A misguided effort toward “egality”

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Actor Gerard Depardieu, known for talent, eccentricities and a waistline that puts him within a stone’s throw of Marlon Brando, generated headlines earlier this month by turning in his French passport and decamping to Belgium.


Despite Depardieu’s evident love for the best cuisine, he isn’t being drawn to Belgium for the pralines and waffles. He contends that the tax increases instituted by the Socialist government of President Francois Hollande are confiscatory and has joined other well-heeled French luminaries in a flight to other parts of Europe.


So while it’s safe to say that Hollande may have to struggle to get the support of monied thespians the next time he faces voters, Hollande and his fellow Socialists could be on the verge of locking in the backing of the next generation of voters for a lifetime.


See, Hollande has proposed banning homework.


Seriously.


It’s part of a package of education reforms that would include adding an additional half day to the school week, increasing the number of teachers and making changes to the curriculum. Hollande contends that disadvantaged students don’t have the same opportunities for help with their homework that students from more privileged backgrounds have.


Under the plan, work that had been done at home would be done in the classroom. And while we’re skeptical of education reformers who believe that more and more homework (and more and more extracurricular activities that look good to the folks who sift through college applications) automatically equals a better education, homework does appear to confer benefits. It can help build study and work habits and, according to some studies, is credited with better test scores and grades. There’s probably more than one former high school freshman out there who learned more about algebra through the rigorous slog of homework than they did from the classroom.


But, even without homework, the best and the brightest of French students would likely remain the best and the brightest, thanks to a host of opportunities they enjoy outside the classroom, whether it’s educated parents, tutors or a home filled with books. Rather than giving disadvantaged students a boost, eliminating homework merely lowers the bar.


Some struggling French families, which the homework ban is designed to help, are leery of it. Emmanuel Davidenkoff, the editor of a website and magazine on education, told NPR in October that “poor people want homework because they know that school is very important, and the only chance – the only possibilty – they have to give their children a better life ... Mostly, wealthy people don’t want homework because when the kids are at home, they (participate in) sports or dance or music. They go to the museums, to the theater. So they have this access to culture, which is very important. In poor families, they don’t have that, so the only link they have with culture and school is homework.”


The French devotion to liberty, egality and fraternity is well-known – and something that might be remembered from a homework exercise. But doing away with homework seems a misguided effort on Hollande’s part to create more egality.


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