Homework: it’s accepted as an integral part of school life, going as far back as kindergarten for many people. Piles of papers stacked on students’ desks, keyboards poised underneath their fingertips, hours worth of assignments waiting for them — under these circumstances, getting fewer than five hours of sleep per night isn’t unusual.
A 2014 Stanford University survey of 4,317 students from 10 high-performing high schools in California revealed that the average student is assigned over three hours of homework on a typical night. It also showed increased amounts of homework led to greater stress and less family time. While it’s obvious that more homework means less time to do other things, the interesting aspect isn’t the survey results — it’s the reasoning behind it. Homework is used as a reason and an excuse. Students with too much homework take what little family time they have and further lessen it. Because of homework, students have less time to spend with their families and yet,the excuse “I can’t, I have too much homework” is commonly used to avoid family time.
In a part of the country where high tech companies such as Apple and Google flourish, expectations rise each year for the students in Bay Area schools. Because of outside perception of the Bay Area’s reputation and parents wanting their children to lead privileged lives, academics have taken over much of the family life.
“Before high school,whenever [my parents]talked to me, it was mainly about what I dreamed of doing,” senior Christine Chyu said. “But the moment I entered high school, everything was about GPA and standardized tests.”
Chyu feels like her relationship with her parents has become more distant.
“My mom comes home at around 6 p.m.,” Chyu said, “and then we talk about stuff like ‘what do you want to eat for dinner tonight?’ but then she also asks about how I’m doing in my classes, and ‘how do you think you did on your ACT?’”
The discussion then shifts to college applications. These questions continue until it’s time for Chyu to go to bed.
While Chyu uses homework as an excuse to stop these conversations, freshman Rukmini Banerjee uses homework as an excuse to procrastinate, choosing to spend more time with her family.
Banerjee knows that it can be exhausting to answer questions about grades and the like. Though she brushes off school-related questions and ignores her parents’ urging her to manage her time more efficiently, Banerjee takes every opportunity that her family offers to get out of doing her homework, choosing instead to go hiking with them or out to dinner. Other times, her dad will sit by her and they’ll watch the news.
It is natural for parents to ask about school because it takes up so much of their children’s lives, but it takes away from the quality of conversations when academics become the only topic.
“When parents interfere with their children’s homework activities… or are over-controlling,” said Richard Walker, an associate professor of educational psychology at the University of Sydney. “Parental involvement in homework can have detrimental effects on achievement outcomes.”
Chyu and Banerjee just reply with generic answers to their parents’ questions instead of initiating more practical conversations because they know the topic will eventually shift to academics.
Cathy Vatterott, an education professor at the University of Missouri, St. Louis, says that homework has become so ingrained into lives beyond the classroom that teachers have more control over a student’s free time than parents do. The reasoning for this is that homework teaches responsibility, and that “intellectual pursuits hold an implied superiority over unintellectual tasks such as throwing a ball, walking a dog, riding a bike, or just hanging out.”This statement dismisses the value of leisure activity, which is just as crucial in child development as academics are. While homework may facilitate learning, seven to eight hours of a child’s day is already dedicated to learning — this is more than enough time spent on intellectual pursuits, rather than time socializing.
Junior Daniel Hong doesn’t spend much time with dad, who comes home late after work, but when his dad makes an effort to spend time with his family on weekends, Hong frequently chooses not to, citing homework and sports injuries.
“I have a little regret, maybe I should have been closer to my family,” Hong said. “[When we don’t go out on weekends], [he gets]really disappointed.”
Hong’s mom frequently requests that he finish his homework earlier so that he doesn’t have to tell his dad ‘I have homework so I can’t hang out with you.’
Homework has become so predominant in student’s lives that although it is meant to help them do well in school, it instead has taken over family life to an extent at which it’s hurting students’ relationships with their parents. But despite the pressure students have from homework, it cannot be fully blamed in this situation because there are some who consciously choose not to spend time with family.
Parents may mean well by realizing the importance of school and turning it into the most discussed topic in the household. Even so, discussing about academics has become a way for parents to keep in check with their kids’ lives. Unfortunately, their intentions are often misunderstood. Once parents bring up the topic of homework, students close themselves off for fear of being reprimanded for being unfocused or simply because it’s a redundant talk. .
“If we joke around, then I’m closer with my mom,” said Chyu. “But if I ever bring up my own thoughts, she’d probably shut it down, saying that it’s useless to think about other stuff, just do what you’re told and you’ll be fine.”
Although spending time with family is important, its purpose is defeated it continues to revolve around school, or worse — cause as much stress as school does. Conversing with family may be stressful, but the majority of the time, family members are only concerned about our well-being and want the best for us. Using homework as an excuse not to participate in family time would mean losing out on these valuable experiences.
Additional reporting by Krishna Sunder.