I thought was fantastic. We did tons of work together in class (chemistry) and then had homework to help us remember things. (He wrote his own homework- so it was short, but always consistent with what we had actually learned in class. Not the case in all classes.) If we failed one of his tests, we could re-take it as many times as we needed to in order to get a better grade. He said his job was to help us learn it, but that he didn’t think we had to learn it by a specific date. So if we failed, we could reflect, practice, ask for help and take it again later. It was great. But then it becomes more of a self-directed way of learning material, doesn’t it? No wonder I’m a homeschooler.

  7. redrock
    redrock says:

    there is HW and then there is HW… the work which has problems to solve rather then regurgitate classroom stuff in a repetitive manner is actually useful homework because you get to apply what you learned.
    Learning does need a certain amount of repetition and thinking time to sink in – same for violin practice. Or would you advocate that the kids only practice violin if the teacher is present?

    And the video game stick only gives the illusion of control – the illusion of being able to decide freely as to what you do in someone else’s phantasy world. But then free will is probably not all it is cracked up to be anyway.

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      Some people only need one repetition, like my daughter, to understand a concept. University is a place where I would expect homework though, but even so the percentage it counts for the overall grade is very small. For the more complex and abstract math, my husband always got credit for his process of working through the problem instead of just a check mark for not arriving to the correct solution on an exam.

      Your last sentence… the hours I have spent thinking about is incredible.

      • redrock
        redrock says:

        well, I might be a little biased since I am teaching more of the higher level stuff. It is actually really interesting to see how different students think (and sorry, I have not seen that homeschooled students are automatically better at problem solving). I have HWs which are pretty repetitive and mix them with thinking problems. Same for exams. And this pretty much divides the classroom – those who complain that the problems are too difficult and those who tell me after an exam (!) that they really liked the problems. As a result I have a reputation of teaching really hard classes, but still many students love them.

        And free will – there is a lot of research on the topic, really fascinating.

        • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
          YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

          I don’t think I said homeschooled students are better at problem solving. I said some people only need one repetition to understand a concept. Some people need 5 or 6 and others will always have trouble trying to understand something that is not in their wheelhouse. When you are self-educating you are in charge of the repetition and it isn’t arbitrary.

          omg, discussing the abstract makes me come to life. I’m not sure I want to derail the main topic. :)

          • redrock
            redrock says:

            oh, I agree with you. Just added the comment of observation on student differences in general – to counter some opinions voiced here that school completely and utterly kills any ability to think critically. It is fortunately not that black and white – was not in response to your comment.

        • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
          YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

          Ah, I see. I’m curious how many homeschoolers apply to the college where you work and if you can tell the difference in class.

          • redrock
            redrock says:

            I don’t think there is an exceptionally large percentage of homeschoolers at my institutions – just about average. I usually don’t ask so I will only know when we get talking for some reason or another. But I have never seen a correlation (for those cases when I know) between homeschooled and being superb in terms of critical thinking or ability to work independently or ability to think “outside the box”. Those students I recognize as exceptional in those aspects are all across the board in terms of school education, color, gender, and economic background. Those who went to the super science school around the corner have more experience in problem solving techniques, but that is only one part of success. Same for graduate students with a few exceptions – while the homeschoolers often pride themselves on their independence they are also the ones who expect an often disproportionate amount of attention from the professor (not talking about their research advisor here). But, I also think my database is too small to draw generally valid conclusions.

            I also think that the critical thinking ability and creativity which is promoted as the most important thing at the moment is not actually that important for all professions. The technical skill might be more critical to success as a (for example) programmer then creativity,a nurse with a great and solid knowledge of the human body and drug interactions is going to be more valuable then the nurse with the creative twist, and so on. There are professions where critical and creative thinking are paramount, but by far not all. Ability to learn a new skill fast is often more valuable then to think about it in a new way. And, skill and knowledge should not be undervalued even in a job like scientist or engineer – they are the basis from which to jump off into the unknown.

