Friday, December 20, 2019

A Little More On What The Research Tells Us To Do

Last Friday, I wrote a short post entitled What the Research Tells Us to Do in which I provided links to articles about research supporting the primacy of play-based education for young children, and all of those links provided even more links to the actual research for those inclined to go directly to the source.

It was a well-read, well-received piece, one that has circulated far beyond my normal readership. I know this because I've started to receive the sort of angry pushback that tells me it has transcended the confines of my normal sphere of like-minded readers. Most of it has been of the "says you!" variety, not supported by anything other than feeling offended that anyone would dare challenge the status quo. There were several who described themselves as some sort of school administrator, people who I assume are defensive because they are professionally invested in the sort of preschool reading programs or one-size-fits-all curricula that the actual evidence refutes. I understand that. It's upsetting to be told, especially by some preschool teacher on the internet, that you've been doing it wrong. I doubt that any of them actually clicked on the links: it's easier to simply not know.

One person, however, accused me of "cherry picking" the data, asserting that he could do that too, implying, I guess, that he had is own mountain of research supporting an academic, standardized approach to early childhood education. He gave me no way to contact him, so I'll post this here on the off chance that he's still around: If you have access to actual research to support academic, standardized education for young children (or children of any age for that matter), please send it to me.

I've been blogging here for ten years, but I've been reading everything I can get my hands on about early childhood education for much longer and I have never come across credible research that did not conclude that play should stand at the center of a child's education. Certainly, there is room for debate over the nature of that play and the value of direct instruction as an adjunct to play. For instance, if it is important that children learn something specific, like how to properly brush their teeth or how to safely evacuate their homes in case of a fire, the adults may need to take matters more in hand, but I know of no reputable research that suggests that direct instruction should, as it is in most American schools, form the basis for a child's education. I've never seen anything that supports the sort of drill-and-kill academic emphasis being thrust upon children today.

Good scientists are always looking for evidence that challenges their theories, and in that spirit I welcome anything from anyone that counters the overwhelming evidence supporting play-based education for preschoolers. But as Carol Black writes in her incredible essay A Thousand Rivers, "collecting data on human learning based on children's behavior in school is like collecting data on killer whales based on their behavior at Sea World." I will naturally be skeptical of this sort of data, the kind that proves itself based upon the illusion of learning rather than actual learning, but I will consider it, even if it is, by necessity "cherry picked."

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