Who Invented Homework?

Roberto Nevilis invented homework in the year 1095 in Venice after being disappointed in his students. Roberto Nevilis began to give homework in order to help the students learn and master the material he was teaching in Italy.

Anyone who has ever been a student has also wonder who invented homework. Indeed, we may all at one point or another yelled out that question in frustration. In such instances, the question is usually rhetorical, but who actually invented homework?

“A genius is a talented person who does his homework.” — Thomas Edison

Like most things we take for granted and hardly ever question, homework is not something natural or the inevitable part of life that it has become over the years. There was a time when the concept did just not exist.

Most people see homework as both an essential and inevitable part of education. But that was not always like that.

The Inventor of Homework

Homework, as we understand it today, goes as far back as 1095. Venetian educator Roberto Nevilis gets the credit for introducing homework as part of education. It seems likely, however that homework was used even before Nevilis’s time. The reason why Nevilis gets the credit is that he is the earliest example that there is evidence of.

It is safe to say that homework began at the same moment that formal education was introduced. It must be noted that until historically recently formal education was not something that most people had access to.

Indeed, at the time when Roberto Nevilis was giving his students homework, only the children of wealthy parents (or, indeed, wealthy adults themselves). As formal educations spread across nations and through people who belonged to different social classes, so did homework.

Homework in the USA

You may be wondering how something like homework, that originated in the 11th century Venice came to be a part of everyday life for teachers and students alike in the United States.

The answer is that homework only became part of the US educational system in the 20th century.

“I like a teacher who gives you something to go home and think about besides homework.” — Lily Tomlin

But the introduction of homework was gradual and with some pains associated with it. Until the turn of the 20th century, not just homework but education, in general, had a very bad press in America.

Although this may seem incredible to us from a 21st-century perspective, education was not very highly valued by most people until well into the 20th century. In order to understand this, you have to think about how society and the economy worked for most of America’s history. Children were needed at home or at work because they helped )and were expected to help) support their families as much as adults did. Remember that we do not get the concept of teenagers until, at least, the 1950s. Before that, the distance between childhood and adulthood was a lot shorter than it is now, and there was no in-between transitional period between the two.

In fact, children were expected to work (at home and elsewhere) as soon as they had enough strengths. This was not the case just in America but also in Canada, Latin America, Europe and many other parts of the world at the time. Shocking as it may seem to us, what we now consider child labor was actually the norm not that long ago. The exception to this was, of course, the children of wealthy parents.

But this started to change in the USA and in other countries in the 20th century.

Even when kids had some form of schooling in the 20th century, still homework was not usually given to them as to not interfere with their home activities. In California, for instance, homework was abolished in 1901 by the State legislature.

When Did Attitudes to Homework Begin To Change?  

It was not the introduction of schooling in the 20th century that change negative attitudes toward homework.

It would not be until after World War II that people’s attitudes toward homework slowly began to change. And you can thank (or blame) the Cold War for.

“I feel sorry for kids these days. They get so much homework. Remember the days when we put a belt around our two books and carried them home? Now they’re dragging a suitcase. They have school all day, then homework from six until eleven. There’s no time left to be creative.” — Tom Petty

The Cold War is the name by which we refer to a long period of political hostility between the capitalistic Western (led by the United States) and the socialist Eastern bloc (led by the USSR) that lasted between the end of World War II and 1990.

The Cold War was an era characterized by a profound mistrust between the United States and the Soviet Union. Both global superpowers sought to assert their influence in other parts of the world and constantly competed in areas such as science, sport, technology, etc. Each wanted to prove that their model for the economy and society was superior to the other.

You may be wondering what that could possibly have to do with homework. The Cold War increased the need for scientists in the United States. So, a renewed emphasis was placed on education (particularly, higher education) and in science and related subjects. The USSR had made huge advances in education and in the USA, it felt that keeping up was the way forward. Studying hard and using homework became part of the educational ideals in America.

This has had a lasting impact because, by the end of the Cold War period in 1990, homework had become such an important part of the educational experience in the US that most people considered it part and parcel of education.

But, how effective is homework? There are studies pointing in different directions. While some of them make claims about the effectiveness of homework, others actually advise against it.

“Homework should never replace a teaching opportunity in the classroom.” — Doug Yakich

Having said all that, there is a clear trend to increase the amount of homework particularly young children need to do. Some studies even talk about homework more than doubling in the last 30 years or so.

The time that needs to be devoted to completing daily homework can be as much as 90 minutes to 2 hours, which some studies actually considered detrimental to learning.

Whoever invented homework probably did not have that much time in mind!