I am exhausted, and it’s homework’s fault. Seemingly every minute at this school is spent doing school work, procrastinating from school work, worrying about future school work, or watching YouTube after midnight because it’s the first moment I have without responsibilities. What’s up with homework, and why do we complain about it every year but never try to change it?
The structure of college is so bizarre, yet it is something I rarely question. In the workforce, people are not asked to work when they are not on the clock. But classes are structured such that you must complete work outside of the normal hours of class. Assuming most people have four classes that meet for just over an hour twice a week, many students will go to class for around 10 hours. This is just paper-napkin math, but 10 hours is not all that much, meaning that there should be plenty of time to do homework. And yet, I find myself working in the library for hours and barely taking anytime for my own leisure. When there’s no clear division between work and free time, it starts to feel like you’re always working.
This summer I worked a job that was 40 hours a week, and yet I felt that I had much more freedom than at college. My bosses demanded that I didn’t work after hours because they thought that was an unfair labor model. The result was that I retained my personhood outside of work, whereas at Wesleyan, it feels that my personhood revolves around school-related work. Regardless of whether I actually have more work at Wesleyan, it feels never ending because it isn’t confined to a shift.
What lesson is this class organization trying to convey? No one ever says. Is it trying to instill a sense of time management? Perhaps homework is meant to help develop skills like independent inquiry and balancing responsibilities. If that’s the case, it isn’t working. The most applicable skill I have learned from course work is which projects I need to focus on and which I can half-ass. Many people I have encountered have learned to prioritize their mental health over their grades. And that is a certainly valuable skill, but what a horrible ultimatum! You must choose between an “A” in your class or lose control of your anxiety. It’s a lose-lose.
I know how this is coming off. A student complaining about homework? Big surprise. Second graders aren’t happy about homework—it’s not a unique opinion. But why do we take homework for granted? Can we think about other ways to organize classes that don’t involve a constant flow of work outside of class hours?
What if we were to confine homework to T.A. sessions for each class? This gives people an opportunity to complete homework within a space designated for work rather than allowing work to infect personal spaces. Although, people could just do this on their own by going to the library. But the confines of T.A. sessions ensure that people cannot burn away their entire night on homework. But this fails to address the most central issue of homework: grades.
Attaching grades to homework motivates people to do the work, but the expense of their own health. Other evaluation models, like written evaluations, offer a more holistic and personal touch to grading. If someone chooses not to complete a homework assignment for the sake of their mental well being, letter grades can’t account for that. But written evaluations can. Moving away from letter grades will remove the pressure from class work.
But perhaps the most striking solution to homework is to stop assigning so much of it. One professor at Wesleyan only assigns readings as homework. There are no essays or Moodle responses. Students are graded only by their class participation, meaning that they must carefully consider the readings. This is just one of many possibilities, but it seems like nearly all other classes at Wesleyan use the same structure.
For most students, class work extending into the late hours of the night is just a given. That’s the way school has always been seemingly. But why not challenge convention? Wesleyan likes to flaunt its commitment to defying academic traditions like going test optional and maintaining an open curriculum. Why shouldn’t we try to conceive of class models that support the well being of the students?
Connor Aberle is a member of the class of 2019 and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.