Returning to the old routine after a long summer break can be difficult for both children and parents. Days start earlier, uniforms must be found, cleaned and worn every day, not to mention the school run leaving everyone spinning. And that’s before the day even begins.
Once in school, classes can often be challenging, with subjects becoming more difficult as the years progress. Pressure on teachers to get results can sometimes cause them to push students hard. And this in turn can leave children tired and grumpy, which can affect their concentration as well as their mood.
Furthermore, the stress of the classroom is often carried home along with the heavy books. And that can have a knock-on effect on family life. While parents naturally want their child to do well, they can sometimes put kids under great pressure to complete homework on time or even do extra study. But what if one small change could alter all this?
For one class of students in Texas, the academic stress and pressure they were under was relieved after something unusual was dropped from their curriculum: homework! Brandy Young, who teaches at Texas’ Godley Elementary School, became a viral legend after sending a letter home to the parents of her pupils. It contained a message that nobody was expecting.
In August 2016 Young informed recipients of the letter that she would not be assigning homework for the entire year. “I am trying something new,” she stated. “There will be no formally assigned homework this year.” And her reasons were even more astounding.
Being a mother as well as a teacher Young had decided that a lot of homework can be counter-productive and so is not always needed. She believed that it was the teacher’s job to encourage children to complete as much work in the classroom as possible. The free-thinking Young felt that eight hours in school is long enough for any child to learn what they need to.
“I’m just trying to be innovative – I really want to be a leader of my classroom,” Young told Popsugar. “As a mom and as a teacher, [I found that] a lot of homework just wasn’t necessary, and it wasn’t the right thing for my students.” Moreover, it was a theory that went down well not only with students but also parents, too.
Samantha Gallagher was one of the many parents to receive the letter. Her daughter Brooke was taught by Young and needless to say, Brooke was delighted at the prospect of being homework free for an entire school year. But it was her mom who took to social media to spread the good news further.
On August 17, 2016, Gallagher, who works as a nurse, uploaded an image of the letter onto her Facebook page. Alongside it, she wrote, “Brooke is loving her new teacher already!” It sparked an overwhelming reaction. Indeed, thousands of friends and fellow parents took time out to comment or share the post.
Moreover it became clear that they fully supported the brave teacher, as positive comments and messages flooded the site. Many praised Young for her approach, while others felt it was a great step for the students. Some even stated that they found the decision inspiring.
Furthermore, they were also impressed with Young’s suggestions about how to use time in the evenings more productively. “Eat dinner as a family, read together, play outside and get your child to bed early,” she advised. It even allowed time for Gallagher to start taking Brooke to gymnastics, an extra-curricular activity that her daughter had previously had no time for.
Praise for Young continued to flood the site from parents in favor of the initiative. “She has her head on right.” wrote one mom, while a dad commented, “This is so awesome, as it demonstrates how many parents and teachers would support this kind of policy! It prioritizes family time and youth activity! I feel 8 hrs a day in school for kids this age is enough.”
And many studies support Young’s idea that homework isn’t necessarily the best use of time at home. Some argue the giving of set work to do after school time encourages a culture where competing with one’s peers should come before family values. This suggests the time children spend doing homework in fact comes at the expense of time they could be spending with their families.
Moreover spending time with parents and siblings can be a healthy way to promote positive emotional development in children – something they won’t necessarily learn from books. Family time can strengthen relationships, social skills and empathy within a child. And these life lessons might in turn pave the way for how they live their lives.
However, it’s difficult to please everyone, and not all parents were in agreement with Young’s drastic decision to scrap homework for the entire year. Some were worried it would interfere with their child’s resilience and attitude to further studies. “I don’t agree with this,” wrote one. “This isn’t going to prep them for college.”
But Young acknowledged these criticisms and even responded to them. “I do believe meaningful, engaging and authentic homework has a place,” the unconventional teacher told Snopes. “However, I wanted the parents of my students to know that they would not have a weekly, standard homework packet to look forward to this year.”
And while some parents were concerned about the new approach to the age-old ritual of homework, plenty of others were thrilled at the idea of a teacher doing things a bit differently. “Wish my kids had this teacher,” a Facebook user wrote. “Sounds reasonable to me,” said another. “I strongly believe this should be the standard!” stated a third.
Moreover, some parents had clear concerns about the detrimental effect that homework was having on their children, with one discussing the stress that it was causing her son on a daily basis. “That’s amazing!!” she wrote. “Noah is crying so hard he made himself sick bc he doesn’t want to do homework today.”
And it isn’t only the stress factor of getting the homework done that’s causing concern. Experts are talking more and more about the growing “homework gap” as an issue that could affect generations of children. With online assignments becoming the norm, pupils who lack access to high-speed internet connections can be at a significant disadvantage.
U.S. Federal Communications Commission member Jessica Rosenworcel highlighted the concern in a blog post for the Aspen Institute in June 2016. “This is a problem,” she wrote. “Without a way to get online, access they will be unable to do basic homework or develop the skills necessary for the digital economy.”