Sep 7, 2017
Time to Put Limits on Homework
Illustration photo by XiXinXing

Op-Ed By Rabbi Yaakov Bender: What justifies the hours upon hours of agony that our children and parents go through every school night?

By Rabbi Yaakov Bender for Mishpacha Magazine
Reprinted with permission

The letter I received from out of town contained a plea for help and guidance from a frum father navigating a particularly onerous challenge in chinuch habanim — and a relatively new one.

My son spends close to eight hours in school. When he arrives back at home we want to be able to kick back and relax together. We would also love to be able to spend the time with him and our other children pressure-free, playing a game, having a catch, reading or just stam schmoozing — which, by the way, all psychologists say is invaluable and the foundation of creating a warm relationship.

Instead, after supper is over, a big dark cloud begins to descend over our home. A nightly point of contention begins to roil, creating a negative and toxic atmosphere in our home.

It’s called homework.

This father is hardly alone. Countless other parents have expressed similar sentiments, lamenting the fact that after a long day in school — particularly girls’ schools — our children are expected to spend hours on homework.

Please do not misunderstand me. I am not against homework per se. It is important for children to briefly review the material they have learned in school and for their parents to keep abreast of their progress. Homework enables both. But the operative word must be: brief. And I believe that it is incumbent on us as mechanchim and mechanchos to take a step back and ask ourselves: Is the homework load that we are placing on our students — and their parents — a component of effective chinuch? Or is it cruelty?

I do not enjoy writing harsh words, especially about our educators. Today’s rebbeim and teachers are the best of the best and truly care about each student. But how can we demand of parents that they spend, often after a full day’s work, whatever remaining waking hours they have together with their children helping them with their homework?

Baruch Hashem, the Torah community is blessed with large families. Let us picture the scene in a home with six children:

Yanky, the toddler, needs to be put to bed. Heshy, the five-year-old, has an earache and cannot find his favorite book. Chanale, eight years old, has homework tonight, in both limudei kodesh and secular studies. Shani, eleven, is studying for not one, but three tests. And Bracha, the teenager, has not had a moment of peace since she walked in the door, as her workload makes it seem as if school and home are seamless: one long day/night of studying and reviewing. Baruch Hashem, at least Meshulem is taken care of, away at yeshivah gedolah for night seder, learning with his chavrusa.

(Many of our families have more than six children. Kein yirbu. We’ll just use this hypothetical family as an example.)

Mommy, who has taken care of her children’s many and varied physical and emotional needs today and also invested several hours at her job, would like to sit down to supper with her husband (if he does come home at a normal hour tonight, before he rushes off to Maariv and a shiur). But she is now also expected to be a teacher. When did hours of nightly homework — much of it outside her intellectual and academic comfort zone — become part of a mother’s responsibility? Is she not overworked enough, running the household and helping her husband pay the bills?

Can mothers and fathers be expected to start mastering volumes of unfamiliar material in order to save their children from embarrassment and poor grades the next morning?

Even an accomplished talmid chacham with broad knowledge in multiple miktzo’os haTorah can have a difficult time tackling the obscure subjects included in his children’s coursework. So he sits down at night and immerses himself in a difficult topic — often effectively doing his children’s homework for them — all the while neglecting his wife, who is desperate for his help, and his shtender, which is beckoning for a few minutes of peaceful learning.

And what about the children? When do they actually get to be children?

Yes, they need structure, and yes, hefkeirus is never good for kids, but don’t they need some time at night to unwind? Isn’t it critical for their well-being that they be able to share their day with their parents, play with their siblings, perhaps get some fresh air, and prepare for bed peacefully? When, exactly, does school end?

It is 12:45 a.m.

Eleven-year-old Shani has just fallen asleep, her pillow drenched with tears. She has spent the last several frustrating hours studying nonstop, yet she still feels ill-prepared for her impending tests.

Eight-year-old Chanale went to bed in a miserable mood, having failed to secure an audience with either parent to vent her distress at being picked on that day by her classmates.

