Courtesy of my friend and parent coach Janet Neal (www.ourchildishways.com) comes an interesting story: The parents of a 4-year-old girl went to a preschool parent conference to learn from her teacher that she is having difficulty with scissors and somewhat behind the other kids in letter and number recognition. The parents apparently blew the teacher’s mind when they replied that they were more concerned with their daughter’s heart and character than her academic achievement. Was she compassionate? Was she respectful of her teachers and peers?
This story is illustrative of several disturbing trends, the first of which is the newly academic nature of most preschools. Study after study (see David Elkind’s masterpiece, “The Hurried Child”) has shown that academic learning produced during the preschool years is no longer noticeable by the third grade. It’s artificially induced, and therefore a complete waste of children’s time and energy. There are several studies that link early academic instruction with learning disabilities. Educators must be aware of this research, yet they keep right on pushing ABCs, number facts and whole-language based reading (which has also been linked to learning disabilities) at preschool kids. Why?
The answer is twofold: First, today’s parents — mothers, especially — are highly anxious (and yes, I’m speaking generally) about their children’s academic performance. There seems to be an unwritten understanding in American mother culture to the effect that the mother with the highest-achieving child is, somehow, the best mother. Therefore, today’s parents (by and large) tend to insist that if they’re going to spend the money to enroll their kids in preschools, then preschools need to demonstrate their value by teaching academics and computer skills and other stuff that is worthless in the long run, if not harmful.
Second, and because of the first part of this answer, preschools are forced to incorporate academics into their program — many are completely academic, in fact — in order to stay competitive. They have to virtually promise that they will feed parents’ need to boast about their high-performing children. So the precious preschool years, when children should be allowed to play and experiment and learn to play simple musical instruments, are sacrificed to the Altar of the Trophy Child.
I went to first grade in 1952. I’d never been to kindergarten. Along with most of my classmates, I came to first grade not knowing my ABCs. My first-grade class picture shows 50 children, one teacher. At the end of first grade, children in the 1950s were reading at higher levels than today’s kids. We outperformed today’s kids at every grade and most of us were in classrooms that would be considered unacceptably overcrowded (not to mention underfunded) by today’s standards.
Many, many kudos to the parents in the above story. The teacher, by the way and to her credit, after recovering from her shock, told them that she wished all parents had their attitude. We should all share in her wish and do all we can to make it come true.
Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents' questions at his website, www.parentguru.com.