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Homework Should Be Banned Wiki

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Banning books has a long and storied history, but it's not nearly as much fun as burning them in midnight bonfires. (Wikipedia knows all about this.) With so much text moving online, though, burning has lost much of its practicality. Have you ever tried to burn a server? Not very exciting.

Banning, though, is very much alive, and Wikipedia knows about it too, but for different reasons. The online encyclopedia has been on the receiving end of many a ban hammer; China isn't too thrilled about the service or its penchant for hosting articles on troublesome topics like Tiananmen Square, and the Dutch Justice Ministry wants its 30,000 employees to stop making Wikipedia edits from government computers. But educators, well, they love it. Right?

Not all of them. Earlier this month, Pennsylvania's Express-Timesreported on a local school librarian who put up her own "Just Say No to Wikipedia" signs in the computer lab. The entire Warren Hills Regional School District in New Jersey has also blocked access from all school computers. The basic problem, according to officials, is that Wikipedia's unverified accuracy and ease of use are making it too tempting for students to use as a primary source.

Wikipedia officials certainly don't dispute that characterization and have never held the site up as a tool for academic work, except as a jumping-off point. But the New Jersey response is interesting in that it represents an extreme response to the problem.

Perhaps it's a necessary one, though. I checked in with my wife, a college professor who assigns plenty of papers to her students. Despite an unceasing stream of comments about how Wikipedia cannot be used as a scholarly source, students without fail will use it every semester and cite it in their work, even in upper-level classes. The site is just so easy to use that the temptation to do so can be overwhelming... especially when it's 1 AM and the library has closed.

These are bright kids, and they're in college. Middle-school and high-school students may need even more "encouragement" to avoid sources like Wikipedia.

Turning Wikipedia into a learning opportunity 

But banning may not be the best way to do that. The issue goes beyond Wikipedia and concerns over accuracy, for one thing. Britannica isn't a viable source for most high school or collegiate work, either; should we ban it for students' own good? And what about textbooks? They offer an introduction to new ideas but are rarely appropriate sources for academic papers; indeed, their best use in such cases is as a jumping-off point.

Besides, Wikipedia is easily available from home and personal computers, so maybe what's needed is more "source literacy" and media education instead. Banning Wikipedia also gives it the sweet scent of forbidden fruit as well, and it invites the same sort of circumvention techniques that students have used to get around MySpace blocks.

Denise Gonzalez-Walker, writing yesterday on the Seattle Post-Intelligencer's education blog, argued for making Wikipedia a learning opportunity. "It's a shame that the teachers and librarians quoted in the article didn't take advantage of the situation—finding inaccurate information on Wikipedia—by having their students revise the Wikipedia site with their own research, or engage in broader discussions about how authority and truth will be staked out in new media," she said.

It's a great idea, but are students in places like the Warren Hills Regional School District really going to fact-check every stat they dig up from Wikipedia? And if they do so, why use Wikipedia at all?

Still, teaching kids how to critically analyze information sources is an increasingly valuable skill in an information economy. If teachers want to use Wikipedia as a way to talk about this, more power to them.

Homework is a waste of time and should be abolished, say teachers

By Laura Clark for the Daily Mail
Updated: 16:30 GMT, 8 April 2009

Homework should be abolished for primary school children because it is a waste of their time, teachers declared today.

It damages relations between parents and children and causes tears and upset among young pupils, according to members of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers.

Teachers go through the motions of setting homework because they believe they should but sometimes do not have time to mark it for weeks, leaving children's mistakes uncorrected.

Setting homework for primary school children damages relations between parents and children and causes tears and upset among young pupils, teachers claim

Delegates at ATL's annual conference voted overwhelmingly in favour of a motion demanding the Government scraps homework for all children in primary schools.

However the campaign if likely to encounter widespread opposition and many heads acknowledge parents expect homework to be set.

Some primary schools have already axed homework in favour of activities completed with parents such as trips to the museums but the trend is limited to a handful.

Homework guidelines introduced by former Education Secretary David Blunkett in 1998 state that children aged five to seven should be set an hour a week, rising to one-and-a-half hours for seven to nine-year-olds and half an hour a night for nine to 11-year-olds, who are approaching SATs tests.

At secondary level, 11 to 13-year-olds should complete 45 to 90 minutes, 13 to 14-year-olds should do one to two hours and 14 to 16-year-olds should spend up to two-and-a-half hours every night studying.

While teachers are not forced to set homework, they come under heavy pressure to do so. The guidelines are 'intended to give a clear idea of what is reasonable to expect at different ages'.

But Cecily Hanlon, who proposed a motion calling for homework to be scrapped, said: 'Homework is a waste of children's time, teachers' time and from what I have heard parents' think it's a waste of time as well.

'Primary school children can't control their own time and work.

'We are not saying 'don't read with your children'. We have always said parents should read. That should be a pleasurable activity.

'The issue of homework can damage parents and children's relationships when trying to get it all done, and ends in tears all round.'

She cited the example of a primary school which handed children a pack of 45 worksheets as Easter holiday homework in preparation for SATs in May.

'The teacher said "It will only take about six hours".

'But what about the parents who have organised a holiday?

'Children should have time to play games with their friends and go out on trips with their families. They should learn about estimating how many carrots and potatoes are needed for dinner.'

Often children do not receive proper feedback on the homework they complete and have to wait weeks for their marks, Mrs Hanlon added.

'At primary level they need fairly instant feedback,' she said.

'Some schools give homework to classroom assistants to mark.'

Children with chaotic home lives would get less help with their work than those from more stable families, she warned.

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