Thankfully, five-year-old Heshy is sound asleep in his bed. Yanky the toddler is in his crib, dreaming and still clutching his favorite book. In between them is their exhausted mother, who, shortly after leading them in Krias Shema, fell asleep right there.

Meshulem, arriving home from an extended night seder, discovers his teenage sister asleep at the dining room table. Her books are her pillows tonight.

Beside her is Tatty, still in his chair, his head slumped forward in slumber, his precious sefer still open in his hands.

How did we get to this point? What, precisely, is the elusive goal that some of our chadarim and Bais Yaakovs are chasing that compels them to saddle our children with a nightly burden that they cannot possibly bear alone, and that their parents are begging for relief from?

We all want our boys to become masmidim and our girls to be knowledgeable and conscientious students. But how do you explain the mindset of mechanchos who assign projects and homework on subjects far outside the ken of the average yeshivah-graduate parent, or who expect their high school students to spend ten hours studying for a Chumash test?

What, exactly, justifies the hours upon hours of agony that our children and parents go through every school night? When are we as a society going to say, “Enough is enough! Dayeinu!”?

The time has come for us to look in the mirror and ask ourselves: Is academic achievement now the only barometer of our sons’ and daughters’ success, to the point that we can allow homework to encroach on the smooth functioning of otherwise peaceful and stable homes? Are we so afraid that our daughters will breathe a bit at night before going to sleep that we must ensure that their every waking minute is filled with study, review, and test preparation?

The time has come for each menahel and menaheles to impose strict limits on the amount of homework that each student is given, taking into account the average family size in that school, as well as the unique circumstances of individual students.

The time of year must be a factor as well. (I once assumed that it goes without saying that homework is not assigned at hectic times such as the week before Pesach, or over Yom Tov, but apparently that is no longer the case.) Perhaps limudei kodesh and secular studies homework should be assigned on alternate nights of the week.

I am not here to impose specific solutions; every school is different. Rather, I am pleading for a return to sanity — not only by our schools, but by their “customers,” the parents, as well. Is it pressure from some parents to outdo competing schools that is forcing the hands of the hanhalah? Is it the mirage of potential acceptance into elite seminaries that is blinding us to the quiet churban going on within our homes on a nightly basis?

Throughout the millennia the Yiddishe shtub has always been more than just a physical house or dwelling; it has been an ideal. That ideal, of a Jewish home suffused with love, yiras Shamayim, simchah, and tranquility, is what has enabled generations of parents to raise beautiful children who walk in their footsteps. It is that ideal that is under attack.

It is time for us to reassess our priorities and take corrective action.

May our parents, teachers, children, and all of Klal Yisrael merit a kesivah v’chasimah tovah.

Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 675. Rabbi Bender is the Rosh Hayeshivah of Yeshiva Darchei Torah in Far Rockaway, NY, and the author of Chinuch with Chessed (ArtScroll/Mesorah)

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Opinions and Comments
Thanks for sharing this important message col
(9/7/2017 10:33:31 PM)
(9/7/2017 10:34:38 PM)
So true and well written!
Thank you. This should be mandatory reading for all teachers and principals!
(9/7/2017 10:42:01 PM)
Don't think it's relevant to us
I have kids in local moisdois. The boy's homework is always brief. The girls have a bit more but only when they're old enough to do it themselves. The more studious girls spend more time on it, the less studios spend less time on it (we have both in the house B"H) and that's okay. To be fair, though, I'm only now about to see if high school is any different.

The author comes out of the litvishe world though, where the expensive schools have secular departments only a couple of notches down from non-jewish preparatory schools, so I can imagine that the homework burden is larger there.
(9/7/2017 10:43:54 PM)
When growing up in europe, we had half day school and homework worth probably 2 hours worth.
We were told then that in tge USA they came up with a great idea to keep kids in school longer and do homework typr stuff then. And when they get home they are DONE and can relax. I think some overzealous mechanchim lost the point in all of this.

