The pressure to grow up fast, to achieve early in the very great in middle-class America. There is no room today for the “late bloomer”… Children have to achieve success early or they are regarded as losers.
“Super kids,” a phrase coined by Dr. David Elkland a professor of Child Study and author of several books, is a harmful social trend of rushing kids into academics and adulthood. Part of the “super kid “ psychology in his book MisEducation, Preschoolers at Risk, according to Elkland, is “getting your kids to excel.” The common mantra among parents, media, educators, and social behaviorists or scientists usually echoes something like this: the earlier kids have exposure to academic subjects the more proficient and successful in the world your child will become. Forget about any ideals of healthy socialization or emotional stability at school or in their community, we want four year olds blurting out addition problems and identifying every object they lay their little eyes on, or arbitrarily reciting letters and words, as if a puppet on a string.
Can early introduction and daily shuffle to soccer games, to ballet, to swimming lessons, to choir lessons, and then to school causing more harm then good? What exactly are we compromising by keeping kids busy every minute, filling them up with information, and interjecting academics every waking hour?
Today, kindergarten and preschool look like first grade, and pre-kindergarten programs look like kindergarten. It is not uncommon for kindergarteners and first graders to be staring at material being projected onto a screen, while sitting compliantly behind desks, as if ready to leap out of their skin. Some kindergarten programs require homework and expect all standards to be met or repeat another year. A kindergarten classroom that is developmentally appropriate should be teaming with sensory projects, such as sand, clay, gravel, or any oeey gooey substances or other objects that will prompt them to stack, build, sort, or experiment further. The utopian envisioning of our off spring becoming graduates of Harvard, professional athletes, or the next CEO’s has always been messages being spun by sociologists, behavior scientists, publishing companies, media, and others who have always inculcated an ideal that kids must strive for being Gifted and Talented if they expect to get a sort of “leg over” the rest.
Our country is ridden with a destructiveness of competition. Just read volumes of volumes of America’s pretexts for stirring conflicts or war around the globe. We describe our nation among over a hundred others, as a “superpower.” We’re a nation that wants to outdo others militarily, politically, and educationally. In the sixties we were up against Japan, wanting to use them as a model to rally for more academics at an earlier age, more homework, and an extension of school days. This symptom of nationalism, normally amounts to maintaining a sort of “superpower” superiority status on the economical global playing field. And the moment our elitist economical grip starts to slide, lack of schooling or academics is typically the cause of an illegitimate “economic plummeting.” The quick national “drum roll” to remedy the alleged “problem,” usually results in amping up the prescription of academics and standardized testing, without any account for how this affects young people socially, emotionally, or psychologically.
Culturally the message of “us against them” bombards the psyche in all directions from media, news pundits, talking heads, presidents, and cartoons (notice the similarities here.) Everyone is in competition, from game shoes, cartoons, sitcoms, movies, advertisements, politics, sports, there is always someone to be in cahoots with, and life becomes a hyperbolic frenzy of competitiveness in the air. Competition has caused a tsunami size wave of destructive power within our culture and institutions, and seeps right on in to our homes, almost impossible to avoid. But do we want this competitive neurosis to sink into our schools and homes?
At the core of competitive psychology so heavily indoctrinated into culture among schools, is the idea that my kid will surpass your kid on tests schools, on grades, in careers, onward into college, and on the ball field. Conventional schooling in particular is embedded with a competitive nature, through systems of grading, through series of testing, by orders of invasive assessments, or the undertones of one must compete or be left behind. And any kid not living up to the “superkid” mentality either gets “branded” as a drop out, a daydreamer, an underachiever, or a looser. Clearly, this ideology does not just a product of schooling, but has no defined boundaries, as the obsession with competition is ingrained throughout our culture, just tune into one hour on the Disney Channel, MTV, or any Virtual Reality TV show to find who the winners are. Competition runs rampant among culture like an untamed beastly ego that does not settle for less. There is the insatiable drive for more toys, more cars, more shopping, bigger homes, and generally more material possessions that comes with anyone who decides to compete. All of this competitive insanity should stay clear away from our thoughts and ideas defining how we interpret education.
It is worth paying close attention the distress and anxiety children may be encountering, as a result of speeding up adulthood.
Carleton Kendrick, Ed.M., LCSW, in an article in Family Education , describes in shocking detail the increase in anxiety related cases among young clients:
Twenty years ago, I didn’t see children in my therapy practice who resembled burnt-out, career-driven, Type A adults. I didn’t see kids with chronic stress-related headaches, stomachaches and free-floating anxiety. I do now. Lots of them! Little kids. Big kids. Kindergarteners with stress headaches because they’re not learning to read fast enough (even though developmentally they’re doing just fine). Little girls who are afraid to tell their parents that they don’t want to spend four hours a day practicing ice skating or gymnastics. Ninth graders who tell me they have to play competitive league basketball all summer or else their high school coach will think they’re not serious about making next year’s team. Parents of a fourth grader asking me if I think their daughter has the “right stuff” for an Ivy League college. FOURTH GRADE!!!
So why then do we insist on putting kids brains through a academic meat grinder? This is what Elkind summarizes about in an article titled, Much To Early!:
Why, when we know what is good for young children, do we persist in miseducating them, in putting them at risk for no purpose? The short answer is that the movement toward academic training of the young is not about education. It is about parents anxious to give their children an edge in what they regard as an increasingly competitive and global economy. It is about the simplistic notion that giving disadvantaged young children academic training will provide them with the skills and motivation to continue their education and break the cycle of poverty. It is about politicians who push accountability, standards, and testing in order to win votes as much as or more than to improve the schools.
I would also add that is also about relying to heavily all what the “experts” may be saying, rather than trusting your own gut instinct, as to what your child needs to really thrive. There is much to gain through knowing and observing the interests of young people and entrusting in them to steer their own educational course, at their own pace.
Of course you cannot dismiss the boom of kids being enrolled into schools at an early age in today, as was as in recent decades. This surge towards getting children out of the home at an earlier age can be traced back to the sixties and seventies. “In 1966 only 60 percent of five-year-olds attended kindergarten, while in 1985, 82 percent of five-year-olds were attending public, private, or church-sponsored kindergartens programs,” according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Also in the mid-sixties the national program “Head Start,” was pushing parents, in particular those of lower-income status to enroll their kids into pre-kindergarten, with media hype that kids need an early start. And never in our history, prior to this time, Elkind states, “has so many infants and young children been enrolled for extended periods in regular out-of –home programs.”
How do we measure the trend to enroll youth early into schools and the academic pressures this has on altering the natural social and emotional growth of a child? What are we really achieving by spoon-feeding kids at a younger age, another dose of academics? To truly access the damage of constricting play and replacing these critical moments for self-discovery with a barrage of instruction, instruction, and academic competitive strife, we need not look far for from antidote to the hysteria of making “superkids.” The answer may be provided within the comforts of our own home or community. Perhaps, then we can start looking inward at our hearts and the hearts of kids, giving the ego a rest, entrusting them to steer their way into their own calling, while paying close attention to the real needs that make the lives of kids thrive. And letting them be, well…a KID!
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