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EDITORIAL: Homework under attack in misguided quest for equality

The soft bigotry of low expectations is fast becoming the hard bigotry of no expectations.

Both in Clark County and around the country, children are returning to school. They’ll get to see friends and meet new teachers. There will be new subjects to learn, which means in-class instruction and tests. That inevitably means homework as well.

Homework is hardly a crowd-pleaser. But most adults can look back and acknowledge that homework was a necessary annoyance. It reinforced concepts introduced in class and taught diligence and time management. Algebra isn’t intuitive to most students. It’s learned through practice, repetition and correcting mistakes. There simply isn’t time in a class for all that and learning new concepts. Think about an English class. It’s hard to have a discussion on a book that no one has read. The same goes for science, history and learning a foreign language.

There’s a growing push, however, to turn homework into a historical relic. This would be worthwhile if teachers had come up with a way to more efficiently impart knowledge to students. But that’s not what’s happening. The objection to homework is that some children do better on it than others, reinforcing the idea of meritocracy.

The New York Times recently wrote about a paper examining “the myth of meritocracy and teachers’ accounts of homework inequalities.” You can guess where this is going.

The authors wrote, “Research has highlighted inequalities in students’ homework production and linked those inequalities to differences in students’ home lives and in the support students’ families can provide.”

Now, there’s lots of evidence that children from wealthier homes do better in school. That’s one reason a stable home and family life are important to childhood development. This leads the authors to mistakenly demean homework as a “status-reinforcing practice.”

“I imagine that many public schools over the next decade or so will start to de-emphasize homework as these ideas start to make their way to school boards and curriculum writers,” Jay Caspian King wrote in the Times.

That would be a serious mistake, as it would lead to less learning for everyone. Instead of attacking homework, education researchers should search for ways to help students from low-income families succeed. You don’t help one child reach his or her full potential by restraining the learning of another. The goal should be to lift all children up, not to ensure they’re all held down in the name of “equity.”

Or as Winston Churchill put it decades ago in attacking a different concept with a similar flaw, “The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings. The inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries.”

If only these supposed experts had done their history homework.

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