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Studying homework

March 28, 2009

Re "When homework is busywork," March 22

I've had children in the Capistrano Unified School District since 1993. My 20-year-old has a satisfying, well-paid job with full benefits -- not because of excessive homework but in spite of it. My 18-year-old works part time and attends college full time. She has more time for friends and family now than she did in middle school. My 12-year-old's homework load averages three hours a night. I believe the stress caused by his immense homework load these last few years was a significant factor leading to my divorce.

We put so much pressure on our kids. We want them to succeed and get into the best schools. But what is success? Getting into USC no matter the emotional or social cost? With today's financial crisis, we are all reevaluating our priorities. I hope we do the same for our children.

Sharon Schramer

Laguna Niguel

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Your excellent article on reducing homework omitted one key dimension: Boys will be helped by this even more than girls.

We've seen data showing that boys are increasingly underrepresented in colleges, professional schools and even in traditionally male occupations. Why? It all begins with too much homework in elementary school.

When we assign a lot of homework in early grades, girls tend to take to it more readily, while many of the boys are merely broken. For them, school is no longer fun. We can't fix in high school this damage done much earlier.

We should dramatically reduce homework in the early grades and do whatever it takes to restore the fun of school and the enjoyment of learning.

Boys, in particular, should look forward to going to school. One way to accommodate their "special needs" is to allow for more recess and physical activity during the day and less homework at night until they develop more fully -- probably around middle school.

Jef Kurfess

Westlake Village

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An education professor asks if, after solving 10 math problems a student grasps a concept, why assign 50? The answer: So the student doesn't have to rethink the concept every time the method is used.

I just finished teaching integral calculus in a converted movie theater to 500 mostly first-year college students. To learn such a hard subject in this environment, a student needs to follow and perform routine computations easily. This comes with practice, sometimes called busywork.

A successful student must also nail down the more complex material through independent reading -- and study hard, even on weekends. Students who understand the value of learning outside the classroom, a.k.a. homework, are far more likely to succeed in such a course than those who have been encouraged to believe that their free time is only for non-academic activities.

Martin Scharlemann

Santa Barbara

The writer is a mathematics professor at UC Santa Barbara.

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