Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Hurry Up or You'll Get Left Behind in Kindergarten!

Oh please. My husband brought home the Wall Street Journal just so he could rile me up. He subscribed so he can read it on the train on the way to work and it usually does not make the return trip. Not today's paper, though, the possibility of an entertaining dinner hour was too tempting for him. Preschoolers' Prep made the front page of the Marketplace section today -- below the fold, but the color picture is in the center of the page, so maybe it counts as above the fold -- across the fold?

Hmmm...seems the WSJ is not feeling generous enough to make this gem available in the free part of its website. No bother, I'll summarize for you. The article discusses the growth of various tutoring and learning centers as parents fret about whether their kids have learned enough to succeed in kindergarten.

What the article neglects to mention is whether and what preschools these children have attended. Its moot to me but suggests a certain deficiency in reporting for not addressing the obvious question of whether it was the preschool that failed or the child. Opps -- there was one mention of preschool. The mother of a 4-year-old and a high-school English teacher who panicked when her son's preschool teacher reported that he couldn't write his name, identify his letters, count to 30 or wield scissors. Not that I think any of these things are panick-worthy, what I want to know is how could she not know the skill level of her child? She's a teacher and doesn't know what her own child can and cannot do? Sorry, but I can't help but read a bit of commentary into the quality of the education system itself given that she's a teacher.

Anyway, the part that chaps me is when the article gets around to presenting the "opposing view." You know, those oafs who don't care enough about their kids (or themselves, really) to pressure them to excellence; those losers who can't fork out $45 an hour for tutoring in basic skills; those idiots who couldn't possibly review colors, letters and numbers with their children themselves. They trot out David Elkind, a professor of child development, "whose books lament that children no longer have time to play." What, no column space for the titles after including important quotes like PR fluff from Sylvan and Kaplan?

I'll help you out, WSJ, Elkind is the author of Miseducation: Preschoolers at Risk and The Hurried Child , among others-- and no, these books don't help sell tutoring services. Also, his point is not that kids should be sitting around 'playing' all day (the horror!), its that overcompetitive parents may actually be harming their kids when they pressure and overschedule them and don't leave them time to play, think, and dream. Maybe a 30- or 40-something has the time, understanding, and money to put into therapy but they should lay off their kids.

Honestly, the kids will learn to read, but maybe not early enough for you to brag about it to all your friends. They will learn their colors and letters and numbers -- but they may not be doing it aloud at age 2 so that you can feel proud in the grocery store or other public venue.

Elkind points out (I believe, I've only read Miseducation and that was a couple of years ago) that while you may not be able to prove that the parents are harming their children by pressuring them, they are risking it for no reason at all. Early learning and achievement are not accurate barometers of future success. The kid may go on to do wonderful things, but might have done them anyway without the pressure. Maybe they could have enjoyed their childhoods more and the parent could have enjoyed the child more without all the worrying and stress. Maybe for some kids the pressure actually prevents them from achieving their potential -- that’s the real horror and Elkind says its pointless to risk it.

Am I getting Elkind wrong? Maybe, read him for yourself, but don't dismiss him as some wacko who thinks kids should play all day -- he's got reasons for saying what he does. He's not anti-education or anti-school, he just wonders what the rush is all about.

I'm the wacko who says let the kids play all day.


Kristen said...

I agree with you completely.

I subscribe to the WSJ on-line (for research purposes for work). I can email you the text of the article, if you'd like.

I was floored by that article. I just don't get it.

I want my kids to learn how to love reading. and to love learning. Pushing the flashcards at the age of 4 seems a bit counterproductive.

Marjorie said...

Thanks, Kristen. At times, I really try not to be judgmental, I just got really irked by the characterization of 'the other side.' I can understand that some parents are really trying to do their best for their kids by using these services, but the article just gave me the willies that it was going to be some kind of trend that all caring, affluent parents must use these services. There are other ways and other opinions.

Elkind's quote that "this rote kind of stuff is disgusting" put me off -- not what he said, but that this was one of two tiny quotes they gave him. It didn't sound informed, it sounded emotional and irrational. I just wanted to point out that Elkind's views are informed and rational.

Anne Zelenka said...

Hey Marjorie, I saw that article too and thought about blogging about it. You were admirably restrained in your response--I don't think I could have been, because I found the whole premise so maddening.

This is what I've been thinking is behind the "epidemic" of developmental disorders, this pushing of achievement above anything else. And at such young ages.

I know I've been guilty of it myself too. I blame it on the culture.

It was quite annoying they didn't do justice to Elkind's views. But it's the WSJ's pattern to take some extreme approach to raising your family and make it seem like that's what everyone is doing.

Marjorie said...

Thanks, Anne. I think you should do a post on 'developmental disorders.' I think it would generate an interesting discussion.