Homework is not illegal in the United States.
But from a legal standpoint, it is a really fun argument to make!
In this article, we’ll cover some points that you could use for or against the question of the legality of homework, whether you are the student, parent, or teacher in this debate.
Is Homework Illegal? (FOR and AGAINST)
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Legal vs Illegal vs Unconstitutional
To make the argument that something (like homework) is illegal, there needs to be a law or statute or case precedent or SOMETHING that is the basis for the alleged illegality.
People have argued that homework is illegal because it counts as a form of “slavery.”
And since “slavery” was abolished by an amendment to the constitution, it is therefore “illegal.”
This argument fails.
It is illegal to restrict/control with force the movement/life of other individuals if you do not have authority to do so (as parents do with their minor children).
It is illegal to commit the other acts slavery is well known for (assault, harassment, and more).
And the individual statutes (state and federal) addressing those specific acts are the basis for the conclusion that something is “illegal” and “legal.”
Not everything that would be unconstitutional (or goes against the stated words in the constitution) would be considered illegal, and vice versa.
Instead, if you were going to make the argument that homework was illegal, you’d be better off consulting the various statutes that make certain conduct illegal.
Let’s accept that homework is an act, and that the victims do not want to commit or engage in this act, and the victims (students) only do the act because of the threat of some other result (punishments, consequences, etc).
Perhaps then you could argue that forcing kids to do homework is an illegal act, assuming that the threats of consequences are coming from an individual or entity that does not have legal authority to provide the threatened punishments, or those punishments are themselves illegal.
Sounds a lot like the crime of coercion, doesn’t it?
If you want to argue that homework is illegal, look for a statute like coercion to support your argument.
And if you want to use the 13th amendment in support of your case against homework, argue that homework is “unconstitutional” rather than “illegal.”
But if you want to argue more about the constitution, you could argue that homework infringes the rights contained in the 14th amendment to the constitution which present the state from depriving any person life, liberty, or property.
Children under the age of 18 surely qualify as “any person.” And they have a right to “liberty” which homework surely infringes.
Consent As The School’s Defense
One of the arguments that homework is illegal or constitutes slavery is that the children do not want to do the homework.
They are being made to do it.
They did not agree to do the homework.
But here’s the thing.
People under the age of 18 in the United States cannot make most decisions for themselves.
While the children may be in school against their will, and the homework is against their will, their parents or legal guardians have consented.
The parents have agreed on the children’s behalf to the homework.
Thus, technically, because the parents have voluntarily sent their children to the school, the parents have voluntarily consented to the homework, and the consequences of not doing the homework.
The child might not consent to the homework, but in the end, the parents have given their agreement.
The parents take the children to the school.
No one is pointing weapons at them to make them.
The parents sign their names to forms.
No weapons there either.
And since a crime like coercion requires that the act (the homework) be an act against the will or interest of the victim, a case cannot succeed because the will of the parents is substituted for the will of the child.
Arguing That Parents Did Not Consent
We just talked about how a debater could argue that homework is not illegal or against the will of the child because the parent’s will is substituted for the child’s will.
But what is the consent of the parent was not voluntary?
What if the parent was coerced to send their child to school, or to the homework?
What is sending their kids to school (and to do homework) was involuntary?
In most states, there are laws covering the attendance of children at school.
Absent an exclusion or a valid reason to opt out (like homeschool), a parent could face criminal prosecution if he/she does not send a child to school.
Think of what it means to make a voluntary decision.
It involves a lot of free will, and no pressure or undue influence.
If the school were to argue that the parents consented for the children to school (and then the homework), the argument against the consent is that the parents cannot voluntarily consent to the homework.
Parents are under the threat of fines and jail time.
Their consent is being obtained essentially by force.
A weapon of a different kind.
After all, a parent who goes to jail might lose his job, his driver’s license, or maybe even custody of his children.
A parent who goes to jail might lose his right to vote, or his position/status in society.
A person cannot consent at the business end of a weapon.
State Laws Do Not Compel Homework, Just Attendance
Another fun wrinkle in this argument, especially as we get down into whether parents have consented or can consent to homework, is whether the applicable laws have any impact on homework.
A student is not lawfully required to do homework.
If you look at the laws about education, there are laws about parents sending their kids to school.
There are laws about kids actually going to school.
But are there any laws that require children to complete the homework.
I mean, doing homework is important to getting a good grade.
But aside from showing up at school (and not hurting or disrupting others), can schools actually make children do homework?
Schools can implement consequences for failing to turn in homework.
But they can’t physically punish a child (like hitting him, in most cases), or prevent him from eating or drinking while at school.
And once the child is at home with his homework, he is subject to the will of his parents or legal guardians.
Browse our free legal library guides for more information.
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