By Greg Clark, September 10, 1927
The Star Weekly has a sporting offer to make the educational authorities of the province.
If they will standardize home-work – that is arrange matters so that the same grades get the same home-work each night in all parts of the province – the junior third in all schools in Toronto getting exactly the same home-work as the junior third in Clinton, Ont., Pickering, Ont. and Omemee. Ont., then The Star Weekly, over the radio CFCA, will do the homework for the province.
Now, how’s that for an offer, boys and gals?
We would hire a retired schoolmaster to do the job.
Starting with the junior first about 5 p.m. we would go right through the home-work of each grade in succession, right up to the senior matriculation years, the answers to the home-work for the upper fourth collegiate grade being given about midnight or one o’clock in the morning, so as to induce the young people of that age to get home in good time.
This sporting offer is not made so much for the benefit of the children as for the parents. The Star Weekly always aims to do the popular thing as well as the decent thing.
We desire to attack public abuses. And one of the great abuses of this present generation is the duty imposed upon parents of having to continue going to school long after they have reached the age of liberty.
In former days, home-work was strictly the duty of the children.
Along about seven o’clock – there was no day-light saving time then – Pa would step out on the veranda and give a shrill whistle. The children would detach themselves reluctantly from the game of hide-and-go-seek, run-sheep-run, or injun, and drag their feet homewards.
The dining room table was generally the place set aside for homework.
Pa would shut the sliding doors between the dining room and the living room where he read the evening paper and enjoyed his smoke.
No questions were allowed. If there was any chatter in the dining room, likely to disturb Pa and his paper he would growl:
No child, in those days, had the temerity to bring his school problems in to Pa. The Pa of those good old days was no softie. He paid his school rates, and he knew the proper place of children. Between these two facts, the need for him remembering how many acres there are in a square mile did not exist.
From the dining room came soft murmurs – the kind of murmurs children make when adding or memorizing the kings of England – until about eight o’clock, Pa, having knocked out his pipe, would open the door into the dining room, look sternly in upon the toilers, solemnly produce his watch from his vest pocket and say:
“Home-work all done? Very well; to bed, every one of you!”
There has been no change in homework. But there has been a vast change in the relation between Pa and his children. Everybody knows about the emancipation of women. But we have ignored the much more important social fact of the emancipation of children.
Emancipation of Children
The emancipation of women has merely meant that men have had to hire a little more domestic help.
The emancipation of children has meant that Pa has to remember what the quotient of 489) 3443388.81 is.
Because Mother is free to vote, Pa may have to purchase a vacuum cleaner instead of a forty-cent broom.
But because children, all unaided, have reached a state of independence unparalleled in the history of human freedom, Pa has to discover the G.C.M. of 408 and 544!
This is the state of affairs that the Star Weekly would like to relieve over CFCA by announcing the solutions of all home-work through out the province, so that Pa may recover some of his lost status, his lost dignity. Nowadays It would be impossible to order the children in to do their home-work. But all children love to listen to something of their own over the radio. This CFCA scheme is crafty. Pa could tell the children about it, plead with them to be in at the proper time to tune in, and there is a good chance that the thing would succeed. We don’t guarantee it.
“The only fault I find with the plan,” said an eminent educationalist, “Is that by CFCA doing the work, much of the virtue of home-work is lost, since the child does not do the actual work.”
“The child does not do it nowadays, anyway.” we replied. “This a plan for the relief of parents.”
Premier G. H. Ferguson has announced more than once during election campaigns that he designs in time to abolish home-work. Some people think that it was Premier Ferguson’s liquor policy that carried him and his party to victory last year. It was not that, it was his announced intentions towards homework that caused tens of thousands of parents to vote him into power. It may be that his promise was only an election promise. But a vast number of waiting parents are living in expectation of the day when they will be dismissed from school.
Premier Ferguson has announced no abolition. We thought he might have made some such announcement – burning a symbolic pyre of school-books at the time – during the great concourse of school children on the lawns of the parliament buildings last May, on Decoration Day. But he didn’t.
Mr. D.D. Moshier, the new chief Inspector of schools in Toronto, however, makes an announcement of the greatest importance.
