Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Our Children Are Counting On Us

The scientific evidence is quite clear: formal "academic" style education should not begin before a children are seven-years-old.

Now I believe that this remains true throughout our lives; that what we have traditionally come to call schooling is a sham born of habit and laziness, and there is plenty of evidence to support my belief. Just flip to the appendix of Peter Gray's groundbreaking book on the subject Free to Learn and have a gander at the massive collection of anthropological, neurological, and psychological proof he used to support his position that children of all ages are better off if left to pursue their own education. But I continue to call it my belief because for many experts the jury is still out.

The case for letting children pursue their own education through play until the age of seven, however, is as settled as science can ever be settled and we fail to heed it at the expense of our children.

Tragically, this scientific knowledge remains largely unknown to most of those who we elect to make our educational policies, leaving them to be constructed not upon the foundation of accumulated human wisdom, as is proper, but rather upon the gut level beliefs of those sitting in the seats of power. This has always been true, of course, but with the advent of the No Child Left Behind agenda of the Bush administration, and continued by the Race to the Top policies of the Obama administration, we have fallen whole hog into the deep end of faith-based public policy.

This might be acceptable if we lived under a theocracy, but we purport to be democratic nations. In a democracy public policy must be based on facts, not faith.

I'm certainly not saying that our schools don't need to be improved. Indeed, our educational system was and is failing many of our children, and in particular those from disadvantaged backgrounds. What I am saying is that our elected leaders, rather than sitting down and drafting an improvement plan based upon the best science about how children learn and the advice of professional educators, instead rely on what strikes them as "common sense," which in this case means doubling down on the very system that was already failing these kids: the very definition of insanity.

They push for longer school days, more direct instruction, more testing, more homework, and less play, which results in a tragically narrowed curriculum that focuses almost exclusively on literacy and math. And then, in their ignorance, they push these "solutions" onto younger and younger children until we are now expecting even preschoolers to be reading and sitting at desks. They are stealing childhood from our youngest citizens based solely upon their beliefs.

And this is not just a problem in the US, but rather around the world, where ignorant politicians strive to impose their faith upon children. I am currently traveling in Australia where there is a movement afoot in state of Tasmania, lead by their education minister Jeremy Rockliff, to lower the compulsory school starting age to four-and-a-half in the name of improving academic outcomes. Four-and-a-half: it's outrageous.

Frankly, I don't care about the good intentions of Bush or Obama or Rockliff or any of them: this is a crime against children. The right to play may not be recognized in law, but the actual evidence supports it overwhelmingly, yet time and again, right around the world, our children are being subjected to the whims of faith-based education policy which is not just failing to make them smarter, but actually damaging their educational prospects, making them hate school, and driving many of them into chronic depression.

We can't stand by and allow politicians to steal childhood from our children. Our children are counting on us.

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