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The homework debate: The French weigh in

favicon You know things are serious when the French get involved.

First, it was obesity. Why can the French eat cheese and drink wine and not get fat? (The answer: Lots of smoking, very few cookies.)

Next, it was parenting. Why are French kids so calm and respectful? (The answer: Their parents neglect them and force them to stay at the dinner table while adults eat cheese and drink wine.)

Now the French are weighing in on the homework debate, according to a report yesterday on National Public Radio. (Find the whole article in Iserotope Extras!) In the segment, Eleanor Beardsley covers the current effort by French President Francois Hollande to reform education in his country. One of his proposals: Get rid of homework entirely.

Listen to the report (about 4 mins):

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According to President Hollande, homework creates a greater divide between the “haves” and “have-nots” in French society. Eliminating homework would offer a more-level playing field and give every French child a chance to succeed.

Instead of requiring homework, Hollande proposes, schools should have longer days. In addition, children should attend school on Wednesdays, now a weekly holiday in France.

Sounds like a good plan, right? Do more work in school and less at home?

There’s only one problem: The “have-nots” like homework and want it to stick around. Specifically, poor and middle-class parents are protesting the proposal.

One parent, Aissata Toure, says:

[Eliminating homework] is not a good idea at all because even at a young age, having individual work at home helps build maturity and responsibility, and if it’s something they didn’t quite get in school, the parents can help them. Homework is important for a kid’s future.

In other words, homework not only offers young people academic practice but also promotes important character traits like “maturity” and “responsibility.” Homework is “important for a kid’s future.” This French debate sounds like a very American one.

At the end of the report, a French magazine editor explains why rich French parents advocate for no homework. They already treat their kids to extra-curricular activities like sports, museums, libraries, music, and dance. Homework gets in the way of the higher-class acculturation process.

He’s onto something — and that’s what makes the Great Homework Debate so difficult. If we keep homework, then the achievement gap will persist — students with privilege, who know the game of school, will continue to outpace their peers. On the other hand, if we get rid of homework, then the achievement gap will persist — students with privilege will have greater access to extra-curricular activities (as they do already) and will continue to outpace their peers.

Tough one. What do you think? What are your thoughts about the homework debate? Let me know. Or check out my previous posts about homeworkfavicon

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