If We Can’t Eliminate Homework, Can We at Least Rebrand It?

Do I even need to say it? Do I even need to talk about all the research that suggests homework — especially on the elementary-school level — doesn’t “extend learning,” but just stresses out our already stressed-out kids even more? Is there anyone who wants to argue that a stopwatch and a math worksheet count as quality family time?

Now, I feel lucky that my second grader has a teacher who has made it clear that homework should not come at the expense of sleep or mental health. But this was STILL the conversation I had with my son this morning:

Leo, waking up, distressed: Mommy! Can you come up here?

Me: What’s the matter?

Leo: My stomach hurts. I don’t think I can go to school today.

Me: Well, let’s have some breakfast and then see how you feel.

Leo: No! It’s too late and I didn’t do my Rocket Math.

Me, getting the real problem: F*&@ Rocket Math.

Okay, I didn’t really say that. But I am already preparing myself for the toll homework is going to take on our kids and our family life. What’s the solution? Don’t ask me. I’m a copywriter, not an educator. But as a copywriter I can tell you that the term “homework” isn’t helping. In fact, I think it’s a big part of the problem.

Let’s break it down: Homework. Home. Work. Work you do at home. Work you do at home?

Now I know that sometimes we all have some work to catch up on at night. But as a regular thing? That doesn’t feel like a healthy habit we want to model for our kids. However, it’s exactly what we’re asking them to do — every single night, often after a long sports practice. (Insert rant about organized sports teams that treat children like professional athletes.)

It’s probably fair to say that homework, in its current form, isn’t teaching kids healthy work habits as much as it’s teaching them an unhealthy work-life balance. One we wouldn’t tolerate ourselves (if we’re lucky enough to have the choice).

So how can a “rebrand” help … and what does that even mean?

In the marketing world, a “rebrand” is a way for an established brand (in this case, “homework”) to develop a new identity in the hearts and minds of its audience (e.g. parents, teachers, students, policymakers). And why do companies rebrand? Two reasons:

  1. The current brand has a bad image: Think “Kentucky Fried Chicken” rebranding to “KFC” when everyone was freaking out about cholesterol.
  1. They’ve got something new to say: Think “Dunkin’ Donuts” becoming “Dunkin” and replacing their donut-dipping logo with a simple DD upon introducing their breakfast sandwiches and bagels.

Rebranding is an opportunity for organizations to think about what they want to convey with their brand. You start with a basic question: “What are we saying now?” So as a brand, what feelings is homework currently evoking? I did a quick poll on Facebook:

  • Dread
  • Procrastination
  • Evelyn, 9, angry, stressed, annoyed
  • Anxiety
  • Dread and anxiety
  • Sleep depravation
  • Useless as a learning tool
  • As a school administrator and educator, I am firmly against homework

If “homework” were a real brand, it would be in the midst of a PR crisis.

Rebranding would force us to ask the hard questions, starting with, “What purpose are we serving?” In this exercise, we wouldn’t just take it as a given that kids are supposed to do school work after school. We might also ask:

  • What are we doing that’s working, and what’s not?
  • What has to change?
  • How do we WANT people to feel about “homework”?

And as we dug deeper, we might find that the point of homework is not to coach your child on their nines tables, but to connect with them, to check in: What are they struggling with? What are they enjoying?

And if we were to sum up our findings, it might be that homework is a tool to help bridge the gap between home and school. To help parents connect with their kids and play an active role in their education.

A name that might get thrown around would be “connections,” or “bridge,” or even something that would make most people in the room cringe, like “teach-me time.” But “Yes!” we would say, “The idea is there. More sharing, fewer angry late-night trips to CVS for poster board. You’re on to something. Keep thinking!”

So let’s do this. Let’s get thinking. What does this look like? What is this rebranded term, and how does it inform the new way we want to engage with our kids when it comes to their education?

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