PLEASE PLEASE make HW less and more like a pleasre thing
(9/7/2017 10:48:54 PM)
I grew up in South Africa in the 60's & 70's. School started at 8:15am & finished at 2:15pm. We had gym, art, music & library as part of our weekly curriculum. After school it was compulsory to play tennis, soccer or swimming in the summer terms; & netball or hockey or rugby in the winter months. We came home around 5:00pm, had a break, had dinner, & then did homework EVERY NIGHT M-TH, & SUNDAYS. No one was allowed to complain.
I've been an educator for 24years. The School days are far too long in the USA. Not enough time is given to enjoy extra-curricula activities. Too much information is now the norm of educating children. A quick review sheet should be what's for homework in every subject....that's it!!! All teachers should be in zinc with one another with regards to not giving tests on the same day. Family time should again be part of life, especially at dinner time. And sport or art or music should be encouraged after least once to twice per week.
ALL CHILDREN should be done with homework by 9pm.
This world would definitely again be a nicer place to grow up in. It's time for the younger generation of parents to stop wanting the School education to be so jam packed & intense for their children. There's absolutely nothing wrong with the educated alumni from years ago. Your children need not all. E Einstein's.
(9/7/2017 11:10:56 PM)
Compromise that's the answer
As Yidden we have had to have m'sirus nefesh constantly to be able to learn. For the first time in thousands of years we have the freedom to sit and learn in public and when we want. So what is our approach it is one of m'siras nefesh like our forefathers or is the lesson to our children times are different, if its hard or it makes you unhappy, you don't need to do it. Oh wait let's take out the Jewish element and ask whether this is a general lesson that we want to teach our children.
(9/7/2017 11:11:39 PM)
Wow this is right on, hope my kids teachers read it
(9/7/2017 11:43:10 PM)
we gave up long ago
we gave up on home work long ago .. as soon as it turns stressful .. as soon as it turns into an unhappy experience we put it aside ... guess what .. our kids are much happier and much less anxious .. they not missing anything at school ... happy kids and less stress really helps our household function much better .. better for everyone. sorry school
(9/7/2017 11:46:03 PM)
FACT most of the time
Good teachers teach the children in classroom
Incompetent teachers can't teach in the classroom so they send home all the work to do at home.
(9/8/2017 1:20:04 AM)
Too much stress
I was a serious student. But Rabbi Bender is right. There is simply no justification for the hours of hw after a full day. None! Other h.s. students were "smarter" than I: they simply didn't do a lot of it, thereby preserving their mental health and getting married earlier and in a happy frame of mind.
(9/8/2017 6:44:24 AM)
something i saw
i was reading a handbook for a school which said that in 10th and 11th grade, an hour per subject, which means if every teacher gives homework, that's a minimum of 7 hours, plus getting 8-9 hours of sleep and 8 hours of school, plus getting to and from school... also if teachers give longer than that...
(9/8/2017 6:59:07 AM)
Big OY!
One big issue is tatty going to shul and shiur dumping all on mommy.
NOTHING justifies that!
Not maariv nor the shiur, maariv can be done at the wall and the shiur on shabbos if need be. Sholom Bayis comes first.

That said, the author is right on target, and is a real mentsch - those that know the Far Rockaway/Lawrence area will know what I mean. While is not a chassid per se, he is highly respected in the very large orthodox world and can stand his own.

Its about time we ALL look deep into this charade, as chabad mainstream schools have very similar issues. What a great post and topic this is!
(9/8/2017 7:01:42 AM)
What BPL Librarians Thought
When I worked at Brooklyn Public Library we had inservice training. Someone commented on the long list of books and homework the religious girls received. The head librarian answered that she thought it was so that students would stay out of trouble.
I dont think this was the reason for all the hw, but it certainly seems to have caused negative results. I completely agree with Rabbi Bender.
(9/8/2017 7:02:15 AM)
And replace with?
I Chat
I Whatsapp
I Twitter
I Google
I Watch

Let's just relax.