“By the action of the Toronto board of education taken last December,” he says, “home-work is to be discouraged as much as is compatible with the existing system.
“In no home is a child to be required to do home-work against the wishes of the parents.
“No child is to be penalized for not doing home-work.
“In the upper classes, working towards entrance, a certain amount of home study is to be expected of the pupils. But study, not class exercises, is what will be expected of the pupils.”
Expected! Mark that word.
How changed is childhood in so short a space of years.
We remember a stern schoolmaster, sitting on his platform, reading slowly and with acid distinctness, the problems in arithmetic we would have to bring back the next morning, done.
We remember the whistles on all the front porches up and down the street, the whistles that broke up the gang and sent us to our home-work.
Putting It Up to Dad
The best part of the day had been taken from us. From 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. we had been in the factory, sitting like a lot of little slaves, learning to be tame, and to read and write.
From 4 p.m. until 7 we had been free, except for the interruption of supper and messages and chores.
And then for another hour we had to go back to the grind, so that our little heads were filled, in farewell to another day, with the darkness of learning. We took to our small beds dreams of our serfdom.
But we have been very clever. Somehow, in the great breakdown of former things – the war, the emancipation of women, the clatter and bang of this age and moment – the children have been very, very clever. They too have worked out their liberation.
The stern parent disappeared some time in the past ten years. Was it when most young parents were away to the wars? Was it when the movies arrived on every main corner of the city? Was it when the motor car suddenly made of the evening something new and spacious!
Since 1900, more new social factors have entered human life than in a thousand years before.
Home-work could not be expected to stand against these new forces.
Take a man whose only job is selling motor cars or neckties: his life consists of a very few simple motions. He dresses particularly well. He cultivates a winning personality. He devotes his day to pleasant persuasion. There are no Intellectual tricks to it. It is easy. He simply lets himself function.
Now this man, on his return home, is faced by a squad of indignant children:
“Look here, Dad!” says the oldest boy. “I gotta get my homework done. The teacher is going to pluck me if I don’t get my homework done. I’m gonna be left behind by all the gang.
The other fellows’ dads do it. Why shouldn’t you?”
And the justice of the demand causes the father to attempt the task.
Here are a few of the problems he has to do:
“How many pints in 5-16 of a bushel?”
“What fraction of the number 12 is the quotient?”
“What percentage of 1 bu. 2 pk. is 3 qt.?”
“A cubic foot of water weighs 10 Ibs. If cast iron is 7.2 times as heavy as water, how many cubic feet of cast iron will weigh as much as 3,060 cu. ft. of water?”
“The area of a curved face of a cylinder is 396 sq. ft. The altitude is 12 ft. Find the diameter.”
Now what would the average automobile salesman do in the face of such problems, and with his son expecting the whole thing to be done by the time he gets back from the ball practise?
He might start with the last one. The word cylinder would look familiar, though who ever heard of a cylinder being 12 feet high? Some sort of a ship’s engine, probably.
He would most likely phone the office, ask for the superintendent of the garage, and put that cylinder problem up to him. But it is the insides of cylinders, not their perimeter, diameter or quotient of anything else that auto salesmen are Interested in.
When homework was first invented, life was simple. There were only five or six kinds of work in the world – farming, store-keeping, shoemaking, blacksmithing, teaching, preaching and law. And one of the principal amusements of the community was doing problems in arithmetic or philosophy in the evenings down to the shoemakers, or in the blacksmith shop, where the fathers of the village foregathered.
Every father knew about perimeter and the length of an acre and the number of grains in an ounce and so forth, because there was little else to know.
Life has suddenly become very complex and very simple. There are thousands of kinds of jobs. Men do not have to be shoemakers or farmers against their will. There are so many kinds of jobs, man just naturally flows into the one that fits him. It is not work at alt in the sense that life was work fifty years ago. A man farms because he functions, easiest as a farmer. A man keeps books or sells shirts or stocks because he can do it with the minimum of effort.
And why this happy world should be clouded, during one of the happiest periods of life – young parenthood – by the necessity for remembering or rediscovering a lot of faint, far, forgotten misery is the thing the Hon. Mr. Ferguson asks on the eve of elections and the thing Mr. Moshier, on behalf of the Toronto board of education, answers.
