Mrs Thrill brought this article to my attention yesterday.  It’s about how schools these days are emphasizing following rules, math, and science at the expense of play time…in kindergarten.  The author is a former kindergarten teacher-turned-education researcher and this is what he has observed:

The classroom I filmed had 22 kindergartners and one teacher. They were together for almost the entire school day. During that time, they engaged in about 15 different academic activities, which included decoding word drills, practicing sight words, reading to themselves and then to a buddy, counting up to 100 by 1’s, 5’s and 10’s, practicing simple addition, counting money, completing science activities about living things and writing in journals on multiple occasions. Recess did not occur until last hour of the day, and that too for about 15 minutes.

For children between the ages of 5 and 6, this is tremendous amount of work. Teachers too are under pressure to cover the material.

When I asked the teacher, who I interviewed for the short film, why she covered so much material in a few hours, she stated, “There’s pressure on me and the kids to perform at a higher level academically.”

I’ll emphasize here that this curriculum isn’t the teacher’s decision.  It’s related to the “multiple assessments such as quarterly report cards, school-based reading assessments, district-based literacy and math assessments, as well as state-mandated literacy assessments” that are used to determine just how badly our schools suck at teaching kids stuff.

This isn’t isolated to any particular school.  My own children, The Thrill-lings, are elementary school aged and they too not only had academic-heavy schoolwork in kindergarten, but they even had regular homework.  Like, it’s not enough to deny them play time as school, but is it also necessary to limit it at home as well?

It bothered me to see my kids getting stressed out and developing negative attitudes toward school, especially so early on when I don’t think they should have been doing anything much more strenuous than finger-painting.  I’d like to say that the people who have mandated these over-demanding standards ought be lined up and beaten like Asian United passengers.

Or am I wrong?

Looking at it from another angle, I can see that my children will face an insanely competitive global economy and job market.  Perhaps 1/3 of jobs currently performed by humans will be automated.  Thrill Jr, who just got to see Terminator and T2: Judgement Day for the first time last week, should already fully appreciate where events are heading.  What jobs are left will be open to immigrants and workers overseas who can do it cheaper, in spite of anything Donald Trump has to say about it, as I see the trend.

It’s possible that the people who are setting our educational standards aren’t possessed by the vengeful spirit of BF Skinner and that they’re doing something right.  Instead of breeding another generation of entitled “snowflakes” with high but unearned self-esteem, we will see millions of brilliant achievers.  Scientists who defeat cancer.  Engineers who land a man on Mars.  Robotic designers who finally give me the affordable Phoebe Cates Edition Sex Droid I’ve always wanted.  It can certainly be a brighter future for all of us.

They’ll have the know-how to bring us those new advancements, but will they have the creativity to envision them?

That’s hard to say.  So I’d like to discuss it.

This is a Discourses post.  There aren’t any right or wrong answers.  Sure, there are lots of studies out there that can prove either side of the discussion is right, but feel free to share your own opinions and anecdotes.

Here are some some starter questions.  You don’t have to answer any of them to participate in the discussion, but they can help get things going.

  1. Where do you stand on this issue?  Do you prefer placing kids in as strenuous of an academic environment as early as possible or is it more important that we allow their minds to develop through creativity, play, and old-fashioned oh-my-God-can-we-just-let-them-fucking-be-kids?
  2. Given how competitive the work environment will be, do you think there will come a time that American children will find that their career options are mostly determined by how well they do in high school?  Nowadays, GPA isn’t destiny.  Anyone can always go back to college and start a new life.  Do you see that changing?
  3. Is it really wise to push math and science on all children so soon?  I mean, they can’t all be highly-paid software engineers can they?  Shouldn’t we be assessing each individual child’s skills and “pushing” them in the right direction consistent with their strengths?

Please add your thoughts whether or not you’re a parent.  Everyone has a stake in this.

11 comments

  1. I have a 8 year old and a 11 year old, and pretty much every evening they have homework to do. Usually it lasts about 30 minutes or so with the reading and worksheets. My oldest has learned to economize his time by doing the home work on the bus. And reading at home…this usually gives him Tim to help my youngest with his homework. Overall they do pretty good.
    The fist few years was hell. Between the common core style math and language arts crap we had meltdowns every other night trying to figure out what was required and how it should be done in the new way.
    Then 2 years ago something just clicked on my oldest… Went right up to A’s and B’s….and has stayed there. The youngest is improving and doing a lot better since his brother who had Been through it knows what’s expected and how it’s done.
    Overall out we are ok with them having home work, we get to see what they are doing learning and such. And as far as kid time, well they pretty much get enough of that. Probably too much…living the soft life of a townie kids is gonna end once we move out to the farm…

    Schooling up till the last 2 years of high school shod be just learning the basics., but I think that we would at som point in the process begin to tailor their education towards what they are good at or what they have interestes in….well back to work
    ..

  2. Mrsmkr and I are trying to expose Childmkr to as much as we can. I’m a big believer that the success you have further in life is mostly dictated by the number of things you can cram into your brain by the time you hit college. I think college (and your 20s, really) is for enhancing and sharpening your existing skills. You’re not going to pick up piano at 30 and become exceptional at it —
    you’re just not — no matter how motivated you think you are. You have a a job, perhaps a family, you have responsibilities and a social life. What you don’t have is the same amount of time that you had when you were 11. You also have a brain that has peaked and is starting to degrade. And let’s not even talk about the energy levels. There are exceptions, of course, but I’m speaking in generalities.

