Not Happy to be Right

In Western countries educators can benefit from an enormous array of high quality research published every year by the education and psychology faculty of the very top universities to shape, guide and mould their teaching practice. In both India and now UAE my experience has been that such research is not really available in the local environment.

Once upon a time that would have been a significant issue and would have severely undermined the opportunity for developing education of truly international standards. However, in today’s ‘global’ environment, the issue goes away – or it should do! However, we then have to contend in large dose with the dreaded ‘NIH’ = Not Invented Here. This plagues every industry, every country, certainly I’ve seen evidence all over. It comes along with chronic “Yes, but …….” syndrome.

This is one of the principle reasons why as an educator motivated at least partially by a sense that education today (as much as when I was a child) fails to make the grade – most particularly, fails to equip young people with the skills and competencies they need to fulfil their potential in the world in to which they will emerge as young adults, I have always endeavoured to expose myself and the educators around me to the very best of international research and thinking, regardless of where it may come from. I have always sought to encourage colleagues (and parents) to question their NIH and ‘yes, but…..’ tendencies.

Of all the aspects and areas of education that we are exposed to, maybe the one where I have taken ‘most heat’ is the issue of academics for Kindergarten classes and children. My view has always been that the evidence was more than strong enough that driving an academic agenda with the youngest children in our schools is like playing Russian roulette with their futures. For good measure, I also believe it is cruel and mind-numbing. Incidentally, this has also meant challenging primary school teachers who work with children in classes 1-3 when they bemoan how little ‘stuff’ children may have learned/ been taught before they arrived in their classes.

To all those educators who ever challenged me on these issues, to all the parents who treated me as though I was a cavalier and dangerous fool who wanted to jeopardise their child’s future, I urge you, please, to read this article:

Psychology Today – Early Academic Training Produces Long-Term Harm

In reading the article and seeing the weight of scientifically verifiable evidence stacked up I couldn’t find any joy in being proved right, no great desire to run up and down school corridors shouting “I told you so!” Rather, I found myself deeply saddened as I think of all the millions of children who are being tortured with heavy academics in their earliest formative years, who are literally being harmed in vast numbers and almost certainly denied the right to fulfil their learning potential.

The article makes very clear – vast numbers of these children gain no academic advantage over those given the freedom to play and be free of academic rigour at an early age, in fact in enormous proportions they do worse later. To me, of even more serious consequences are the findings that suggest lower emotional intelligence, social skills, self-regulation, interpersonal skills. As educators, how can we take any pride or consider ourselves worthy of respect when we deliberately and consciously do things that permanently harm and undermine children’s self esteem?

I’m sure there will be those of my fellow educators who will respond that they’re “simply giving the parents what they want.” I say here and now, this is a weak and untenable response. We wish to call ourselves professionals and to be respected in society. In my opinion, one of the things that marks out the true professional (educator, doctor, lawyer) is the courage to educate the client (in our case parents) what they need, not to simply give them what they ask for out of a layperson’s position of antiquated and false ideas and notions.

If a doctor wrote out regular prescriptions for a patient, knowing that what he was doing was killing the patient, would any of us consider that acceptable? Our ‘killing’ when we do the wrong things in education is less transparent or obvious – we may kill the soul, while the body still walks.

Not good enough. This article inspires me to stand up with even more courage for what is right for our youngest children.

One Response

  1. You have at least one strong supporter here. Young children don’t need academics.

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