Slowly Claiming Students’ Lives

October 26, 2007
By Katherine Rogers, Newton, MA

Slowly Claiming Students’ Lives

Finally, he stumbles out of school, boarding the bus, and trudging home, only to find his backpack filled with papers. These wrinkled papers don’t even include the crumpled class work hurriedly stuffed in, with a hastily scribbled, “Finish for homework,” on it. Tossing the overfilled backpack on the floor, he tries to unwind in front of the TV; but the minute, ever-growing dread at the back of his head latches onto him like chains. When he can’t ignore it any longer, his pencil can be heard constantly sharpening as he fills out worksheets. By the time the day is done, he’s barely finished, and it’s 10:30. He has turned down, to his great dismay, two offers for hanging out with his friends, and missed baseball practice. Whose fault was that? His?
Busywork is a common issue in which students can be usually found groaning and griping about. Although some teachers don’t believe in these types of assignments, there are always one or two teachers every year who pile it on, sending students home with at least five or six sheets to fill out, and an essay to complete. Usually, busywork can be found in the form of homework or lengthy, tedious class work, including ten strikingly alike math problems or copying the same word twenty times. Many find busywork pointless as well as a waste of time, because, essentially, the objective of it is to keep one busy; hence the name busywork.

Of course, this leads to more and more students simply spending time on pure work, instead of doing other activities which would be more enjoyable or educationally helpful for them. Extracurricular activities, socializing, and doing chores all fit under this friendlier category. In the middle of class, busywork is sometimes substituted for actual teaching (this is a problem because in most cases actual teaching is more memorable to the student and it sticks in the student’s mind for a longer time). Boring assignments tend to fade from the mind after a while; I certainly know I don’t remember much from fifth grade science. And that was only three years ago.

In the form of homework, these assignments can be harmful to a student’s health; piles and piles of it may lead to later sleeping times, and an elevated stress level. There are many children who, after a hard day, finally go to bed at eleven or twelve at night, and end up having less then seven hours of sleep. I should know; I’ve been there and done that, wearily crawling under my covers after scribbling away until 11:30 PM. Busywork can also make children high-strung and nervous because they end up having no downtime due to the sheer amount of work. A few times, children have been seen breaking down into tears due to the volume of papers pressed upon them.

Yet another problem with busywork is that occasionally the students who are assigned it already clearly know the subject material. These handfuls of students would find it much more worth their while to move onto another subject within the course. They could spend this time learning new things rather then practicing something they already know solid. If one happens to ace a test, why should they have to continue studying what they already know?

Some state that busywork is good practice for certain subjects (especially math) and later in life. After all, in the real world, one must work to earn a living. Also, obviously there’s no teacher nowadays that give the students pages of questions simply to lounge back and sip coffee. It is highly likely that ninety-nine percent of the teachers who do give mounds of pages believe it is for the greater good. These people remind us that busywork helps to secure a lesson in students’ memories with the repetition. However, the majority of students agree that an unforgettable lesson of jokes and surprising effects teaches far better then pages of calculations ever does. Last year, my teacher dressed up as a Pharaoh and did a presentation on mummies, dimming the lighting, making the room Egyptian-like, with sheets over various places and a smoke-maker. I remember it clearly, but I can assure you if we had taken notes from textbooks, I would remember far less. Even though the repetition should help the brain commit whatever has been learned to memory, the majority of the time it simply numbs the mind, making it harder to concentrate. Ever notice how during a really exciting lesson, wide eyes stay fixed on the teacher, but during a session of reading from the textbook a pleasant buzz fills the room, usually about the football game last night? Or perhaps, the tryouts for the school play which start tomorrow?

Homework and class work are necessary to school. Everyone knows that. Without practicing some amount, no one would ever remember anything they learned in their elementary school days. Nevertheless, work should be given for a reason, not just to drill the lesson in the brain—and even then, one page is enough; there is no need to give more. Also, teachers and students alike should focus further on the in-school lessons, making them more interesting to allow students to remember. And hopefully, teachers will stop giving so much busywork, so that students can relax more and actually focus on the lesson taught.

Katherine Rogers
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