(9/8/2017 7:07:25 AM)
yes, yes and yes!
Finally. The homework is maddening, especially with a large yideshe family, kein yirbu.
(9/8/2017 7:49:05 AM)
My children's homework has never been long. It's seems like an American thing to complain about education.
(9/8/2017 8:05:52 AM)
Don't do the homework. So what - your kid will
get a 74 instead of a 92 as a grade. Makes no difference to the majority of kids, nor to their success in life.
(9/8/2017 8:30:23 AM)
If you care that your child grows up knowing how to learn and you don't want to rely on good luck, you need to chazer with him everyday.
(9/8/2017 9:00:09 AM)
To #4
This is TOTALLY relevant to us!! Lucky u and ur kids who apparently never got any teachers who took total advantage of hw. There r specific teachers in our schools who r known for their absolutely ridiculous hw loads demanded night after night!! Saying no more than x amount of time to work on hw doesn't help cause they want to finish it anyways saying they will not b properly prepared for class. Hw makes school a dreaded experience. W/o hw school would b a much more positive experience. PLEASE PLEASE all teachers take this to heart and ease up on the hw!!!
(9/8/2017 9:25:30 AM)
Large families take a toll!
Our kids are competing with kids with one or two siblings at home - maybe younger families or those choosing to have less which is becoming common. It's not fair to the kids from larger families. Our kids won't get the focused help from parents as the ones with small families do. Teachers say "it's only 10 minutes per child" well multiply that by ka"h and add in babies screaming and demanding attention, siblings arguing, etc. It's not doable. It's a huge stress on the mothers.
(9/8/2017 9:31:08 AM)
To number fours comment
This does pertain to us! Maybe you got lucky with the teacers your girls have. I have had second graders who needed to sit through an hour of hmwk each night, and yes in second grade she still needed my help. This is unacceptable for students snd parents. The school principales should make a very strong rule of hmwk assignments not taking more then 10 to 15 minutes.
(9/8/2017 9:44:26 AM)
Justs dont do it
You as a father are in charge of your kids educarion. If you think they have too much home work, then kindly exspress that to the teacher and have your kid do as much as you think they should.
(9/8/2017 9:58:54 AM)
Homework incompotent educational practice
Homework implies that the teacher and school administration failed to plan their curriculum according to the time allotted to them and had to send some of the work home.

A good teacher supervises all steps of the learnig process and doesn't rely on the home. In particular, review has to be taught by a teacher in the classroom and not at home where it either doesn't happen or gappens poorly.

A parent pays tuition for the school to do the work and not pass on the buck to the parent.

If a teacher wants to give homework, them at leadt give something extra curricular so that those students or parents whi choose to opt out of homework, do not lose out.

Lastly, itbis inportant that schools and their staff recognize their place. They are in charge of school time and the parent is in charge of home time. It is solely the parents decision how much they want theirbchild doing homework
(9/8/2017 10:10:27 AM)
ALL WRONG!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
do you guys not understand what home work does for us
do you guys not understand we need homework just becuase kids have bad attitude to every thing it does'nt mean that you should'nt halp aderaba you should help them and then they won't need your help anymore and it only takes about 3-4 nights you would rather them sit on top of your head complaining to you no take advantage of home work your kids will be learning peacefully without them complaining or maybe whold you rather i pods i phones etc. etc. stop being ungreatfull
(9/8/2017 10:47:32 AM)
To number 15
Replace with;-

Bike riding
Reading (Gasp horror!) but believe it or not, many of us do have kids who absolutely love reading
Skipping/outdoor fun, for those of us with younger kids
Indoor games, you'll be amazed at how fast kids are willing to play games if a parent joins in the fun!
It really does happen! so instead of the parent getting bogged down with hours of homework, they could spend that time, in quality, happy memory making time!
And . . just chilling, sitting around, spending longer at the supper table . .
And before I get bombarded with comments about how impossible that all sounds, off my head I can think of 7 families, who would just that! Im sure there are countless others too
Its not all about iPads, iPods, computers etc everywhere

Homework should not take all this away from children, their day is long enough as it is, intense enough sometimes too, and very overwhelming at times!
Let them live when they come home!!
(9/8/2017 11:10:25 AM)
To number 25
That is not true especially in the older grades when there are mores teachers and subjects... none of them notice that the other teachers are giving a lot of homework as well and even if it is a little in the end of each teacher "just gives a little " it ends up adding up to a ton of homework so it's really not the student overreacting all they want after eight hours of school is to just chill for a few minutes but now they just continue doing what they were doing the entire day in school!
(9/8/2017 11:44:30 AM)
From a teacher
I agree with this article 100%. Well said.
(9/8/2017 12:26:57 PM)
100% agree with no.25
(9/8/2017 1:22:09 PM)
Solve the issue
How do these comment or articles solve the issues.

