I am asking a question more and more these days. I wonder if American’s have overlooked a counter-intuitive idea as we educate our kids.
Generally, speaking, we believe that “more” is better. We believe that faster is better. We believe that sooner is better. We want to provide more for our children and we want to do it right away. For the improvement of our society, of course.
So, we continue to push children to learn more, faster. Parents are placing kids in school at 3 years old, not five or six. We want to get the learning process started earlier so they can get a jump on their peers as adolescents. It makes sense.
What we fail to recognize is that while their brain may be able to consume data earlier, the rest of their soul (their will and their emotions) may not be ready for it. When parents pause to actually think about it—they agree. According to survey done by USA Today, nearly 6 in 10 moms say children are growing up too fast. By this, they mean we are exposing them to realities before they are emotionally ready. The survey reported:
1. 75% say parents allow internet use without supervision too soon.
2. 74% dress their kids in age-inappropriate clothing.
3. 63% over-schedule their kids’ lives.
4. 59% give kids cell phones too early.
We somehow believe that an early start gives kids a jump on growing up. I now contend, it may be doing the opposite. Several small European nations have surpassed the U.S. in educational test scores. Tiny countries like Finland give similar tests to adolescents and consistently score higher than our students do. Why? They have created a more experiential learning environment and they start their kids in school at age seven (7) not five. By seven years old, the kids (especially the boys) are ready to settle down and learn. At age five, they are often not ready. In fact, I believe we condition boys in America to hate school by the second grade. In contrast, the Finnish schools work with students who are ready to consume the courses, intellectually, volitionally and emotionally.
Our students are so ill-equipped, that when they finish school, they often move back home. Their life skills are low. Their emotional intelligence is low. Their sense of direction is low. Today about 60% of college graduates return home after they finish with school. They don’t feel ready for the real world. And they aren’t. I wonder if our early push has had the opposite affect that we intended. By their twenties, they’ve become the postponed generation—delaying adult responsibility instead of embracing it. More than one college dean has told me they believe 26 is the new 18.
Perhaps Tony Campolo said it best. He said, “I don’t believe we live in a generation of bad kids. I think we have a generation of kids who know too much too soon.” The jump hasn’t helped them; it actually may have hindered them. They are more than merely walking brains. Their hearts are not ready for some of the information and experiences we give them, as paranoid parents.
Education is about more than just the brain. It’s about the heart—the entire inward wiring of a child. By throwing so much information at our kids, much of it irrelevant to them, we often paralyze them from acting. They become “floods” not “rivers.” They seep out in every direction, shallow and murky, instead of flowing in a single direction on purpose.
So, whether you are a teacher, a parent, an employer or just someone who cares about the future, let me pose some questions to you:
1. Has our push for so much so soon on our kids actually delayed their readiness for adult responsibility?
2. Do we recognize that schools must consider the mind, the will and the emotions when downloading lesson plans?
3. Are we, as adults, prepared to monitor and gauge the amount of data and the kinds of experiences and exposure our kids consume?
4. Are we willing to slow the pace down in early childhood and elementary school years so that students can accelerate their pace as adolescents?
We will always make better decisions when we look further out into the future and see the ramifications of those decisions.