Magic Numbers and Homework

Busy work is a waste of time in the classroom and out. Repetive work is not. It’s sometimes just what the doctor ordered. It helps us keep pace with our peers. And today in 2022, we are moving quickly towards a smaller more specialized global workforce in which those that are hired are the most prepared. Homework is one tool in the aresenal of a teacher to achieve this goal.

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Numbers. Numbers. Numbers. Much of our lives are run by numbers. Time. Distance. Weight. Speed. Wealth. Age. It’s all connected even for those who are as mathematically challenged as me. I see clearly how important numbers are even though my ability to manipulate and master them is limited.

Take running for instance. I am a runner. I run lots. Sometimes based on distance. Other times based on speed. I do so depending on my goals as a runner. Fitness and mobility are at the top of the list but sometimes my running goals are races and competitions which may look like competitions against others but are really just competitions against ourselves and our numbers. Against our personal bests, our age group or even qualifying for races that demonstrate our ability as a ‘good’ runner against our peers and within the microcosm of running.

For runners, there are a few stand out races: Boston Marathon, Comrades Marathon and UTMB. Look them up if you are interested in learning more. Just be aware that to stand on the start line of Boston and UTMB takes a certain level of success and dedication to the sport. You can’t just sign up and participate.

Which brings me to the debate or big idea: Homework. Should homework be given to students? The simple answer is that it is a complicated and complex question that really needs to take into account Numbers.

As we reproduce to the huge number of 8 billion souls on our home planet, we need to be cognizant of what that means and what many are working towards. Eight billion. 8,000,000,000. That’s a lot of zeroes.

So the real question really should be ‘What is the purpose of Homework?’. That is a bit easier to answer. The purpose of homework should be to give students the opportunity to arrive at the starting lines of life ready and prepared to succeed against themselves and their peers. Daily, weekly, monthly, yearly and throughout their lives. Homework is the extra work that those who succeed do to ensure their success. Jordan with free throws. Kobe with extra workouts. Musk with reading books. The extra work is what separates them apart from the rest of us.

In marathon and ultra marathon training, it is not the running that is the separator but fuel and recovery and gear. The minutia. Take the Boston Marathon. Millions run marathons every year all over the world. Only a few qualify for Boston, even though that number grows yearly. Why? Because more and more runners are doing the extra work that ensures their success while others don’t have the desire or ambition to do so. That is fine, but is it fine for adults to take away that skillset or desire from those that do? No.

Teachers, administration and parents that are against homework are making choices that will affect their students’ lives. It’s always been easier to temper back than to add on. That’s normal. Now in a world in which automation is the next frontier for capitalism and capitalism cares not about the worker, automation is a win. It removes the biggest cost to any employer, salaries. 

Soon, the taxi fleet owner will own more cars because he or she will not have to pay drivers. From doctors to chefs, the world’s wealth will be controlled by few. Those who see this are clearly doing more work to ensure their own survival and success at many levels.

Back to the number eight billion. Anyone who denies that automation will end many jobs is blind. That’s a futuristic fact. So the question is who will work and that is simple. The most qualified and those who have the most ability just like running, just like the NBA. Not everyone gets to play or stand on the starting line but those that arrive as an equal participant to their global peers daily have a better chance.

Students in China, India and all over Asia complain little about finishing assignments at home or catching up on work they missed when not in school because they are taught at an early age to value education and its future benefits. Those who think contrary are unwilling to see that most jobs will be done from computers by remote workers who are capable of the task as opposed to someone who is in person and there. That means that homework is in fact important. 

Education is a competition against one’s self to have a better future. Today, it is also a competition against a qualifying time that is measured by employers globally just like BM. Without the right numbers, students who will someday be adults will be overlooked and unable to arrive at the starting line because so many others will have better numbers that are measurable and quantifiable. Homework is one piece of the puzzle directed to help users arrive well prepared at the starting lines of life.

Is all homework meaningful? Absolutely not. Much of it is a waste of time and busywork created by lazy teachers but some is not. Is asking an actor to memorize lines or a musician to practice scales wrong? There are lots of things wrong with the state of education. That’s for sure. Homework that ensures all students are at the same starting line day to day is not one of them.


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