Who Invented Homework and Why

Ever wonder who invented homework and why they would ever do such a terrible thing? Let's have a look at the fascinating history of homework.
Allan T
6
min read
Oct 21, 2021
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Who Created Homework?

Does it seem fair that you go to school for over 7 hours a day and then have to come back home and spend more time on schoolwork? On the other hand, does it seem fair that a kid in an Asian country who spends more than 8 hours a day at school and then six hours after that on homework eventually gets a job that will pay less than the job you will get? In today's globalized and highly competitive world it is difficult to clearly state the importance of homework. Current research shows that homework tends to have significant negative effects on the mental and physical health of students, but it also helps with learning and getting better jobs. 


Homework may seem like something that has existed forever, but the history of homework isn't as straightforward as you may think. In this article, we will show who invented homework, when was homework invented, and analyze the state of homework today.

Who Invented Homework and When?

It might be impossible to answer when was homework invented. A simpler question to ask is ‘what exactly is homework?’. If you define it as work assigned to do outside of a formal educational setup, then homework might be as old as humanity itself. When most of what people studied were crafts and skills, practicing them outside of dedicated learning times may as well have been considered homework. Let’s look at a few people who have been credited with formalizing homework over the past few thousand years. 

Roberto Nevilis

A common internet fact is that Roberto Nevilis was one of the first people to properly assign homework in the year 1095. He was an Italian pedagogue living in Venice who allegedly assigned homework as a punishment to lackluster students. In 1095, education and formal schooling, especially in Europe, was reserved for the noble classes and the wealthy. It would have been impossible for him to have been the creator of homework in the modern sense.  Looking deeper, no reputable website or source actually confirms Robert Nevilis as the creator of homework, rather it’s just one of those stories that the internet liked. 

Pliny the Younger

Another culprit according to the internet lived a thousand years before Roberto Nevilis. Pliny the Younger was an oratory teacher in the first century AD in the Roman Empire. He apparently asked his students to practice their oratory skills at home, which some people consider one of the first official versions of homework. It is difficult to say with any certainty if this is the first time homework was assigned though because the idea of asking students to practice something outside classes probably existed in every human civilization for millennia. 

Horace Mann

To answer the question of who invented homework and why, at least in the modern sense, we have to talk about Horace Mann. Horace Mann was an American educator and politician in the 19th century who was heavily influenced by movements in the newly-formed German state. He is credited for bringing massive educational reform to America, and can definitely be considered the father of modern homework in the United States. However, his ideas were heavily influenced by the founding father of German nationalism Johann Gottlieb Fichte. 


After the defeat of Napoleon and the liberation of Prussia in 1814, citizens went back to their own lives, there was no sense of national pride or German identity. Johann Gottlieb Fichte came up with the idea of Volkschule, a mandatory 9-year educational system provided by the government to combat this. Homework already existed in Germany at this point in time but it became a requirement in Volkschule. Fichte wasn't motivated purely by educational reform, he wanted to demonstrate the positive impact and power of a centralized government, and assigning homework was a way of showing the state's power to influence personal and public life. This effort to make citizens more patriotic worked and the system of education and homework slowly spread through Europe.


Horace Mann saw the system at work during a trip to Prussia in the 1840s and brought many of the concepts to America, including homework.   

Who Invented Homework and Why?

Now that we understand a little bit about the complicated history of homework, it's easy to see that homework meant different things at different points of time in history and had different goals and objectives. The objectives of homework have evolved over the past 200 years but now are basically the following.


  • Studies have shown that repetition is one of the key elements of long-term retention.  One of the goals of homework is to make students repeat information they have learned in class so that it stays in their memory. 
  • Homework also gives students a chance to connect things they have learned in class to an out-of-school setting which also helps improve memory.
  • Homework is an opportunity for students and teachers to recognize individual weaknesses and devote more time to overcome them.
  • Homework allows students to work at their own pace without the constraints of being surrounded by others in a classroom.
  • Homework creates a continual stream of learning so that students don't see each school day as an individual unit but learning as a continuous process.
  • Without memorizing the fundamentals of a subject it is almost impossible to truly understand or master it. Homework allows teachers to best use in-class time by helping students expand their understanding rather than drilling fundamentals.
  • Subjects like mathematics and some sciences require a lot of repetition to internalize processes, homework is essential for these kinds of subjects. 
  • Homework teaches students responsibility. They have to determine their own schedules to ensure that they get their homework done on time.
  • Homework is an opportunity for students to practice their research skills by gathering information from a variety of sources.
  • Homework allows students to be creative because they are not limited by the classroom setting


With all these benefits it seems obvious that homework is important, but the history of homework in the 20th century is complicated. 

