Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Preschool Homework

In today's NYTimes, Should Preschoolers Have Homework?


  1. This is a spoof, right? Maybe something reprinted from The Onion?

  2. The world has gone mad. I don't even have words for the inanity of a 4 year old doing homework. Just a vaguely ill feeling.

  3. Why do all these parents just go along with it? I can understand the elementary school logic of, "Well, if she doesn't do it, she'll get a zero and a bad report card." But where's the harm in telling the preschool teacher you're not going to bother? It's pretty discouraging that these parents would rather spend hours forcing a 4-year-old to do a worksheet.

  4. These parents go along with it because elementary school admissions are competitive.

  5. We even have to ask? The answer doesn't go without saying? These parents are terrified to speak up. And it's only pre-school! All I can say is, I'm so glad we're done with K-12. My daughter only had occasional OPTIONAL homework in kindergarten. And we mostly opted right out.

    My daughter was so academic in pre-school. Without mandatory dull assigned assignments, she was free to write her book, read to abandon, ask me incessant questions and play play play.

    Education today has truly become Theatre of the Absurd. When does it ever stop? It's certainly worse than our experience years ago.

  6. I get that the kids are being prepped for the rat race. But aren't these parents afraid of the fallout, the long term damage, of NOT standing up? Don't tell me they don't have a clue. Enough dire warnings and books have been written on the subject to curl anyone's neck hair.

  7. I think these parents are more afraid of their kid not being accepted to the school they want than of anything else. They probably feel that any suffering caused by the ridiculous preschool homework will be short-term and can be evened out later, at the school of choice, whereas failure to be accepted to the school of choice will have more long-term consequences to the child as well as to the parents' social standing.

    Some people say the hardest thing about Harvard is getting in, as they'll bend over backwards to make sure their students graduate. Surely the same is true to some extent of the schools - they really will take care of the kids once they're there. And some employers say the most convenient thing about Harvard is not the education they provide, which isn't really better than any other school, but the selection service. If you want to get your kid on the treadmill of selectivity, you start as early as possible.

    This is not the path we have chosen, but I can't entirely blame the parents who have. Most people aren't entirely ready for parenthood, and I see people I otherwise respect going entirely insane about the question of schools. Most parents don't feel up to the task of taking primary responsibility for their children's education and happiness, and want someone to take their worries off their hands. The best private schools promise an all-in-one package. Why would this not be compelling? Also, peer pressure can't be discounted. Children as well as adults make decisions socially. The most desired school is obviously the most desirable. For most people, doubting whether you want that would mean thinking you're not up to the grade.

    The fancy private schools are well aware of the anxiety involved, and application fees are a secondary profit stream for them. They're happy to take far far more fees for applications and place-holding that would seem reasonable, and interview hundreds of kids they have no intention of accepting.

  8. Anonymous, I am mostly an outside. I'm dating a guy with two daughters who are on that path — the older is attends middle school at an expensive, prestigious prep school with a lot of rich kids who, IMO, have questionable values. (Why does a 6th grader need an iphone? Why does a 16-year-old need a BMW?) The younger is in kindergarten in the local public schools, which have a great reputation among the state's universities, and my boyfriend and his ex-wife are stressed, stressed, stressed wondering how they'll afford to get the 5-year-old out of the public school and into private.

    Obviously there's way more to this besides just "overinvolved parents are worried 5-year-old won't get into Harvard and will end up working at McDonald's" so I get that the issues are complex.

    I'm also still somewhat scarred by memories of my stressed-out single mom screaming in my face, "HOW COULD YOU HAVE FORGOTTEN YOUR HISTORY BOOK? HOW ARE YOU GOING TO GET INTO COLLEGE WITH THESE GRADES?" I was nine years old!

    So yeah, I get why parents feel they have to make 4-year-olds do homework, and I also believe some of them when they claim that their kid *enjoys* or at least doesn't mind the homework.

    My questions are, how did we wind up with school systems like this? Where kids go through "elementary school admission" instead of just attending the school down the street without question. Where finding the right preschool is competitive. Where parents scramble to figure out how they'll pay tuition because the local public school just isn't working. And the kids whose parents can't be this involved or outspoken are just increasingly left behind.

    Are U.S. schools overall getting better or worse? And is it getting better or worse to be a kid?

  9. Megan, you ask some thought provoking questions. And I could write a book on your queries. I don't have time now ;(. I'd love to revisit the themes you raise next week. You sound so much more sensible and curious than the actual parents.

    A quick nugget to get you started. Gifted programs are supposed to be for gifted kids. It's not a prize for rich children but an intervention for kids who learn differently. It has been corrupted. If you need to prep and prep and massage and drill your child for that coveted admission, she's not gifted.

    Should that break a parent's heart? Of course not. Parents of non-gifted children have an idealized notion of giftedness. They assume everything comes so much more easily for these kids and they want in. A lot of highly gifted children are twice exceptional. Think over-excitabilities, highly intense, highly sensitive. Highly, exceptionally and profoundly gifted kids are an entirely different cup of noodles.

    I have such a kid. I wouldn't trade her for the world. Her humor, creativity and imagination are infectious. But school was bumpy. For all sorts of reasons.

    I once read that upper class parents can't stand average. They'd rather be told their kid is learning disabled (because then there's a reason for trouble) than average. But average is easier!

    The sad thing, what these parents either miss or refuse to face, is that their young child would learn so much more without the prep, without the homework, without the control. Leave a child alone and you'd be amazed at what they come up with, what they design, what they learn, what they create. And once you miss those critical free years, you simply cannot go back.

    Have these parents call me when their completely burned out child drops out of Cornell (because they can't all get into Harvard, you know). I will gleefully exclaim, WE TOLD YOU SO!!!

    Schadenfreude? No. But you know the old expression. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

  10. HomeworkBlues, all great points. I have always hated the assumption that "average" was so bad. A C is considered an average grade, but many parents would be angry or worried if their kids got one. Not okay to be average. And in their defense, in a country where kids graduate high school with 4.8's, a few C's on on a transcript are probably going to make getting into any college and getting financial aid considerably harder.

    Hence, we've arrived at a system where slightly above average kids are placed in AP English and given A's based on the length of their paper, not the content. At least, this is what my mom's university students tell her when she fails them for being unable to write in complete sentences.

    The worst thing today, I think, is to be a child who is truly average at academics, or slightly below average. These are the kids being diagnosed with ADD and worse, because nobody can accept that a 5-year-old isn't developmentally ready to sit still for hours at a time or read sentences. And if you don't have a diagnosis, public schools can offer very little to get you through the day.