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Pressuring Kindergarteners

As if the American public education system isn’t beset with enough problems, it seems that even the youngest students can’t escape ill-informed policy and the pervasive culture of test-taking. 

This is kindergarten, the happy land of building blocks and singalongs. But increasingly in schools across Massachusetts and the United States, little children are being asked to perform academic tasks, including test taking, that early childhood researchers agree are developmentally inappropriate, even potentially damaging. If children don’t meet certain requirements, they are deemed “not proficient.” Frequently, children are screened for “kindergarten readiness” even before school begins, and some are labeled inadequate before they walk through the door.

This is a troubling trend to an experienced educator like Gerzon, who knows how much a child can soak up in the right environment. After years of study and practice, she’ll tell you that 5-year-olds don’t learn by listening to a rote lesson, their bottoms on their chairs. They learn through experience. They learn through play. Yet 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.

As the rest of the article grimly details, kindergarteners are contending with such policies as shorter recesses, much higher reading standards, and even curricula billed as “college prep”. 

These approaches are already of questionable effectiveness for students of older ages, so imagine their impact during a child’s formative years, where play, freetime, and unbridled creativity are both natural and desirable. Imagine the impact on their enthusiasm for an education, or on their psychological well-being ? (There are some rather perturbing examples mentioned in the article.)

I understand the desire to improve standards, especially in the midst of an unstable economy and lagging academic achievement.  But we have ample evidence of what works and what doesn’t. Trying to mold children into super-intelligent machines is as untenable as it is inhuman. Let children by children. 

Finnish Students Don’t Do Homework Or Take Tests

I’ve spoken at length about Finland’s education system before (here, here, and here) and I believe it deserves all the attention it can get, especially since much of this success is due to policies that are applicable in the US (if not elsewhere) — professionalizing the teaching industry, promoting smaller class sizes in conjunction with more student-to-teacher interaction, and so on. I think the following image breaks it down rather nicely, but if you want more information and sources, visit the hyperlinks above.