Seen on Facebook: “What does my 3-year-old need to know?” What would your answer be to that? Many moms (and a few dads) would provide workbook recommendations and links to online lists that tick off which shapes and colors a preschooler should recognize, how high he should be able to count, what he should be able to write (besides his own name, of course), and the letters and letter sounds he should be able to name in order to be “kindergarten-ready.” They used to teach all that in kindergarten, but now first-grade skills are taught at that level and require an entire school day to do it.
That’s the trend—but wait: “Start schooling later than age five, say experts,” reads the headline of an article from The Telegraph of London. Some early-learning specialists are beginning to think the UK government promotes “too much, too soon” while pushing academic skills to earlier ages. Kindergartners are expected to read, first-graders are expected to do math word problems, and all lower-elementary ages spend more time filling out workbooks and taking tests and less time on the playground. It sounds like the United States, where soon-to-be-implemented Common Core State Standards (CCSS) will require kindergartners to (among many other tasks) “identify the main topic and retell key details of a text,” “name the author and illustrator of a text and define the role of each in presenting the ideas or information,” “identify the reasons an author gives to support points in a text,” “explore a variety of digital tools to produce and publish writing,” etc. All this is “with guidance and support” from teachers—which disappears by first grade, where kids are expected to do it on their own.
At least some “experts” in the UK are having their doubts about formal schooling too young, arguing it is counter-productive and doesn’t take the nature of children into account. I’d say that’s right, but when an impersonal entity assumes more and more of the role in the raising of children, the last thing it’s concerned about is their nature. It wants checkboxes ticked off and score tabulated—that’s the nature of government.
It’s also the spirit of the age, which has determined that the only part of a man that matters is his brain. Cogitative skills (supposedly) engineer the future, not individual work ethic or compassion or even morality. Those qualities fall by the wayside because they can’t be measured. That’s one big problem with CCSS: not the content of learning but the type of learning. Can a child factor out multipliers at age 4 and identify the main idea and three supporting ideas in a text? Check, and check, and move on to the next obstacle course of “standards.” Most of the standards are admirable, if precocious. But beefing up academics means less time for music and art and recess and field trips and shop class and other activities that can’t be benchmarked, but fill out the human personality in ways that are subtle and different for every human.
And there’s this: We’re pushing the children to work harder, while adults find more opportunities to play. Does that seem upside-down to you?