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By Whit Honea

Fall is in the air, the days are growing shorter, and the backpacks all the heavier. Homework is back, and it is bending backs, too. It is a heavy load for a kid to carry, and I am as unhappy about it as my 11-year-old middle school student.

It’s the fourth week of school and my son is averaging well over three hours of homework per evening, plus a few more hours over the weekend. When you consider this is on top of a seven-hour school day, we are looking at close to 60 hours of coursework per week — and no, kids aren’t on salary and they do not earn overtime. They do, however, miss out on family time, extracurricular activities, and the last few moments of their fleeting childhood, so there’s that. Welcome to the real world, kids!

There has been much written about schools that are rethinking homework policies and a recent TODAY Parents survey found that of more than 23,000 respondents, 75 percent said they would like for their kids’ school to have a no-homework policy. 

I’m down with that.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for providing students the best possible education. The school my son attends is one of the best in the state and I understand that some homework is necessary. However, I don’t believe that it should come at the expense of other learning experiences that are equally important — like life and the living of it.

The author's 11-year-old son on his walk to school. Today

Some claim that a heavy amount of homework is important to teach kids time management skills and to prepare them for high school. I think time management skills should expand to include the whole of their time; a focus on play, creativity, and general kid goofiness brings just as much to the table, if not more, than hours of busywork and memorization. I am a big believer in life being short and severely lacking in tomorrows, so when my son would rather spend the lingering minutes of twilight playing catch than copying, again, a concept that he can easily repeat and define, a skill he mastered pages ago, we are going to play ball. Every. Single. Time.

My son does not care for the never-ending coursework, especially when it is stacked in the place that puzzles and game boards should be. This has made my wife and I into the homework enforcers, and it is not a role that suits me. Sure, I can be bad cop until the cows come home, which not only begs the question as to where the cows went, but also, why does it take such aggressive measures to make him do that which he is required to do?

Surely he could complete his homework in a time much shorter than the span he spends arguing about it, possibly shaving a good 40 minutes off his completion time. After all, it is only busywork.

And there is the rub: homework for the sake of homework. Shouldn’t it be about quality, not quantity?

The transition from elementary to middle school has inflated the problem for our family. In elementary school, there is only one teacher assigning homework per night. In middle school the students have numerous teachers, and all of them appear to think their class is the only one assigning children their bodyweight in notes and rote. Seriously, have you seen a middle schooler’s backpack? I can hardly lift it (to be fair, I’m pretty weak for a man my size).

So, short of opting out, what can a parent do to help their child find the balance between homework and happiness? Is there a world where the two can coexist peacefully?

Perhaps speaking to the teachers will help. Perhaps gathering parents of like-mind can turn the tide. Perhaps we need to work harder, give more of the little time our family has together in this, the shrinking sliver of his childhood, and create more productive ways to hold him accountable and to get his work done—all the hours of it. 

Somewhere there is compromise, and we only need to find it, bearing in mind that the goal is to bend our son's attitude, not break his spirit. There are lessons to be learned in everything, and sometimes the best homework might just be a night at home, living in the moment, and preparing for tomorrow.

Whit Honea is the author of The Parents’ Phrase Book and the websites Honea Express and Family Life on Earth. You can find him on FacebookTwitter, or the couch.