Obsessing with Outcomes
Last week's Christian Science Monitor has a fascinating story about an academically rigorous kindergarten program in North Carolina called "Einsteins at Five."
For the most part, the piece is balanced. Still, the author is a bit obsessed with waxing nostalgic for a time when kindergarten was about graham crackers and eating paste. That's disingenuous. All of us know kids who read The Chronicles of Narnia, or the Little House on the Prairie books in kindergarten and were horribly frustrated with the naps and counting lessons their teachers pushed.
But it's this paragraph that got me thinking:
"...while it's clear that young children have a large capacity for learning - research shows they learn faster at 5 than any other age - it's less certain whether all this early erudition has an impact in later years. The French have universal preschool starting at age 3, but Swedish children don't begin academic work until 6, sometimes 7. Studies show that both populations end up doing just as well."
This is the same issue that the Prodigy Puzzle in the New York Times hammered at for 10,000 words a few weeks ago. Yes, it's true that adult outcomes (however they are measured -- I have no idea how he's comparing the Swedish and French) are not necessarily dependent on what kind of enrichment bright children receive. We can't guarantee that a kid in a gifted program, or a kid allowed to skip 2 grades, will win a Nobel Prize while the unenriched child will not. There is a lot of luck (and other things) involved in achieving fame, or breaking new ground later in life.
But so what? You can't tell, looking at a group of babies, which will be professional athletes based on how fast they all crawl at 8 months. But that doesn't mean anyone should grip the ankles of the quick ones to keep them from scooting ahead.
Bright kindergartners want to learn as much as possible. They teach themselves to read better because they want to read better things than the tedious counting books on the kindergarten shelves. Keeping them in kindergarten programs that aren't academic, because of someone's notion of what the unhurried childhood should be, is like gripping a baby's ankles. I'm glad brainy five-year-olds are getting the chance to use their heads. Whether they become Einsteins later in life or not.