Can Homework Teach Self-Discipline: A Professional Point Of View

Everyone agrees that children need self-discipline in order to grow into functional and effective adults. Some believe that assigning more homework can help children develop self-discipline, organizational skills and study skills, while building a solid foundation for future inner-directed achievement. On the other hand, some believe that it can be detrimental to a child’s development of these skills because the pressure to do it is not exerted in an effective way.

While it is true that those who invest greater effort in their lessons are associated with higher achievement, and self-discipline is a crucial aspect of achievement, these aren’t necessarily caused by one another. This is because as a general rule teachers assign the project and then parents enforce it getting done. This results in the force to complete the assignment coming from the outside, not from the child herself. This paradigm creates a bit of a law of “diminishing returns” situation because the less internal push the student already has, the more external force those authority figures will exert when the work is not getting done. As a result, the student never learns just to go to his room and finish. He instead becomes like one of Pavlov’s dogs waiting for the bell, which is, in this case, a negative comment from his mother.

On the other hand, some skills that can be obtained from doing homework are learning how to set goals, learning how to manage the environment, time management, building attention spans and self-efficient behaviors. If assigned and managed effectively, it is possible for a student to reach deep within herself for the strength to do the task on time and in a quality way. However, more likely than not the realities of the modern world will continue to result in the situation above.

Perhaps it is simply a function of our “have to have it now” culture that many of America's children simply are not able to sacrifice short-term gratification for long-term reward, and this is why homework isn’t as effective in building self-discipline. In fact, it is more likely that in this environment a situation will exist where the child would rather take any way he or she can find to get around doing the “real” work. This could include cheating, copying from friends or copying directly from the internet. In this case, perhaps more homework in the regular subjects is not what is needed to build an inner work ethic, rather structured programs specifically designed to create self-discipline that cannot be gotten around so easily.