  8. Kristin
    Kristin says:

    I believe there is a difference between kids who are allowed to play video games whenever they want and kids who have to do other things all day long and use video games to escape. So to the poster who said gamers choose video games over jobs and relationships well into their 20’s, how many of those are gamers who had unlimited access to video games and were not required to go to school? And to the poster who is asking why the obsession with video games — this is because there is a lot of research saying that playing video games makes people successful. Video games of today inspire creativity, independent thinking, team work, acumen, leadership, and social skills. Since this is a blog on education, and video games have been shown to be important in education, they will continue to play a large part in the conversation.

    • Vanessa
      Vanessa says:

      I think that escapism is an important point. To me, kids and teenager who spend hours and hours playing video games do so because video games are an avenue where they have complete control…in order to get to the next level you have to accomplish XYZ. Whereas in life the rules are rarely so blatant. Generally I think it’s the gamer’s lack control of real lives that attracts them to virtual reality type games anyway. Maybe they can’t find a way to get a girlfriend but who cares because they are married to a level 72 shaman in World of Warcraft.

  9. Sarah N
    Sarah N says:

    I think you can swap “experiential learning” for “video games” and still come out with kids who can take charge of their educations/career paths/lives. Not all kids are drawn to games, and I think what is important in this argument is not the inherent superiority of gaming, but the combination of trial and error (playing the game) with control over the experience (the choice to play a game, and the choice of game) leading to the outcome of insurgent adults-which I’d define as adults who understand themselves and what they have to give to the world, and what they want in return. In addition, they know which rules to follow, bend, or break.
    We’re in our first year of homeschooling our older son, and while we’re still figuring out methods, the goal is to raise an insurgent as defined above.

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      Sarah N,

      I love your comment.

      I am unschooling my three children, 8, 5, and 3. Experiential learning happens daily and without coercion. I have no requirements or daily assignments and I don’t limit screen time. The older two girls took a standardized test (I think they are absurd and fallible) and they both completely blew it out of the water. I did nothing to elicit this, they simply have an innate desire to be curious about the world and take charge of their education.

      I ask my oldest daughter Savannah if she wants to try school from time to time. Her response is always an emphatic no because she wouldn’t be able to learn about the things she cares about and doesn’t want to ask permission to eat or use the bathroom. I decided to stop asking, she will let me know what’s up.

      Congrats on your homeschooling! :)

      • Sarah N
        Sarah N says:

        Thank you! The first six months were interesting, but I think we’re finding our footing, bit by bit. We don’t unschool as my seven year-old needs some structure, but my mission is to get him to try as many things as possible until he figures out what calls to him, and what he needs/wants to become good at it, and then let him rip. Like St. Augustine might have said: unschooling…eventually.

        Right now storytelling calls to him. So while we have a course of study, I’m perfectly happy for him to create as many comics, photo essays, and fairy tales as he wants while we work through it. He’s also trying his hand at theater, and we’re doing things like attending children’s submissions at film festivals, going to storytelling events, and visiting cartoon museums. It may all change, it may intensify, and either way I just try to keep up.

        We live in a fixer-upper, so he’s tried his hand at patio removal, paint stripping, and furniture assembling. He and his little brother help work on our cars, and he helps with yard work and chicken care. So he gets to try physical things as well, though nothing has really stuck there as of yet. Fortunately, our projects never end, so he has plenty of time to figure that out.

  10. Amy A
    Amy A says:

    Sittin’ here on the sidelines, I find it interesting the lengths to which people will defend or praise something such as video games. Like, I wouldn’t be here defending eating fast food three times a day. I think people are entitled to eat fast food 3x/day if they want to and I personally don’t have an opinion about it. But I wouldn’t be interested in reading their advocating for it, partially because I think it’s an absurd thing to invest energy into advocating.

    I think it is a joke to think video games provide any real life valuable skills, or that hours upon hours of it will turn a person into someone I will want to be around, for my kids to date, or to work for me. Is that because I am not hip to the times or is it because I am deeper than the trends and believe we parents are the ones shaping society most of all?

