Today is National No Homework Day, a chance for students to take a break from the academic grind.

And the reason there’s a grind from which to take a break… is the Cold War.

There’s actually a history of homework in the US.

In the 19th century, kids who were in class all day would often come home and recite the same lessons they’d practiced in school.

But by the end of that century, psychology and child development had become important fields of study.

People in those disciplines thought that the traditional school model of memorizing and reciting was bad for kids.

So parents led a whole no-homework movement, with students no doubt cheering them on.

In 1901, lawmakers in California actually outlawed homework for kids age 14 and below!

So what happened to turn the homework tide in the US back in the other direction?


In the 1950s, the Soviet Union launched the first artificial satellite into orbit, and Americans worried their kids were falling behind.

Congress passed a billion dollar law, the National Defense Education Act, to boost learning in all the fields that would put US education ahead of the Communist bloc.

And part of the new model of learning was taking work home at night.

Homework was back.

All that homework people my age did in school helped keep us from falling behind the Iron Curtain!

We’ve seen that cycle repeat a few times since, but whatever your feeling about homework, don’t forget today is National No Homework Day.

So take a break today, and if you want to, hit the books again tomorrow.

This weekend in North Carolina, the Smithfield Ham and Yam Festival.

One of the highlights is the contest called “What’s That Yam Thing,” where kids make art out of sweet potatoes.

It sure beats a night of homework.

How the Cold War Space Race Led to U.S. Students Doing Tons of Homework (

Ham and Yam Festival

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Photo by Catherine via Flickr/Creative Commons