Updated:Aug 13, 2019Original:Aug 13, 2019How the Cold War space Race resulted in U.S. Students Doing tons of Homework
After a period of shunning homework in ~ the revolve of the 20th century, the Soviet Union"s start of Sputnik 1 spurred an urgent U.S. Focus on schoolchildren"s workloads.

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After a duration of shunning homework at the turn of the 20th century, the Soviet Union"s start of Sputnik 1 spurred an immediate U.S. Focus on schoolchildren"s workloads.

Middle-schoolers who trudge home each day v a 50-pound backpack and also hours that homework would certainly have had an much easier time in 1901. That’s once the anti-homework motion was at its peak and the state of California in reality banned every homework because that grades below high school.

From the late 19th century with the good Depression, homework to be a popular punching bag of the progressive education and learning movement, a “child-centered” approach championed by psychologist and also reformer man Dewey. Not only was homework a garbage of time, progressive educators believed, however it to be detrimental come children’s health. 

By 1948, only 8 percent of American high college students reported studying for two or much more hours each night. Homework might have continued to be in the educational doghouse if not for the arrival of the Cold War, and also specifically, the Soviet Union’s start of Sputnik in 1957.


Soviet technician working on Sputnik 1, circa 1957. 

Sovfoto/Universal pictures Group/Getty Images

To the fear of many Americans, the room Race to be being won by communist researchers from the Soviet Union.

“This elicited widespread fear that we were gift undone by ours schools,” claims Steven Schlossman, a chronicler at Carnegie Mellon University. “How could it be that the Soviets had obtained there faster? They need to have far better schools that space training their children to become scientists top top a greater level. America now had to integrate schools into our thinking around national defense policy.”

As far as education and learning was concerned, there was plenty of inventory to do. About the late 19th century, through the arrival of tide of immigrants, officials had begun shifting public education policies to best serve the rapidly an altering face that America.

Until then, Schlossman says many schoolwork revolved about drill, memorization and also recitation. Youngsters were meant to “say their lessons,” which intended memorizing lengthy passages of yellowcomic.com texts and poetry, drilling mathematics problems, and also reciting it all the end loud in class. Every one of that memorization and also recitation meant hrs of practice at residence every night. Yet as America and its student became an ext diverse, the rigidity that rote memorization seemed insufficient.

If schools were going to market equal education methods for every students, they essential to execute it scientifically, and also the top educational minds of the day were fascinated with the emerging fields the psychology and child development.


Board members for the national Congress that Mothers, one organization committed to the education and also welfare of kids formed in ~ the end of the 19th century.

Library of Congress/Corbis/VCG/Getty Images

Progressive's Push against Homework

Popular turn-of-the-century women’s magazines prefer The Ladies house Journal released studies mirroring that drilling of spelling indigenous didn’t boost children’s all at once spelling ability, and also its editors promoted an ext “natural” trends of boy learning and also growth. These new ideas about what’s finest for kids’ education were choose up by institutions like the national Congress the Mothers, a group developed in 1897 the would end up being the national Parent teachers Association (PTA).

It didn’t take lengthy for this significantly vocal activity of son psychologists and also concerned moms to determine public enemy number one.

“The an initial thing that had to be adjusted in schooling was this old-fashioned way of doing homework, which was antithetical come children’s natural development qualities,” claims Schlossman. “Homework take it on a broader symbolic definition for ‘out with the old and also in through the new.’”

That’s why the California legislature poll in 1901 come abolish every homework because that students 14 and also younger, a move followed by dozens of huge cities and also school districts across the country.

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The anti-homework discussion of the progressive education and learning movement further competed that hrs of homework robbed children of out play, considered essential to healthy physical and also emotional development.

“For the elementary school child and also the small high college child,” break up a 1930s study, homework to be nothing much less than “legalized criminality.” The American Child health Association corresponded homework with son labor in 1930, claiming that both techniques were “chief causes of the high death and morbidity prices from tuberculosis and also heart disease among adolescents.”