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A Quick Guide To The History Of Homework For Newbies

Homework can be a touchy subject in some circles. The general idea in the United States has been that homework is a good thing and a necessary component of a quality education. That attitude is changing, however, as more teachers and parents are questioning the benefits of the practice.

If you take a look at the history of homework, you’ll notice that this is really not anything new. Trends in educational “best practices” tend to be cyclical and repetitive. The history of homework and the attitudes toward it as an integral part of the educational process became the norm in educational practice in the last 100 years.

19th Century Homework

Regular attendance in 1 through 4 grade was sporadic for many students around the end of the 19th century. Most classrooms were multiage and grade level, with a single teacher responsible for educating at more than one grade level. Homework was rarely given to these primary students. Attendance saw a dramatic drop by the fifth grade, as students frequently left school for work.

The lower grades saw a focus on reading, writing and arithmetic. In grade 5 through 8, and on into high school, students studied more varied subjects, such as geography, history, mathematics and literature. Learning was centered around drilling on the material, memorization and recitation. This required preparation at home, generally the night before. Families had to decide which was more important: chores and home obligations or school work.

Children played an important role as workers in the home at this time, so many families simply could not afford to have their children move forward in school. The hours of homework required for success in school could simply not be shaved from the child’s necessary contribution to the home workload.

20th Century Homework

As progressive education philosophies took hold in the 20th century, one of the major components of the progressive platform was support for an anti-homework movement. As this philosophy became pervasive in the education field, the value of memorization and recitation was questioned. This debate grew to encompass the need for homework, as well.

By 1930, the movement against homework had grown to the point that a Society for the Abolition of Homework was formed. School districts bowed to social and governmental pressure to abolish homework. School district policies and professional opinion supported the condemnation of assigning homework.

With the Soviet Union launch of Sputnik 1 in 1957, the trend quickly reversed as the United States entered the space race. Facing a future that would be dominated by technology, school officials, teachers and parents viewed homework as a mean for accelerating a child’s learning. Public opinion moved back to a supportive role for homework.