When Homework Was Considered “A National Crime”

Homework was once hugely controversial. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, social commentators and physicians crusaded against it, convinced that it was causing children to become weak and nervous. An article entitled "A National Crime at the Feet of American Parents" by Edward Bok appeared in the Ladies' Home Journal, charging that parents were "blind as bats" because they didn't see the danger in homework. In 1901, the California legislature banned homework for students under 15, but the law was taken off the books in 1917. Homework has fallen in and out of favor ever since, often viewed as a force for good when the nation feels threatened — for example, after the Soviets launched Sputnik in 1957 and during competition with Japan in the 1980s. The homework wars have reignited in recent years, with parents arguing that children are being given too much. Much of the debate is driven by the belief that today’s students are doing more work at home than their predecessors, but student surveys don't bear that out. Instead, studies show that today’s increasingly competitive race for college admission results in student schedules that are increasingly packed with clubs, sports and other activities in addition to homework.