Thursday, September 3, 2009

Earlier is NOT Better

The Boston Globe ran a great article the other day, detailing the ways earlier formal academic instruction is hurting our children. From the article:

"There is a growing disconnect between what the research says is best for children -- a classroom free of pressure -- and what’s actually going on in schools."

This is a problem, I'm far as I'm concerned. We know, through years and years of research and anecdotal experience, how children learn best. Young children learn through play and experimentation, and boys in particular need movement and hands-on activities. Yet our schools don't reflect that reality. No wonder so many boys are struggling!

The best part of the article is that it includes voices of experienced and retired teachers. Check this out:

"Roz Brezenoff taught kindergarten in the Boston Public Schools for 36 years, retiring five years ago. 'I have heard stories of kids having what they call psychotic breakdowns in kindergarten, kids who are distressed because they are ‘kindergarten failures’ because they can’t read and they can’t write,' she says."

Is this how we want to start children off? Stressed out, anxious and labeled? Seems to me that getting children excited about learning by building on their natural curiousity would be a better way to go.

The problem is, no one knows what natural development looks like anymore. American children are hurried from the womb: rushed out via C-section or induction before their time, placed in daycare by six weeks and in academically-styled preschools by age 3.

Few people know the wonder of watching a child pick up a pen or pencil and trace letters from the cover of a book, just because -- because few children have the opportunity to come to letters and writing on their own. Far more children are taught to trace letters in a book at a predetermined time.

And that is why I believe homeschoolers have a lot to say about education. We may not have all the answers -- no one does -- but homeschoolers are some of the last hold-outs against our earlier-is-better culture. Many homeschoolers have consciously chosen to slow down, and many of us can attest to the value of waiting.

Not that I think the Department of Education is going to be knocking on our doors anytime soon, asking for our collective wisdom. Most homeschoolers, in fact, would prefer they don't. Savvy to the current political situation, most of us know that our best bet for continued freedom is to meet the letter of the law but avoid any unnecessary government interaction.

Maybe, just maybe, that's the answer. Maybe the government has no business in education. From the article again:

"Early childhood experts have been publishing books, releasing reports, and testifying before Congress, with little change in public policy. Why isn’t anyone listening? '“It’s not the educators, it’s the politicians,' says Russell of the Boston schools. 'The schools don’t make the decisions. The politicians are making the decisions to meet political needs.'"

What do you think? Is earlier academic instruction a good thing, or a bad thing? Should government be invovled in education? How would you reform our school system to make it more kid-friendly?


  1. I say, let the kids learn at their own pace. You might be surprised by how quickly they will start to learn once we leave educational stuff lying around and let them learn when they're ready.

  2. Love it! Set them free and let them develop on their own. Great post!!

  3. My daughter is 5, we're homeschooling, and I'm not pushing it. Some reading together, some math with an abacus, and fine tuning the handwriting she was already interested in. Looking at my 3.5 year old busy handed boy and his 10 month old brother, we'll just see when and what interests them! And reforming the school system? Gender separated classrooms might be an idea! Let the girls talk, let the boys grunt and be hands on.

  4. Ruth -- Stay tuned! A post of gender separtated classrooms is coming up very, very soon.


  5. My son's reaction to preschool led to a diagnosis of mild autism at age 5. After homeschooling for a year, the doctors changed their minds and ruled out autism. They said he'd made such a big developmental leap between 5 and 7 that he didn't meet the criteria for autism. We might've avoided that whole merry-go-round if we'd not started school early.