    However, neither of us are believers in *forcing* it, either. If we can afford it, we may move him to Montessori once he’s a little older. We want sign language and Spanish to be introduced and we’ll work with him on his numbers and alphabet but we aren’t trying to raise the next Doogie Howser. This isn’t about trying to make him good at everything. We’ll let the little fella tell us where his aptitudes lie and support those interests. Exposure is the key, then sitting back and gauging the response.

    We’ll also let him run around with a stick chasing squirrels for hours in the back yard. We want him to be a kid for as long as he can be. For his benefit and for our enjoyment.

    Also, as first time parents, all of this may illicit a chuckle from you veterans. I have no idea how it will all turn out. But these are our intentions.

  3. My youngest is in kindergarten. She has a workbook that she completes each week, 2 pages to practice her “wall words”. She also reads a book each week (usually 8 pages) and she fills out a “report” on it. The homework is not mandatory and if she gets frustrated we just stop doing it. The teacher also suggests not to correct any of her spelling. This takes away a lot of potential for anger and frustration. We just keep positively reinforcing her when she is doing her school work.

    My oldest is in grade 4 and she’s had homework maybe a handful of times this year. She does really well at school, and her lack of homework has a lot do to with her time management skills in class. She says she want to be a “dissecting doctor” or as we call it coroner. We support that, and encourage her that girls are just as good as boys in any academic field. For now we just remind her how smart she is, stay on top of how well she’s doing in school, and feed her curiosity. Other than that, we don’t push her.

    Overall we are happy with their school and their quality of education. Currently we don’t see any need to become tiger parents.

  4. Unfortunately, more homework doesn’t always mean they’re learning anything…it’s about schools getting more money if the kids do “better.”

    I think there’s too much emphasis on raising future geniuses than people who can do their jobs and make a living (assuming the jobs will still be there by the time they graduate.)

  5. We’re obviously in NZ, so it may be a little different for us – out kids are 4 and 6 (so at Kindy and I guess you’d call it 2nd grade?)

    My philosophy is that Kindergarten gives you a good idea of the type of learner that your kid is going to be.
    My oldest is a complete bookworm. Always has been. She isn’t ever really happy with not understanding or being the best at something. So at her Kindy she was kind of pushed – but mainly because that was her personality type. She’s doing great and is really interested in space and wants to be a scientist. (or lady scientist, as she calls it.)

    She gets about 30 minutes of homework a night – but in speaking to her teachers, they explained something to me that made sense – that the homework wasn’t really for the kids, it was for the parents. Think about it – if there’s 30 minutes extra work to do – then just add 30 minutes onto the day. But giving the child a task to do in the evening ‘encourages’ parents to get involved in the childs learning, and to ask questions. It makes learning something other than school work, keeps the parents involved and helps connect them.

    My youngest was more of a ‘hit it with a stick’ kind of kid. His Kindy closed, and we sent him to a real hippy style Reggio Emilia place. The child directs their own learning, expresses themselves however they want, and are endowed with ‘a hundred languages’. To say I was sceptical was an understatement (at the parents evening they served gluten free, paleo, sugar free brownies….)

    But you know what – he’s done brilliantly. Instead of trying to stop him from hitting things with a stick, it’s directed that towards finding things out. And while he’s not so interested in writing at the moment – man, that kid can build things. He’s keen to be an engineer.

  6. I grew up in a pretty intense school system, there was lots of academics and little play starting in 1st grade. Kids can handle the pressure. Now, if you also load them up with all kinds of extracurriculars, it might be too much.
    My firstborn was in a Reggio program and is now in a Montessori. Reggio felt too hippie, since there was so little structure, but she did suddenly decide to start reading there, so I can’t stay totally skeptical.
    Things come easily to her (she just told me in a bored voice ‘You know I never study for these tests, mom’) so she can knock out a week’s worth of homework in one night, but I think the point of homework at this age is to get into the habit more so than actually learning something. Because eventually you hit a level where you can’t just wing it and if you don’t have the discipline, it gets really hard.
    The way I look at it – even if the robots don’t take over, our kids will need to compete against kids from China, and you know they don’t get any slack.

  7. You are correct that exposure is the key. Give your boy opportunities to learn. Kids love it. A major factor is that when they see YOU value learning and knowledge, they will too. Because Mom and Dad are cool.

  8. I like hearing when the stress is taken out by giving kids the option to stop when it just becomes frustrating.

    We have to virtually waterboard Thrill Jr to get him through all of his reading list books. He’ll read fine…as long as it’s on a video game or tablet. Books he gives no fucks for.

  9. Your two primary school kids are younger, but mirror my own. Thrilla is the bookworm, like your daughter. Loves the sciences. My son seems to want to be some sort of cowboy paleontologist or something. Who fights dragons. I’m not entirely sure.

    In the one, I encourage the braininess. In the other, I let him explore but do try to keep him focused.

    Weird how you can have more than one kid in a house with all of the same environmental factors and they STILL can turn out totally different, right?

  10. I think there’s too much emphasis on raising future geniuses

    As we like to say, there’s nothing wrong with being average.

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