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10 Fun Facts On The History Of Homework

It’s National Homework Month! Today we’ll explore the history of this much-loved school tradition!

Just kidding. I made that up - it isn’t really a thing.

That means this article is completely out of the blue - but believe it or not, the history of making children work on their lessons after school hours actually turns out to be pretty interesting - more so than the practice itself, at least. The history behind it is to help students practice what they learn in school at home; however, there has always been a bit of controversy over whether or not it’s really beneficial to students.

So, all the same, here are 10 Fun Facts you might not have known about the bane of every student’s existence:

  1. Kids used to drop out of school in part because of it: In the 1800’s, when children went to school the lessons they learned required intensive memorization in order that they’d be able to recite them during class. Therefore, students had to take time to prepare the night before. Most students dropped out of school before even middle school started, because they had to help their families work, and the time it took to go to school, plus the time used preparing their lessons for the next day once they got home, interfered with their work.
  2. If you were a sixth grader in the early nineteen hundreds, you might have never had any: For some reason, in the early 1900’s people started to decide that all this studying might actually be detrimental to children; it limited the development of social skills and the amount of time they had to play outside. This growing antipathy eventually got to the point where students in grades 3 and under were not assigned school work, and many schools adopted this policy for grades 3-6, as well.
  3. What does Sputnik have to do with anything? Turns out, we didn’t want to fall behind the Russians, so when they launched their satellite, we decided we needed a more demanding education system so that our kids would grow up to be smarter than theirs - so the idea of giving kids assignments to do after school came back into favor ...
  4. And went again. In the 1960’s and ‘70’s, people again started to question the benefits of giving children so much work. As a result, in those years, schools started to loosen up.
  5. I’m baaaack! In the 1980’s, the government did a study called A Nation at Risk, criticizing the inadequacy of America’s public education system. Thus began a period of higher standards, more attention to academics, and, in turn, you guessed it - more homework.
  6. The Homework Ate My Family: The title of a Times article from 1999. In the late 1990’s, Americans’ feelings once again shifted. People didn’t want their children to be burdened by so many assignments, as demonstrated by this article, which talks about the effects that so much work has on children and their families.
  7. 48 Minutes a Day: In 1948, high school students spend an average of 3-4 hours a week on homework. That makes about 36 to 48 minutes a day every weekday. Lucky them...
  8. WWPD (What Would Pilgrims Do?) Some people argue that you can trace the purported benefits of making children work back to Puritanism. The Puritans put a lot of emphasis on hard work and diligence; likewise, a lot of the “pro” arguments are based on the idea that because it involves perseverance and hard work, it may build character in children.
  9. Too much of a (good?) thing: Denis Pope, a researcher from Stanford, conducted a study which found that doing more than two hours per night may actually have a negative effect on the student’s overall well-being.
  10. Less = more: In Finland, younger students almost never get homework, and the older ones only get about half an hour each night. Yet Finland has the highest test scores in the world, and a 92% high school graduation rate?

And so the debate continues...Is homework a good way for students to learn responsibility and practice what they’ve learned in school, or does it limit the development of other important skills?