The State and Homework vs. Kids

Classroom 3rd floor

“There is one and only one reason to ever require students to spend time at home mastering what is introduced in class,” libertarian columnist Paul Jacob writes at Common Sense, in criticism of a California bill which might result in reduced homework loads for public school students. “Only to prepare them for earning a living and living life by helping them obtain knowledge and skills and realize their potential.”

I disagree.  Unless things have changed since the early 2000s — when my wife and I pulled our own kids out of government schools and switched to homeschooling — the “homework situation” in America is beyond crazy.

As an elementary school student in the 1970s, I could reasonably expect 30-60 minutes of homework per night. That seemed like a lot, but I was a preteen. The workload increased in junior high and high school, but probably still averaged not much more than an hour per day.

By the early 2000s, it wasn’t unusual for my kids’ teachers to send home three hours’ worth of homework per weeknight, or more, and several hours’ worth for weekends.

No, I’m not exaggerating. We were involved parents who helped our kids get through that insane workload.

A workload, I should remind you, that came ON TOP of six to eight hours per day, five days per week, nine months per year, either in school or commuting between school and home.

Almost any adult worker who spent eight hours a day on a factory floor or at an office desk, then was told to work another three hours from home each weeknight and six to eight hours on the weekend, “off the clock,” would seek a salary re-negotiation or quit.

The kids don’t get paid, and they’re not allowed to quit.

Also, they’re kids, not adult workers.

Kids need more, not less, sleep than adults. Kids need more, not less, time to play and socialize than adults. And at least some studies show that more than an hour of homework per day correlates with decreased, not enhanced, academic performance.

I’m not normally a “there oughtta be a law” type. In fact, I oppose the government’s “public” education system in its entirety and  prefer to see kids homeschooled or privately schooled.

But IF there’s going to be a “public” education system, I favor legally capping that system’s “homework”  loads at (for the student of average intelligence) an hour per day in elementary/middle/junior high school, and two hours per day in high school, perhaps with exceptions for “honors” courses, etc.

There’s a term for more homework than that: “Child abuse.”

Yes, education is important. So is kids’ quality of life outside school hours. Leave them some time for their kid stuff.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter:@thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.