The Worst Job in the World

Tuesday, September 26th, 2006

Orson Scott Card describes — somewhat hyperbolically — The Worst Job in the World:

What if you had a really lousy job? You’re only employed for seven hours a day, but you have to ride the bus for half an hour each way.

While you’re there, they only let you go to the bathroom at certain times. You only have ten minutes to get from one work station to another, and somehow you also have to use the toilet and get your new work materials from a central depository during those breaks, without being late.

If you do anything wrong, you aren’t allowed to talk to anybody during lunch.

Even when you go home, it’s not over. A job supervisor also lives in your house, and makes you do two or three more hours of the same work you did on the job. The at-home supervisor is even harsher than the one at work and has more power to inflict annoying punishments if you fail to comply.

If you’re sick and miss a day or two, then when you get better, you have to do all the work that you missed — both the on-the-job and the at-home tasks.

Not only that, but you can’t quit this lousy job. It’s the law — the government requires you to stick with it for at least ten years.

What if, on top of all this misery, the work you had to do at home wasn’t even real? What if you just went through the motions of all the tasks you did on the job, but you didn’t actually accomplish anything? You just spent meaningless hours, repeating the physical movements, while the at-home supervisor says things like, ‘That’s how you do it?’ and ‘Are you sure you’re doing it right?’

That’s a fair description of the lives of far too many of our school-age children.

He decries homework and notes that there is no evidence that homework does any good:

But let’s pretend that grades and standardized tests actually measure something meaningful, and better results on those would mean that homework accomplishes something. That’s what a researcher named Harris Cooper did, according to Alfie Kohn, in his book The Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad Thing.

Cooper looked at a number of different studies of homework and sifted and combined the results to see if some kind of definitive answer emerged. It did — but Cooper apparently didn’t see it himself.

When Kohn looked at Cooper’s published results, the answer was obvious. In Cooper’s own words from 1989: “There is no evidence that any amount of homework improves the academic performance of elementary students.”

That means that there is zero scientific evidence that kids before middle school get any performance boost whatsoever from any amount of homework, no matter how large or small.

And yet when Cooper reached his own conclusions at the end of his published report, he came up with the oft-quoted formula that the ideal amount of homework is ten minutes per grade level per night. That would mean almost an hour a night for fifth graders — even though Cooper’s own meta-study found that there was no evidence that any homework for elementary students had any benefit.

Apparently, we have a problem when “science” is done by true believers. Even when Cooper’s study found no defense for elementary-school homework, he still found a way to recommend in favor of requiring some anyway.

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