Hi, I’m Caitlin Moran, and welcome to this week’s Moranifesto.
On the 3rd May, the day this blog goes online, a national protest has been suggested by parents, despairing of how pressurised their children’s education has become. A group called ‘Let Kids Be Kids’ are calling on parents to remove their children from school for the day and let them run around in the sun, or more realistically, snow, and have some fun. Or at the very least stay at home in their pyjamas and watch Homes under the Hammer while eating Quavers. They are concerned about the increasingly joyless, test-driven, uncreative, sedentary curriculum imposed on our small, curious and restless children. A curriculum, I should add, which is generally hated by the teachers who are meant to enforce it.
In Moranifesto, I address modern education’s unhappy march towards meaningless tasks, constant tests and bloodless, force-fed fact regurgitation, with, I might claim, a rather bold suggestion. Now, I’m not one for craven populism. I dare to say the unsayable. In my time, I’ve suggested some pretty contentious things: that jam is horrible, that fish are evil, ketchup shouldn’t be kept in the fridge, and Father Christmas is the sexiest man alive. But this week, I’m going to say something that I confidently expect will win 100% support. I cannot imagine a single person disagreeing with me, because, it is this: We should ban homework.
If one thing happens in 2016, it should be a concerted campaign to eradicate this illogical, damaging, pain-in-the-ass institution once and for all. It is an invention universally loathed, and it is slightly less popular than mouth ulcers. For children, homework is one of the classic immortal foes up there with vegetables, darkness, teeth-cleaning and bed-time. Parents, meanwhile, are doubly enraged. As former children themselves, parents can’t believe this homework stuff has come round again, this time with the added top-spin of you now being the poor sap that has to haul the kids in from the playground and make them give any kind of a shit about Richard II on one side of A4 paper. Even as your offspring scream, ‘I hate you! I’m too tired to do this and I want to die.’
Finally, should parents and children wish to round on the people who have given them the homework – the teachers – they would find that teachers are the ones who hate homework most of all. Teachers are all like, ‘don’t have a go at us. We’d kick homework in the nuts if we could’. Teachers loathe homework. It’s yet another round of projects to be set, handed out, nagged over and then marked. Homework for kids basically means homework for teachers, too. And everyone is quite right to hate it. For it makes life far worse than we had ever imagined.
Look, these are days of rocketing child obesity, anxiety and emotional disorders. Prescriptions for tranquilizers for children have gone through the roof. I don’t think I’m being too fanciful to suggest that as soon as children complete their seven-hour long academic day, they should be free to run around in the park, muck about with their friends and have a chance to interact with their parents, not centred around screaming ‘I hate you! I’m too tired to do this and I want to die.’ And this would, obviously, improve the physical and mental health of British children immeasurably.
When else are they going to do all that running around and being happy we keep saying that they need to do? The winters are long, they’ve got homework until 8pm, and then they’ve got that big history project over the weekend. Homework means our children never really leave school. Even when they’re at home, they’re still strapped to that bulging rucksack of folders. They’re still on deadlines. They’re still producing. And whilst that’s never fun for any child, for some, it’s utterly devastating.
If you know in your bones that academia is not for you, then those final hours of homework mean you’ve spent your entire waking day doing stuff that you feel a failure at. You have no time to go out there and find the things that you might excel at, that give you joy and change your life. You could be helping your mum mend the clutch on the car, or being taught how to cook by your dad, or hearing the record that makes you form a band, or spending five hours obsessively practicing free kicks with your mates. Instead, it’s that sad chair at the kitchen table and the slow pen across the pages as your heart revolts and, sometimes, breaks.
I loathe my children’s homework with a passion. When they come home from school, I want that time to be ours. I want my children. How many hours do we have left of their already dwindling childhood? How many more of these ultra vivid years do we have, when an evening walking along the river, visiting nan, learning how to do magic tricks, reading stories. It’s something that we will all remember forever, or that might even become their future. That my children spend these evenings exhaustedly weeping over a cardboard model of a neutron, which will just get chucked into some cupboard at school, and which doesn’t even count in their exams, makes me feel a sad and desperate fury. And not least because of the final awfulness of homework: that my kids are the lucky ones.
Homework just about works for them because they have a calm house and parents who have the time, just about, if we forget that I actually wanted to go and listen to Serial while having a hot bath, to help them. But for those children who are not lucky, who live in a chaotic house, who have parents who are busy or who are gone, homework is the cruellest reminder yet that the biggest factor in most children’s educational attainment is, over and over again, their parents’ education and class. It is often the final blow to the already struggling.
So, let’s call homework what it really is. It’s not homework. It’s a parent test. It’s a life vampire. It’s a future heart-attack. It’s emptied our playgrounds and panicked our children. It puts work in the home, and I wish it death. I hope the biggest dog in the world comes and eats it.
I’ll see you all next week. Thank you.