Thursday, December 31, 2015

Look Beneath The Facade

There is an article in the most recent edition of The Atlantic entitled The New Preschool is Crushing Kids in which the author tackles a subject very familiar to those of us who live in work in the play-based education bubble. 

. . . (B)y the time (children who had attended academic preschools) were in first grade their attitude toward school were deteriorating. And by second grade they performed worse on tests measuring literacy, language, and math skills. The researchers told New York magazine that over reliance on direct instruction and repetitive, poorly structured pedagogy were likely culprits; children who'd been subjected to the same insipid tasks year after year were understandably losing their enthusiasm for learning.

It's what we've been saying for years: the corporate-style transformation of our schools with its emphasis on what we call "academics," high stakes standardized testing, standardized curricula, direct instruction, "seat work," and accountability is, objectively, making our children less well-educated:

The shift from an active and exploratory early-childhood pedagogy to a more scripted and instruction-based model does not involve a simple trade-off between play and work, or between joy and achievement. On the contrary, the preoccupation with accountability has led to a set of measures that favor shallow mimicry and recall behaviors, such as learning vocabulary lists and recognizing shapes and colors (something that a dog can do, by the way, but that is in fact an extraordinarily low bar for most curious 4-year-olds), while devaluing complex, integrative, and syncretic learning . . . The academic takeover of American early learning can be understood as a shift from what I would call an "ideas-based curriculum" to a "naming-and-labeling-based curriculum."

It's always fantastic to see well-written articles like this out there in the popular media, reaching a wider audience than any one of our little play-based education blogs. 

One detestable thing I learned from this piece is that in some places, children are actually being forbidden entry into first grade because they are not reading or have failed to attain certain other academic skills in kindergarten. The other thing I "learned" (or rather knew but didn't want to know) is that, for the most part, parents are on board with this crap. They've been made to fear a play-based childhood because they've bought into the college and career-ready nonsense being promoted by policy-makers and corporate education dilettantes. 

As I reflected on this article, I was reminded of another one I read this summer from New Republic entitled Don't Send Your Kid to the Ivy League, in which the author convincingly argues that the so-called "elite" universities that so many parents aspire to on their children's behalf, and from which a huge percentage of our policy-makers and corporate education dilettantes matriculated, provide a very narrow, formulaic type of education, one that mirrors what's going on in our public schools:

Elite schools like to boast that they teach their students how to think, but all they mean is that they train them in the analytic and rhetorical skills that are necessary for success in business and the professions. Everything is technocratic -- the development of expertise -- and everything is ultimately justified in technocratic terms.

This is exactly the sort of technocratic education they are now pushing into our preschool classrooms. And the result?

These enviable youngsters (those admitted to elite universities) appear to be the winners in the race we have made of childhood. But the reality is very different, as I have witnessed in many of my own students and heard from the hundreds of young people whom I have spoken with on campuses or who have written to me over the last few years. Our system of elite education manufactures young people who are smart and talented and driven, yes, but also anxious, timid, and lost, with little intellectual curiosity and a stunted sense of purpose: trapped in a bubble of privilege, heading meekly in the same direction, great at what they're doing but with no idea why they're doing it.

The article goes on to point out that there are still plenty of colleges and universities, often considered to be of the second and third-tier variety, that offer a true liberal arts education, one that challenges students to actually think, and indeed, how to fail, get back up and try again, something entirely lacking in "elite" education.

Most of our policy-makers attended these elite schools. Not only that, but they also attended elite prep schools, elite elementary schools, and even elite preschools, all of which are designed to create the sort of all-success-all-the-time students who get admitted to elite universities, then go into business or the professions. This is all they know, but . . .

Look beneath the facade of seamless well-adjustment, and what you often find are toxic levels of fear, anxiety, and depression, of emptiness and aimlessness and isolation.

This is what they really are pushing into elementary, kindergarten, and now even preschool classrooms. I would not wish this sort of elite education on my worst enemies.

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Dienne said...

Did anyone at The Atlantic itself actually read this article? The Atlantic is one of the biggest cheerleaders for test-based "accountability" and school "reform" which is the driving force behind the so-called "need" for "academic preschool". What a bunch of hypocrites.

Anyway, wanted to thank you for this blog. I've only been reading a couple weeks. One of the teachers at my daughters' progressive school recommended it a long time ago but I forgot about it and only recently stumbled on it through Peter Greene's blog. I've been making my way through some of your older posts and have really appreciated what I've read. Thanks again and Happy New Year.

I just made a small contribution, BTW.

Sandyreads said...
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