    I myself like local-mindedness, local-focus. Local is where my kids and I exist. I hope one third or half or more of the people around me aren’t ignoring our local space while they sit in front of screens, chattin it up with strangers around the globe, for a lot of their life instead of investing in where we all reside in real life.

    But I feel the same about families who are almost never home, almost never in their own homes and in their own neighborhoods. I don’t like my ‘hood feeling like a ghost town.

    Anyway, I don’t see how this article jumped from no homework to video gaming.

    To bring it back on topic, homework in high school grades and lower, was a waste of my time (if I even did it at all). But then I could have learned everything I did (and more, without the bull shit of school) in about two years. I would have used all that free time (not doing homework and not going to school) learning, hands-on, about running a business and to be raking in some dough (not playing games…I know, crazy).

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      I’m a globalist. :)

      My preferred method of social interaction is on the Internet. In person, I am quite awkward…I blame school for my socialization skills. ;). Think any Kristen Wiig snl skit…just kidding, maybe.

      • Amy A
        Amy A says:

        Kristen Wiig: I haven’t watched SNL for forever. But loved her in _Bridesmaids_ and _ Despicable Me 2_. Will have to youtube her SNL skits.

        Funny I didn’t think my comment went through and I thought, “Thank god. Ain’t nobody got time for this.” Oh well.

        I agree with all those who said in their comments here that it is important to feel good in life (or feel relief at the very least). Finding ways to feel good, have a sense of relief, is certainly an important life skill.

      • Amy A
        Amy A says:

        About being local: I don’t mean I want to have coffee clutches and gift exchanges with my neighbors. I just mean that if people are actually living in their space, using the trails, sitting by the bodies of water, walking through the neighborhoods, hanging out in their yards, they are more likely to care about those spaces: their space becomes an investment; they might even advocate for and create positive changes to meet their and their surrounding neighbors’ needs. If the neighbors are home, and aware of their surroundings, it feels safer–people tend to watch out for each other even if they don’t hang out together. Plus, I sure miss the days when kids played pick-up games in the street and yards (I hear this happens in some pockets in my metro area, but it’s pretty rare considering the population numbers).

  11. Laura in Montana
    Laura in Montana says:

    Interesting conclusions about homework. When I was in public school 35 years ago I always did my homework, yet I only retained the information that I found interesting. The rest of the homework/studying I did was only useful for passing a test but not for longterm retention. I forgot most of what I learned within a few days. It’s the same today. If I find something interesting, I am more likely to retain what I learn about it. If a subject is of vital importance to my life or career, I am more likely to retain it.

    Since we homeschool, we don’t have “homework”. Everything we do is “homework” because it’s done outside of a formal school setting. When we do 4 hours of schoolwork a day, we can accomplish more in one week than their peers do in one month.

    A few years ago I read about a northern California school district that prohibited homework because their students were overstressed. I remember seeing our next door neighbor’s bedroom light on until past midnight on school nights during his high school years and I knew he had to get up at 5am in order to make it to an AP class that began at 6am. Crazy doesn’t begin to cover it.

  12. Kim
    Kim says:

    Penelope, you mention in your article that the mentality of homework allows people to grow up and wilt once they are laid off. However, the typical tone of most people in the workplace is that once the job gets uninteresting or mundane, they quit. I, personally, think you are advocating raising kids to be pleasure-seekers. If things don’t operate on their terms or by their interests, they quit.

    I think you are missing the point of homework, it’s not simply to create “yes-men”. Teachers could care less what kids do outside of the classroom.

    Teachers are simply trying to survive in the classroom and would hope that it doesn’t just involve catching everyone up.

    A good deal of education doesn’t involve just consuming but making habit and practice

    My father worked over 30 years diligently at a company even through the mundane and difficult times. You would be hard pressed to find a millennial like that. It’s because, now education is about being fun and creative. Look how math is treated in our education system. Fun and creative projects are focused on, until it gets to the higher levels where it is dismissed as being “too hard”.

    Jobs and even self-employment will have times of difficult, trial and flat-out blandness. Are we training our children to be interest-seekers and only stick it out until it gets too boring or are we guiding them into able to persevere in their careers?

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