As a rule I mute television commercials. I can’t stand most of them as they send us all subconscious messages from multinational corporations that seek to entrap the will and bring about the purchase of something we simply do not need. Some are clever and I try to listen to them, just for a laugh. But there is a new Apple iPad commercial that I happened to listen to recently, because I was remote from the remote, and that commercial gets my goat!

The commercial shows a middle school teacher assigning homework to his class, presumably on a Friday, and a voice-over starts intoning the message “Ugh, homework. I hate homework.” The style of the commercial is reminiscent of Jean Shepherd’s A Christmas Story and perhaps that is what they were going for. It shows the kids having fun, playing and larking about, at times with their iPads (presumably suggesting that homework on iPads can be fun? Or perhaps the kids are just checking social media?), while all the time the voice tells us repeatedly how much they all hate homework.

And we wonder why our kids are falling behind the students of nearly all of the other so-called “developed” nations! This sort of anti-intellectualism, which is all-too prevalent in America and has been for many years, determines that those children will never catch up to the rest of the world. We know the public schools are under attack and the data show that we draw those into public school teaching who are in the bottom third  of the students in our colleges. They are paid a pittance and asked to raise the kids in addition to teaching them — or, most recently, arming themselves against possible terrorists. And if we now start to send the message that they should not assign homework — presumably because the kids don’t like to do homework — we simply add fuel to a fire already threatening to go out of control.

Homework, like it or not, helps young people deepen their knowledge of the subject matter after an all-too-short school day — in addition to acquiring the skills of self-discipline and self-denial, which we all dearly need. It also helps them to become independent learners instead of just recipients of the teacher’s bits of knowledge. To be sure none of us wants to do work of any sort — which is why we are paid, I suppose. But work is necessary and homework in the schools is a necessary component of the load the student is asked to bear. And let’s face it, that load is not back-breaking. We seem to be asking our students to do less and less due to the fiction that they are under so much pressure already. And at the same time grade inflation convinces them that the work they are doing is stellar when, in my experience and from what I have read, it is generally sub-par. The result, of course, is our age of entitlement.

Needless to say, this is an issue close to the heart of a retired college professor who has read and thought about education at all levels for many years (and blogged endlessly, some would say). I have even written a book about the current condition of education in this country and it has always been a concern of mine — because it is a problem that can be solved if we simply put our minds to it. If tiny Finland can do it, we certainly can! Initially it would require that we somehow stop the mindless attacks from the political Right against public education and determine to put a much larger share of the annual federal and state budgets into education thereby attracting better teachers and showing them that education matters.

In any event, the attack on homework by a corporation determined to sell more electronic toys to a generation already stupefied by those toys is a compound felony in my view. I have always thought Apple a cut above the rest, but I must now revise my views. At the same time I will continue to worry about the present state of education in this country, convinced as I am that it holds the key to the success or failure of this democracy. And I will continue my practice of muting the commercials.


6 thoughts on “Homework

  1. Hugh, recognizing people don’t crave homework, this is where the differentiation occurs in school, business, government, manufacturing, etc. Doing the work to be prepared and understand. In business, we would prepare for our meetings where we presented the problem, options, costs, pros and cons, implementation process and hurdles. We would anticipate questions in preparation for the meeting, so we had answers. And, if they did not ask what they should, we would bring it up.

    School work at home is the same. Those that do it will typically learn more than those who do not, all things being equal. As a former Professor, you probably noticed who did and did not do the homework. Keith

    • Absolutely. But in general I think the colleges I am familiar with don’t focus on preparing students for the “real” world very well. Faculty members I have known and read about are too lax in letting students “work them.” And kids are marvels at making up excuses! They won’t get away with that in your world!

  2. I find it unconscionable that one of our largest tech corporations would contribute in this manner to the ‘dummying down’ of our nation. I am trying to envision a presidential debate 80 years in the future, where the candidates are barely able to speak in whole sentences … oh wait … we already saw that two years ago. But seriously, this is ridiculous, but I imagine Betsy DeVos applauded it when she first saw it, for she is another contributor to the concept of sub-standard education our kids are getting. It seems a different world than when you and I were in school, doesn’t it?

    • If I were a conspiracy theorist (!) I would suspect the wealthy are trying to dismantle the public school system so only those who can afford a private education are well schooled and able to run the country i.e., make huge profits and make sure the wealth remains in the hands of the very rich. But I’m not…..yet.

      • You would not be the first to consider this theory, for I have heard it for more than a year now. I am not into conspiracy theories either, but frankly … I think this one may well be credible. Sigh.

      • It is certainly the case that the political Right has been attacking the public schools for some time now, joined by the spiritually certain who object to the teaching off evolution and (gasp!) sex education. This may not amount to a conspiracy, but it makes it virtually impossible for any real repairs to be done on the educational machine in this country.

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