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José Benigno Freire, Professor of the School of Education and Psychology of the University of Navarra

Yes to homework, with apology

Tue, 10 May 2016 09:55:00 +0000 Published in Diari de Tarragona

The discussion of yes or no to homework reappears with cyclical and stubborn frequency. However, it is not something postmodern, no; it comes from long ago, very long ago. My first news about this controversy goes back to Plato and Aristotle, disciple and master. A controversy that arose in the context of a pedagogy that emphasized the happiness of children and was part of the same system educational, as we would say today. It is curious that the same arguments of that old polemic are still maintained, for and against, changing the sayings and the circumstances, logically. But they are still on the same reasoning chip.

Plato supported the thesis of a fun and playful learning; giving priority to that playful aspect so connatural to childhood. Aristotle, without disdaining his master, defended the clear teaching of the difference between play and work. It is one thing to work (study) and quite another to play. Generally, the professional work , for anyone, becomes the axial axis on which their working, social, family, economic life will revolve... Hence the radical importance of initiating them in the seriousness and responsibility of work, from an early age. I am decidedly and openly Aristotelian. 

Current psychology demonstrates, with resounding evidence, the value of play in the psychosomatic maturation of childhood, and its importance in the socialization process, without reducing it to a merely ludic element or a need for recreation. However, play must be compatible and complementary with the dedication of time to consolidate the habit of work staff . Study, training, inevitably require effort staff. This need increases as the level of programs of study or professionalization increases. Even in the tasks most closely linked to internship it is necessary to repeat and repeat until the required skill or skill is achieved. In this sense, piano students are paradigmatic: how many hours sitting in front of the keyboard, and how many times they rehearse and rehearse the same piece!    

That is why children must learn, as soon as possible, to manage their time. And homework is a very effective exercise in establishing habits at work staff . I believe that the controversy should change the angle and not debate about its necessity, but about criteria of adequacy, proportionality, progressiveness... On this point, large doses of common sense, balance and moderation would be welcome: according to age, level of programs of study, schedule , school, space for family life and leisure, etc. And we must radically banish two possible harmful vices: on the one hand, that students' homework saves teachers work from classroom ; on the other hand, that parents end up doing their children's homework for them.

I reiterate: the main (not exclusive) purpose of the duties is to establish and consolidate the internship of work staff , essential for any process of training. Perhaps this may seem an excessively simplistic reason, but experience stubbornly demonstrates the contrary. In Chile they use a graphic and nice popular expression: intelligence understands what the pomp can bear. And the pomp is... the pomp: the part of the body that best fits the chair. If you prefer to put it more delicately: sitzfleisch (warm seat). You would be surprised at the number of mediocre university transcripts result of the impotence to hold on to the study table throughout the first and second year...

The study staff is not limited exclusively to the period of training, but also extends to the professional stage. The notion of continuoustraining already belongs to the commonly accepted acquis, when three decades ago it appeared as something new and innovative. Let's not be fooled: lazy workers are at their work space for at least eight hours; for less... you get fired. A competent professional, in addition to working time, is continuously updated, and this is almost never achieved at schedule and with all the financial aid on the part of the employing institution. This has always been the case, but it is becoming more acute in the times to come; the new fields of work demand highly qualified and specialized staff . Those from training average , will face difficult and uncomfortable employability difficulties. Now the priority is training qualified, high level of professional skill , which requires -I insist- training intense and conscientious.

I may be questioned for not taking into consideration the modern postulates of pedagogy and psychology that emphasize the profitability and efficiency of creativity, intuitive thinking, giftedness, the power of self-esteem... I accept them, and I approve of them. However, I stick to Picasso's conviction: I believe in inspiration, but when inspiration comes, it would be better if it finds you working...

And if someone disagrees with my opinion? Well, I will rhetorically insult him by calling him Plato. An insult that, in my opinion, is quite honorable...