Back in the old days the village schoolmaster would enunciate a problem to his class.
The problem would go home. The children would struggle over it. Parents might get hold of it, if they were interested. The Pas would take it down to the shoemaker’s or the blacksmith shop and it would be wrangled over. The village wisemen could consult. But nobody knew the answer save the village schoolmaster. And he would stroll by, filled with silence and smiles.
The Ontario Public School Arithmetic costs ten cents. It contains a million problems, asks a million questions, propounds a million mysteries.
But the answers are all in the back.
For ten cents you get all the answers, all the solutions.
This book is a monument to the newer education, to the education that consists of asking questions and answering them in the same breath.
Maybe education is not what it means. Ex duco – to lead out. Education means to lead out, either to lead the child out of ignorance or to lead it out of itself.
One of the oldest puzzles in the world is to discover just what this leading means. If we are in darkness we can only lead the children into darkness. If we are stupid – and each decade looks back upon a decade of stupidity – we can only lead the children to stupidity.
The abolition of homework takes away the last responsibility of parents to share in the education of their children.
But it saves tens of thousands of parents the humiliation of being showed up before their children.
It leaves a lot more time for golf, movies, loafing in the garden, reading the comics.
But it lifts a little of the absurd burden of scholarship off mankind.
A boy recently failed quite flatly in most of his exams. He had made the hockey and rugby teams. He had gained ten pounds. He had grown big and sensible and good-looking. But he made a beautiful smash of his exams.
The boy’s father and an elder brother were talking it over.
“Will we send him back to school or shoot him into a job?”
“Well,” said the elder brother, “I don’t think education consists of scholarship any more. The biggest thing a boy can possibly get out of his education – his school days – is the experience of dominance.
“If he can dominate in scholarship, all right. That’s the good experience. If he can dominate at sport, or socially amongst his fellows, just as good, maybe better. Because, amongst all our acquaintances, Dad, in business, in society, in life altogether, do you or I number a single scholar amongst our friends?”
And they could find but one!
Yet amongst the liveliest spirits of their acquaintance they numbered men who had dominated somehow at school – in sport, in mischief, in social activity – somehow they had dominated, and experienced the sensation of dominating.
“The terrible thing,” they agreed, “the great danger that lurks in what we call education, nowadays, is the possibility that the boy will experience the other thing – the looking up to others, the failure to excel in anything. They learn nothing but to look up.”
The cancellation of homework is a black eye for scholarship. Scholarship used to be all of education. The importance of scholarship used to be impressed on the home every night.
The first faint official skid under scholarship is the dictum:
“No child is required to do homework against the wishes of the parents.”
In one way it is taking the responsibility away from parents.
But for those who are shrewd enough to see it, it is putting a new and unheard of responsibility back upon parents.
For now there are strange, unknown ways of education. Being number one of the class is no more the criterion. The monthly report means nothing.
A parent cannot look at his child and judge him by linear measurement.
Education means leading out, and at 3.30 p.m. or 4 if he’s naughty, the school leads the child right back, without a book in his hand, to the home.
But now, with no more school books to be carried home, how is a fellow going to court his girl?
That, perhaps, is the most important aspect of the whole question of homework.
Editor’s Notes: The Elementary grade levels at the time:
|Junior First||Grade 1|
|Senior First||Grade 2|
|Junior Second||Grade 3|
|Senior Second||Grade 4|
|Junior Third||Grade 5|
|Senior Third||Grade 6|
|Junior Fourth||Grade 7|
|Senior Fourth||Grade 8|
CFCA was a radio station owned by the Toronto Star. In the early days of radio, stations were often owned by other businesses.
Howard Ferguson was Premier of Ontario at the time of this article, a position he held from 1923 to 1930.
Decoration Day was a holiday used to recognize veterans before the formal establishment of Remembrance Day in 1931. It was first commemorated on June 2, 1890 by veterans of the Battle of Ridgeway. It was held on the weekend closest to June 2, and later would remember veterans of battles such as the North-West Rebellion, the Boer War, and the First World War.
One Bushel = 32 quarts = 4 pecks