In-depth Book Review – Homework: The Rules of the Game by Robert Needlman
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Homework: The Rules of the Game by Robert Needlman

Homework is war and war is hell. That about sums up trying to get a child to do their homework late on a Sunday night. Robert Needlman, PhD, discusses how we’ve been approaching homework all wrong over the years. He discusses how many of the benefits of homework are actually lost because of the way we attempt to force children to do it, and perhaps through our own views of homework.

In this review, we will look at some of his main points and whether Mr Needlman is really bringing something new that could change the way we approach homework.

The Basic Premise

Needlman begins the book by setting the foundations for what we’re going to be discussing. He tells us pretty much exactly what we already know from the beginning. His descriptions on why teachers set homework don’t appear to have much relevance in the beginning, but they’re wonderful for comparison work later on.

What stands out in the beginning of the book is this quote, “Homework may be designed to reinforce what students have already learned.”

In other words, homework is designed for us to relearn what we’ve just been taught. It allows us to remember better. And he supports this with standardised scores from the United States that clearly demonstrate those who do homework are more prone to scoring higher.

Homework Timings

He also addresses the age old debate over how much homework is too much homework. We’re conclusively introduced to the idea that there are limits, but these limits are unknown. Bringing up sources, Needlman clearly illustrates why he believes there’s such a thing as too much homework.

Homework can squeeze out vital hobbies, such as sports and being able to spend time with friends. What makes this section stand out is he doesn’t stick exclusively to dry statistics on what scientists have seen. He offers practical comparisons that parents can relate to.

For example, he later discusses how important it is to get on the side of the teacher and discuss your child’s limits. This is real practical advice that takes this book away from academic circles and puts it in the hands of normal people.

The Importance of Working with the Teacher

A significant part of this book has been dedicated to working with the teacher, rather than against them. Parents too often see homework as a war and that they should be on the side of their child. The reasons for this are a debate for another time, but Needlman makes the point that homework is far more effective when the teacher and the parent work together.

This is where he starts to break new ground. He’s not taking homework in isolation. The author investigates other factors that can diminish the positive benefits of homework.

Some people might say that much of what he is saying involves stating the obvious, but this isn’t the case at all. A lot of parents miss out tips like telling the teacher about how the child is finding the work difficult because it’s so basic and obvious. These simple points need to be reaffirmed before discussing some of the advanced academic reasoning.

What Does the Reader Learn from Homework: The Rules of the Game?

When reading any book, it’s critical that the reader takes something out of it. Needlman doesn’t pretend that he’s revealed some grand truths that nobody has ever considered before. He largely talks about many of the points academics will already know about.

His greatest strength is in the foundations he builds for further discussion about this controversial subject. In particular, he forces us to look at whether what we’re doing is counterproductive to our children’s success.

Let’s go back to the point on telling the teacher when the work is too difficult. A lot of parents would rather argue with the teacher about the appropriateness of the homework or simply do it on behalf of their struggling children. Neither option will lead to a pupil becoming a better student. On the contrary, both options will likely ruin their potential.

Although he hasn’t provided answers to these new points he’s raised, this work forces the reader to think. The reader will have learned something and will have scope for further research, if they so desire.


Overall, Homework: The Rules of the Game is a book that can appeal to both academics and parents looking to research the concept of homework. It’s a book that doesn’t confine itself to much of the intellectual snobbery that puts parents off taking charge of their own destinies.

The only real criticism is he perhaps doesn’t go far enough in his discussions. He encourages the reader to do too much of the work, which not everyone would be willing to do. By leaving so much room for further research, he’s left holes that should have been covered in the book.

For example, his discussion about children losing their concentration at home doesn’t fully explore all the reasons surrounding it.

Despite the occasional shortcoming, Robert Needlman’s Homework: The Rules of the Game has raised some important points and will provide real value to anyone who decides to read it.