When Will American Parents Get a Grip About Education?
"This week, children at more than 1,700 schools in North America sang the song 'I Want to Play,' at the same time. While simultaneously in China, over a billion kids were doing math," quipped Saturday Night Live's Seth Meyers on a recent "Weekend Update" segment.
There is some truth to Meyers' statement. Chinese kindergarten begins at age 3 and goes to age 6, and by the end of kindergarten students are expected to know basic math and be comfortable speaking and reading in two languages. Academic expectations are high, and the traditional lecture style of Chinese early childhood education seems a far cry from our more play-based American preschools.
So it is no surprise, then, that as Chinese students far outscore their U.S. peers on the Program For International Student Assessment (PISA), a test conducted by the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development, American parents are scrambling to make their children's early childhood education more rigorous and more like the education Chinese children receive.
The New York times reported last week that more and more American parents are enrolling their young children in traditional academically rigorous memorization-based learning programs at tutoring centers such as those run by Japan-based company Kumon. The NYT article cites multiple examples of children, some as young as two, being put through demanding reading and writing exercises, and being assigned daily homework assignments by the Kumon center. The children's parents are quoted as saying that while neither they nor their children's preschools espouse these traditional teaching methods and philosophies, they felt like they had no choice but to go to the tutoring center to ensure that their children would be academically competitive with their peers.
While nobody can fault these parents for wanting to give their children an academic advantage, educational research suggests that young children don't benefit from traditional, formalized education. The researchers quoted in the NYT article repeatedly affirm that children learn just as much through play as they do through expensive tutoring programs and worksheets. Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, a Temple University psychologist and author of Einstein Never Used Flash Cards, is quoted in the article as saying:
Continued on the next page
“When you’re putting blocks together, you’re learning how to be a physicist. When you’re learning how to balance things and calculate how tall you can make your building, you’re learning how to be a physicist. Having your kid drill and kill and fill in worksheets at 2 and 3 and 4 to the best of our knowledge so far does not give your child a leg up on anything."