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Who Invented Homework: Development in the 1900s

Thanks to Horace Mann, homework had become widespread in the American schooling system by 1900, but it wasn't universally popular amongst either students or parents. 

The early 1900s homework bans

In 1901, California became the first state to ban homework. Since homework had made its way into the American educational system there had always been people who were against it for some surprising reasons. Back then, children were expected to help on farms and family businesses, so homework was unpopular amongst parents who expected their children to help out at home. Many students also dropped out of school early because they found homework tedious and difficult. Publications like Ladies' Home Journal and The New York Times printed statements and articles about the detrimental effects of homework on children's health. 

The 1930 child labor laws

The industrial revolution brought about child labor laws for the first time in American history.  These laws stipulated how many hours a week children were allowed to work. The argument was made that homework counts as child labor and therefore exceeded the number of hours they were allowed to work. Interestingly though, these laws did not include things like helping on the farm or other domestic chores within the legal hours per week.

Progressive reforms of the 1940s and 50s

With more research into education, psychology and memory, the importance of education became clear. Homework was understood as an important part of education and it evolved to become more useful and interesting to students. 

Homework during the Cold War

Competition with the Soviet Union fueled many aspects of American life and politics. In a post-nuclear world, the importance of Science and Technology was evident. The government believed that students had to be well-educated to compete with Soviet education systems. This is the time when homework became formalized, accepted, and a fundamental part of the American educational system. 

1980s Nation at Risk

In 1983 the National Commission on Excellence in Education published Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform, a report about the poor condition of education in America.  Still in the Cold War, this motivated the government in 1986 to talk about the benefits of homework in a pamphlet called “What Works” which highlighted the importance of homework. 

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Who Invented Homework: The Modern Homework Debate

Since the end of the Cold War in 1991 homework has been an integral part of education systems in most countries around the world, but the debate that had been raging for a hundred years has not ended. The importance of homework and the effects it has on students is one of the most challenging topics in modern education. Let's have a peek at this debate by looking at the pros and cons of homework.


Pros

  • Homework has been shown to improve memory and retention of important information if it is directly connected to in-class learning
  • Homework teaches students time management skills, the importance of self-learning, and other skills that are beneficial in their academic careers and in life
  • Homework allows teachers to evaluate students’ particular strengths and weaknesses and therefore tailor their approach to each student
  • In a positive home environment, homework brings parents and children together
  • Homework allows a student to work at their own pace and find creative ways of finding solutions


 Cons

  • Homework adds a lot of stress to a student's life, especially when large amounts of homework are assigned, leading to anxiety and other mental hardships
  • Excessive amounts of homework stop children from exploring important leisure activities  like sports, art, and other creative pursuits
  • Homework is not always effective. Studies have shown that the impact of homework on Primary School students is negligible and may in fact be detrimental. The type of homework assigned is also important to enforce learning, with the wrong or excessive homework demotivating students
  • Excessive homework can lead to a variety of ill effects like sleep deprivation, cheating, sedentary lifestyles, headaches, fatigue, and more 


When was homework invented? Homework has been bothering students for thousands of years and has been reinvented several times for a variety of reasons including as a punishment and for political reasons. Who created homework? Several people throughout history can be credited with inventing homework but it is probably most accurate to say that it was Horace Mann who introduced homework to the United States. Homework is evolving because though it has proven benefits it also negatively impacts the mental health of young people. It's possible that in the future if somebody asks the question ‘who invented homework?’ the answer will be somebody from our time because the idea of homework will be reinvented yet again. 


Like the history of homework, homework itself can be complicated. Whether it's because teachers assign too much, or because some subjects are just difficult to master, sometimes everyone needs a little help. Check out Studyfy! No matter the level of difficulty or the subject, Studyfy has experts in every educational field who are eager to help you learn.