Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Homework, "Doing School," & Success in Life

"How are they going to succeed in real life if they can't complete homework?"

Good question. Or is it?

For as long as I've been in education - and that includes being a student - I've heard the argument that the discipline of doing homework, being prepared for class, and knowing how to meet demands are all essential to being successful in adulthood. But the older I become the less certain I am of that platitude. Certainly there is a correlation between students with good grades and adults with successful lives. However, I have an increasingly difficult time squaring that logic as absolute, and I become increasingly frustrated when we as a society write off kids who don't get homework done or meet the often mundane academic expectations of many classes.

In reality, there are numerous kids who very competently handle "real life" even as teenagers, though that may mean choosing jobs and family responsibilities over worksheets and textbooks. Young people with highly developed social-emotional traits or technical skills may have as many opportunities for a successful adulthood as ones who are good at studying, listening to lectures, and filling in bubbles. The saddest aspect of our contemporary education system is that it is so institutionalized that it cannot begin to recognize the myopic definition it has developed for success and student achievement.

Additionally, schools have only just begun to scrutinize the challenging question of whether they are teachers of content or teachers of skills. And if they are teachers of skills, then what exactly are the skills for a successful life? I've known many students who are late or absent from class, and rarely have their "homework" completed, but who are considered the most dependable employees at their jobs and will work harder for minimum wage than they will for a diploma. That can be insulting to people focused on academia. Often the problem is that a teacher's "real world" and a student's reality of that real world are vastly different. 

So, I think we must be careful in writing kids off simply because they aren't adept at "doing school," and I think our outcomes as a society will improve when we acknowledge that academic skills are only one component of a successful character.

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