An interesting (to put it mildly) encounter with a grad student I’m mentoring got me thinking about this. I’ve long known that my views on education are not run of the mill. I am not, nor will I ever be, a traditional teacher. It’s funny how often that freaks people out.
In this conversation with the student, it occurred to me that education is a lot like religion: we all have very specific ideas about what it is and what it should be, and if your ideas are different from mine, then your ideas are wrong. Which, of course, is ironic, since isn’t it the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain ideas you disagree with and open yourself up to other points of view?
This student and I clashed on various issues, but one area where we clearly could not see eye to eye was homework. I’ve blogged about homework before and turned it over in my mind many times, and I’ve come to the conclusion that I kind of hate homework. So, I don’t give much of it. She was convinced that students will not learn if they’re not given homework. I am convinced that students will not learn if they don’t want to. If my homework makes them want to learn, then they will learn. But if my homework does nothing more than fill up the hours they spend out of my class, it may actually have the exact opposite effect. I believe I defended my position well, but I know she left that conversation still certain that I am wrong about homework.
This conversation with her dredged up all these latent feelings of guilt I have about not giving homework. I, too, grew up with the idea that homework is necessary and beneficial. When I thought about giving it up, I almost couldn’t because I was sure it made me a bad teacher. But I’ve traded piles of homework for in-class assignments and projects that more authentically assess my students’ progress in English. I’m not the “homework police” anymore, so I can actually enjoy my students more. I’ve learned more about them, and I feel better equipped to speak to their linguistic ability.
But, you know, it’s funny, those same students who used to complain about having too much homework now complain about not having any homework. It’s like homework is the security blanket of education; we don’t feel like we’re learning without it. My students now have more time outside of class to use their English. They can go have coffee with that new American friend or go check out that movie they’ve been wanting to see. There’s not as much homework to get in the way. Of course, they don’t see it that way. I’m just the weird teacher who doesn’t give a lot of homework.