Tuesday, July 08, 2014

We Have The Actual Evidence

As the Obama administration turns its attention on preschools after having imposed developmentally and educationally inappropriate high stake academic curriculum on elementary schools, vowing to do the same for preschoolers, professional educators and researchers are pushing back against this poorly thought-out approach, one that flies in the face of what we actually know about the way children learn:

Studies have compared groups of children in New Zealand who started formal literacy lessons at ages 5 and 7. Their results show that the early introduction of formal learning approaches to literacy does not improve children's reading development, and may be damaging. By the age of 11 there was no difference in reading ability level between the two groups, but the children who started at 5 developed less positive attitudes to reading, and showed poorer text comprehension than those children who had started later.

At the beginning of last school year, the parents of one of my former students just starting kindergarten was told that their son was "already behind" when it came to reading. There is nothing in the research to support this and as the New Zealand study and numerous others find, if you introduce this sort of formal literacy and numeracy education too early, you can actually damage a child's educational prospects. Teachers know this and, contrary to the propaganda being hyped by the Obama administration, we care about the children we teach, we want the best education possible for them. We're not pissed because, as they accuse us, we're afraid of "hard work" or of losing our cushy jobs, we're pissed because these amateurs are damaging the children in our care.

Sadly, our federal government persists in its "best guess" approach which is essentially to attack teachers, blaming us for the ills of the world, from poor academic performance to macroeconomic decline and poverty. 

Anthropological studies of children's play in extant hunter-gatherer societies . . . have identified play as an adaptation which evolved in early human social groups. It enabled humans to become powerful learners and problem-solvers.

Despite the fact that we know this about the importance of play, that humans have evolved to use play as their primary educational tool, a tool that has served the species since the beginning of time, these geniuses, in collaboration with wealthy businesspeople have come up with an entirely untested factory and technology based scheme that they, in their hubris, believe will out-perform mother nature . . . If only us teachers would get out of the way.

Neuroscientific studies have shown that playful activity leads to synaptic growth, particularly in the frontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for all the uniquely human higher mental functions.

Yet here they come, our "leaders" with their faith-based crusade against teachers, based on the junk science of standardized-tests, Common Core, and big data. They're coming hard after our preschoolers, they'll rob them of play and give them the hard cheese of academic rigor, damaging their brains and sapping them of their love of learning in the process.

I'm proud to be one of the teachers who are pushing back. Diane Ravitch, Anthony Cody and others have called for Congressional hearings into the development of the Common Core federal curriculum, calling it not only developmentally inappropriate, but likely unconstitutional. Last week the National Education Association (NEA), the nation's largest teacher's union, called for the resignation of US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Naturally, Duncan and his cadre of wealthy businesspeople are responding by accusing us of being lazy, racist, and selfish because that's all they've got.

All they really have is fear and loathing; we have the actual evidence. I have no faith at this point that evidence will persuade them, but I do hope it will persuade you. If you want more than the article to which I've linked above (an article that was sent to me by a parent thanking me for being her child's teacher) here is a very nice 50+ page summary of our proof from professors at the University of Cambridge.

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WhoMom said...

Children need play-they learn physics, science, language, and so many important lessons through play. Pushing classroom style lessons early robs children of the things they need to be successful later.

Lindsey said...

Well said. Thanks for sharing!

Ivy Skinner said...

But what can we do? Start a petition? something has to be done and it is up to us parents and teachers to take control! I am tired of reading article after article about the evidence such as you presented, yet the same system persists...when are we going to get our heads out of the sand and learn from other countries? we need to gut the system and do something now, of course the fact that I have a son entering first grade next year is motivating me as well. If anyone wants to start something let's do it!

Meg @ The Crunchy Conservative said...

The system isn't going to change anytime soon, so I'm not putting my kids into the system. Not going to let them be guinea pigs for this government experiment.