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By Chris Colin
Some kids struggle with homework because it's too difficult. Others worry too much about whether their answers are perfect. For Sarah Wallach, a 16-year-old sophomore at a small parochial school in New York, the problem is more straightforward: She thinks homework is a waste of time.
"What's the point of homework? I go to school — that's when I do my learning. After school I don't feel like doing it," Sarah says. "I don't see why it should matter. If I have a question about something we learned, I can ask the next day in class."
Her teachers don't see it that way, however. Sarah is failing the classes that assign homework, and her mother is at her wit's end.
"She just doesn't feel it's important, so she either forgets it or puts it off and doesn't do it," Wendy Wallach says. "I've tried everything from rewards to taking her computer and TV and phone away. I have her in a special class that offers one-on-one help. I've gotten mad, I've cried — nothing seems to improve the situation."
Even more confounding, her mother says, is that nothing suggests a deeper problem is present: Sarah doesn't exhibit behavioral problems at school, she doesn't drink or do drugs, she isn't depressed, and tests don't indicate any learning disabilities.
"There's no reason she shouldn't be doing her work, that we can see. Absent the homework thing, she's a good teenager," Wallach explains.
For her part, Sarah says a lack of free time is an issue. She has a long school day, followed by an extremely long commute home — though she concedes her disdain for homework preceded the commute. When she gets home, she says she'd rather watch TV, rest, hang out on Facebook, snack, and so on. When she does tackle her homework, it tends to take a lot of time, she gets overwhelmed, and the next day she falls asleep in her classes.
Regarding those classes, Sarah isn't particularly enthusiastic — except for astronomy. She loves her astronomy class and is endlessly fascinated by solar systems. Coincidentally, she says, her astronomy teacher assigns no homework. Asked whether she might consider a career in the field, and therefore be compelled to do better in school, she demurs:
"You have to do math to be a real astronomer. I don't do math."