If there is a problem bring it up with the teachers, principals etc personally.

This kind of talk only brings about a lack of respect in general.

Give your children the best you can by being a true role model and dealing with issues in a respectful manner.

It's up to us to instill positive attitudes in our next generation.
(9/8/2017 1:41:55 PM)
AGREE 100%
I hope the teachers and principals in Toronto read this
(9/8/2017 1:50:16 PM)
Finally!!!! I've been waiting for this! Please dear teachers, READ THIS!!!!
(9/8/2017 2:04:31 PM)
I agree!!
And while I'm preparing for this hurricane, guess what I am doing ??!! HOMEWORK!! Pretty pathetic! I just wish something would actually be done about this!!! Please, schools!!! Ty for this article!!!
(9/8/2017 2:15:32 PM)
i completely agree with this article and i think that homework should be mostly taken away (except for studying and some review) i am in school for 7 and 1/2 hours....and when i get home do i get to relax? no not at all. why? becuause its time to start my 5+ hours straight doing homework. and i don't even get to have time to relax myself becuase whenever i sit down to have a break my mother needs help cooking/cleaning/watching the kids etc. homework is a huge stress to every child and its too much. i have not entered high school yet but already have 14 subjects. which means at least homework from each teacher / subject. which means an insane amount of homework... it is not fair to do the kids and is not very helpful, at all. it mostly makes the kid stressed and go to sleep very late. take it easy on the students and stop with the insane amount of homework!! Please!!
(9/8/2017 2:16:52 PM)
To number 30
I can assure you it has been brought up before but does it look like it was taken care of?... not really
(9/9/2017 7:19:02 PM)
The smartest girls...
... didn't do all the homework. They enjoyed their real lives and didn't stress so much. As a super conscientious student, I couldn't figure that out. Hardly slept, and bit off all my nails in the pursuit of good grades. This legacy of anxiety and perfectionism can only be stopped if parents encourage kids to prioritize. Reading well in Hebrew and English is of utmost importance. Shoroshim are worth memorizing, but not much else is, especially for kids who don't memorize easily. Make time for enjoyable activities like walks outdoors, music lessons, art projects, puzzles, cooking and baking, and for spiritual pursuits like saying Chitas together or shul in the evening for fathers and sons. Focus on creating a happy family with good mental health. Excessive homework ruins everything.
(9/9/2017 7:42:39 PM)
as a student I 100% agree. we are already sitting in stuffy school for 9+ hours and then we have countless more hours of homework! its abuse! this is where stress begins stress = bad decision which will ruin your life. Homework = ruined life!
(9/9/2017 10:59:50 PM)
bubby agrees
My grandchilddren hardly have time to breathe during th school year- the ones in High school and mesivta. is this really necesary? a simple review each night should be sufficient- give the kids some time to live, spend time with family, etc.

i read a review in a magazine that teenagers need more sleep than anyone for their bodies to be rested..why can we give them this opportunity? theyll be out of the house very soon..let them learn in school and live at home stress free...
(9/10/2017 9:57:30 AM)
I 100% agree with this article.
Is it normal that instead of spending time with family and friends when you get home after a full day of sitting by your desk, is it normal that I should go home to... sit by a desk???
Instead of dreading getting home because we have so much homework to do, shouldn't we be excited to get home and relax?
I think every teacher and principal should read this article and act on it!
homework will do nothing for you. it will just make your life a lot harder and more stressful. nobody needs stress in their life, and even with out homework we have enough of that.
(9/10/2017 12:36:59 PM)
proud student
i totally disagree! i looooooove home work! im in school for 8 hours a day, i wake up at about 7am and i after i get home from school i do home work until about 5am!!! sounds fun huh?

(9/10/2017 3:50:22 PM)
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