The Folly & Danger of the Unscientific School Anti-homework Movement
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The Folly & Danger of the Unscientific School Anti-homework Movement

San Francisco : CA : USA | Jun 29, 2011 at 1:46 AM PDT
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Concerning the folly of the unscientific minimal & no school homework advocacy & policy movement, neurobiologists and learning psychologists (developmental, educational, cognitive & psychophysiological psychologists) need to speak out against the errant & disastrous thinking behind it, which can otherwise lead California & the U.S. further & faster toward a third-world-society fate

In a minimum of words, learning is the functionally retrievable long-term-memory end product of memory work

A few words of caution about the currently fired-up minimal or no school homework movement catching on in some parts of California and inspired by the book (titled 'Doing School: How We Are Creating a Generation of Stressed-Out, Materialistic, and Miseducated Students'), speeches and radio guest spots of Denise Clark Pope, director of the Stanford University School of Education Stressed Out Students (S.O.S.) Project, on this subject. Simplistically and overly briefly, in net effect, learning is memory consolidation from stimulus-response repetition and reinforcement (with reinforcement meaning both the fortification of the stimulus-response connection and the reward and punishment contingencies for optimization of the response, relative to a response standard, as in fine tuning and stabilizing the quality of the response). We learn how to listen and talk, how to draw, how to assemble puzzles quickly, the alphabet and numerals, and to read, spell and write, and literate foreign languages as well as learn grammar, math, science, public-speaking, acting, dance, music and sports knowledge and skills, and everything else, in this manner -- by modeling, imitation, practice, rehearsal, role play, drill, review, analysis, testing, instructor feedback, and eventually by critical self observation and internalized self-feedback judgments of our satisfactory or unsatisfactory performance. Even spectator, observational, vicarious, indoctrinational and discursive learning entail respectively the perception of beneficial and adverse examples and reinforcement as well as negative and positive feedback contingencies in the viewed, examined, read or debated, etc., scenarios or issues -- reinforcers that may be multiple or overlapping and concurrent, as in bearing or conveying strikingly or dramatically powerful and memorable action, intellect and emotional content simultaneously or in close proximity in time and place and that may induce rapid or near-instantaneous memory consolidation and learning. Note-taking on, reflection on and contemplation of the characters, situations, descriptions, arguments, ideas, concepts, etc., in novels and other casual reading and learning writings or oral presentations, read or heard, is envisioning (mental-sensory) stimulus-response repetition and memory-learning work, too. Respectively, the extent and potency of stimulus-response repetition and its reforcement figure largely into the durability of one's summonable memory or learning -- whether it will be or is short-term, intermediate-term or long-term memory and learning. Also, some stimuli in stimulus-response learning situations are intrinsically reinforcing, apart from the need for repetition in conjunction with the response and a further reinforcer of the response, as in the virtually immediate learning of a brief poetically and melodically catchy musical phrase.

Information and homework overload is bad in that it can be intolerably stressful, a cause of emotional explosiveness or explosion, and academic burnout and learning turnoff, rebellion or shutdown. This is the case when a student's every teacher or professor assigns extensive amounts of homework to a student as though that student has no other homework to do, thereby overburdening and overwhelming the student's attention span, mental work or exertion (like muscle work) tolerance and often scarce available time impossibly. When such excessive or extreme homework assignments are chronic, they can lead to outright homework shirking and disregard by students or worse. Moderate homework assignments should be the rule, with teachers and professors who make the assignments taking into consideration time for a job and/or humanly stress-relieving diversion, recreation or play for students. Nevertheless, high-achiever knowledge and skills require extraordinary mental labor, practice and training -- that is, extra effort, extra homework.

Don't ever give up on doing homework if you are a student and don't let your children go without doing homework. However, the legitimate issue of excessive homework needs to be brought to the attention of the local PTAs, boards of education and college or university presidents and academic senates. Teachers also need to bear in mind that there are individual differences in learning-load capacity and learning speed among students, that may vary with subject matter, with individual differences for improvement on these learning parameters among students (adaptability).

A partial solution to the homework problem might be for class time for every class to be divided into an instructional period, followed by an in-class homework period of diagnostic quizzes, short assignments and roving instructor consultations with and tutoring of students calling upon the instructor for help with writing comments and essays, grammar, math, etc. Routinely concluding the instructional period should be some time for students to ask subject-matter relevant questions. Students should also be permitted to write questions for the instructor and write brief critiques of instructional material during the in-class homework period. Questioning and critiquing should be a standard feature of classroom education and student critical-thinking development.

Redefined slightly differently than previously defined, learning is memory consolidation from stimulus-response (S-R) repetition and reinforcement (with reinforcement being memory and performance fortification respectively by each mere repetition itself, performance feedback and reward and punishment contingencies (being the positive, negative and neutral or spectrum of pleasure versus pain consequences). Less mechanically, the learning process may also be understood as the sensory-motor (neuromuscular) cognitive acquisition and retention of information, knowledge, skills and behavior. Another casual definition of learning, more applicable to social adaptation or acculturation, is "the assimilation and adoption or incorporation of knowledge, skills, behavior and culture, etc." Secular industrial education (teaching and training) focuses on inducing and facilitating learners' acquisition of knowledge and skills and developing their ability to conceptualize, think, reason, newly conceive and create. Learning is underlain by neuronal connections, bonding and networking, primarily in the brain, resulting from cognitive stimulation and is overtly expressed by sensory-motor reflexes or voluntary responses.

In a discrepancy between demonstrated and demonstrable empirical mechanical science and statistical correlation, factual empirical science incontestably prevails and the statistical correlation is wrong, as empirical science determines and expresses cause-effect relationships and correct statisical correlation determines degree-of-association relationships, which may or may not be cause-effect connected -- the relevant empirical sciences here being stimulus-response repetition and feedback-reinforcement (informational and reward-discipline contingencies) cognitive and behavioral psychology and neurobiology. If a competent math teacher instructs a student newly on a mathematical operation also new to the student (other than perhaps addition and the addition of 1 plus 1 for even the least learning capable generally age-appropriate school child) and does no permit the student to ponder, question, study and practice that operation, the overwhelming odds are that the student will not remember substantially or commit to memory a retrievable accurate understanding of that operation when tested. Likewise, if a music student does not review and practice practice his or her music nomenclature and performance licks, he or she will undoubtedly not or little remember them and will score poorly in related music nomenclature and performance tests of his or her music instructional learning (related cognitive achievement).

In this land of money grubbing and get-rich-quick schemes and scams, I would not rule out that this book and movement are a money-making gimmick in the self service of the author and the author's publisher latching onto and exploiting a controversial real concern, where parents, teachers, school administrators and political authorities are all pointing their fingers every which way for causes and solutions for mass-scale student failure and underperformance. However, it may incredibly constitute another cookoo, counterintuitive strategy to solve the intractable problem of large-scale educational failure in the schools by, as the departed 20th-Century singer and songwriter Curtis Mayfield remarked in his song 'Don't Worry,' "educated fools from uneducated schools." Perhaps so much academic failure and underperformance are substantially caused by something politicians, the chambers of commerce, the junk and fast food industry and many parents and children don't want to talk about, in our primacy-of-profits era of libertarian-feudalist-capitalism sway, such as junk food like sodas, hamburgers, hot dogs, French fries, potato, corn and other chips of all kinds, pastries, donuts, ice cream, candy bars, and so forth ad nauseam -- bad nutrition, that is also bad for athletic performance, a physically fit, aesthetic appearance and a source of serious child and adult medical problems.

LordProphetOfPowertix is based in Salt Lake City, Utah, United States of America, and is an Anchor for Allvoices.
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