As parents and teachers pile pressure on schoolchildren, many of whom are exhibiting stress related disorders, we should ask ourselves about the real value of homework.
Skills increasingly in demand in the workplace are visual, social and creative: the very attributes that develop precisely from having nothing to do.
Adam Phillips in his book “On kissing, tickling and being bored” has written of the virtues of boredom for children, the mental space it provides of which creativity flows.
Yet the relentless thrust of so much modern parenting is activity centred, about DOING rather than BEING.
We tend to believe that the child must be entertained and educated at all times, as though we distrust and fear what children might be if left to their own devices.
The modern workplace require people that can organise their own time, and yet the capacity to do so will be denied to our own children. Constant organisation of their time with extra lessons and activities means they have little time to dream or create their own imaginative worlds.
Our anxiety also gives rise to certain misconceptions about the way children learn. Here will always be some things, such as multiplication tables that will have to learnt by rote.
But in other areas such as literacy, skills do not necessarily develop in an orderly and linear fashion. In fact children make cognitive leaps at various stages and, much to the chagrin of flash card wielding middle classes, not a lot can be done to speed up the process.
Some teachers have explained that if teenage children always do all their homework, it is equivalent to an extra day at school a week.
I have politely asked why children should work a six day week.
If our children find that they havn’t enough time to be taught all they need to be taught, why not make the school day an hour longer and let their free time really be free?
To be honest, though, my concern about children being allowed time off is also rather selfish. If parents have to make contracts with schools, ensuring that their children produce enough work, parents themselves will have more to do in the evening, which is not a very pleasant prospect.
If the school shift the burden away from themselves and on to the parents, education becomes even more riddled with inequality.
The children who need the most help are bound to get the least, while their more affluent counterparts will suffer from hyper-stimulation.