Students, parents, educators, and teachers all agree that homework is an essential part of every day life. But who is responsible for the invention of homework? How did homework become a common feature of education? Here’s a short history of homework and its use in the United States.
Myth or History? Origins of Homework
Is it possible to pinpoint the origin of homework? We might never know. It has had many influences from people and whoinvented.info events. Let’s look at two of its greatest influencers.
The Dubious Roberto Nevelis in Venice
Roberto Nevelis from Venice, Italy is often said to have invent homework in 1095 (or 1905, depending upon your sources). However, his story seems more like an internet myth than an actual historical figure.
Horace Mann (19th century politician, educational reformer) played an important role in the history behind homework. Mann, along with his contemporaries Henry Barnard & Calvin Ellis Stowe had strong interests in the compulsory public education program in Germany’s newly unified nation-state.
Horace Mann is part history of homework, even if he isn’t
Students who attended Volksschulen (”People’s Schools”’) were required to complete homework at home. This was a requirement that stressed the power and control of the state over individual in a time when nationalists like Johann Gottlieb Fichte tried to mobilize support for a unified German nation. Fichte’s political goals were a catalyst for the introduction of homework as an education essential.
Horace Mann spearheaded the development of government-regulated, tax-funded public education in the United States. During his 1843 trip to Germany, Mann witnessed the Volkschule system being used and brought some of its concepts back to America.
Homework in the American Public School System
While homework is an important part of American education, its acceptance has not been universal. As they have done for more than 100 years, educators and parents continue to debate the pros of homework.
1900s: Homework Bans & Anti-Homework Sentiment
Just a few years after the idea of homework was first introduced across the Atlantic, it was banned in California. It was applicable to all students aged 15 or younger and remained in effect until 1917.
The New York Times and Ladies’ Home Journal used similar statements by parents and professionals to paint homework as harmful to children’s well-being.
California had one of the earliest American homework bans.
1930: Child labor through homework
In 1930, the American Child Health Association declared homework to be child labor. The proclamation, which was made in the wake of recent child labor laws, reflected a less than favorable view on homework as an acceptable educational practice.
Homework and the Progressive Era in the early-to-mid 20th Century
During the progressive education reforms that took place in the late 19th and early twentieth centuries, teachers started to search for ways to make homework more personal and meaningful to each student. Could this have been how the essay topic, “What I Did on My Summer Vacation”, was born?
Doing homework can make children wonder who invented it.
The Cold War: Homework Heats Up
Cold War – The Cold War was a resurgence of U.S.-Russian tensions in the 1950s. Sputnik 1’s 1957 launch sparked fierce competition between Americans, Russians, and their youth.
U.S. education experts decided that rigorous homework was the best method to make sure that American students don’t fall behind Russian counterparts, particularly in highly competitive fields like science and math.
1980s: Homework in a Nation at Risk
The 1986 U.S. Department of Education pamphlet, “What Works”, included homework among the most effective educational strategies. Three years later, the National Commission on Excellence in Education’s landmark report, A Nation At Risk: The Imperative to Educational Reform, was published, this pamphlet by the U.S. Department Of Education.
Early 21st Century: Homework Bans Returned
Many educators and other concerned citizens question the value homework. Many books have been written about the subject.
The Case Against Homework by Sarah Bennett & Nancy Kalish (2006)
The Battle Over Homework – Common Ground for Teachers, Parents, and Administrators (Third Edition), by Dr. Harris Cooper, Duke University psychologist
The End Of Homework: How Homework Can Disrupt Families, Overburden Children and Limit Learning by Dr. Etta Krulovec (education professor) and John Buell (journalist) (2000)
Today, homework is controversial. Schools are now imposing homework bans in many schools that mirror the policies of the 20th century. These bans are being discussed by teachers in different ways, and parents trying to manage the disruptions to their daily routines that result from them.