Kenneth Goldberg has given us a roadmap for re-thinking how to deal with homework problems in children. Coining the term, the homework-trapped child, Goldberg takes us on a journey through the psychological and learning theory principles that he believes explain the problems that some students face with homework. He argues that between 10 and 25 % of students in school today are homework-trapped. To these students and their parents, Goldberg will become a hero. He debunks the myths about homework non-compliance and replaces these tired assumptions with solid evidence for thinking of homework problems as educational problems and not as behavioral or moral problems. For example, he talks about the myth of motivation and how many children are told, “You’re so bright, and you could make As if you only tried.” Goldberg details how these children can learn at the A level, but they still have difficulty performing at that grade level. According to Goldberg, they also have more difficulty completing their homework than they do completing work they are given in school. Since teachers see the child at school, but not at home, Goldberg argues that they have trouble comprehending just how difficult it is for the child to work at home. Goldberg repositions problems of homework non-compliance as “under the radar” learning problems and goes on to recommend how to work with your child and their school if they are homework-trapped.
Goldberg does not take a stand on whether or not schools should give homework, but rather gives parents tools for helping their homework-trapped student. Much of the book uses learning theory as a way of explaining how the problems for the homework-trapped child compound as they move through school. To me, the most interesting part of this analysis is his discussion of working memory and processing speed, and how these two attributes have a profound impact on a child’s ability to do homework.
Goldberg provides guidelines for parents to follow at home, in dealing with the school and the community at large. In terms of the home, Goldberg recommends that parents assume the role of head of the home and to stop letting schools impose dictates on family life. For him, this is important in terms of having the homework-trapped child not see the family as impotent in the face school mandates. Goldberg recommends that parents with homework-trapped children form community groups in order to learn that they are not alone in the homework challenges they face. In the end, it is the school and the teachers who have to come to a new understanding of the challenges that some students face when it comes to homework. By suggesting a term, homework-trapped, and by situating homework problems as ‘under the radar’ learning problems, Goldberg helps us see that homework problems develop over time and that they are educational problems, NOT moral or behavioral problems. In this way, Goldberg moves the homework debate into some new and important territory. And he also helps the thousands of families who fight each night over homework. Where was this book when my son was growing up?
Co-author of The End of Homework.