No, I jest. Not really. Or at least not yet.
It starts out like the prologue to a movie about a sociopathic math teacher who will by film’s end slaughter dozens of students and fellow faculty (and the nice lady who volunteers in the lunch room).
ON command, Eze Schupfer reads aloud the numbers on a worksheet in front of her: “42, 43, 12, 13.” Then she begins to trace them.
* * * *
“This is a sloppy 12, Eze,” she says. “Go ahead: a one and a two. Smaller. Much better.”
Eze moves to 13.
“Neater,” Ms. Rivas insists. “Come on, you can do it.” Finally, she resorts to the kind of incentive that Eze, her pink glitter sneaker barely grazing the ground, can appreciate: “You’ll get an extra sticker if you can do a perfect 13.”
And wire hangers if you don’t….
Of course, I’m not being fair. There’s no wire hangers, no being locked in closets. What we’ve got here is good old fashioned edjumikation, starting early. Really early. No, not like five-in-the-morning kind of early. Earlier.
Eze is 3.
The article is actually surprisingly positive. ( Of course, it’s the New York Times, and what are they going to tell their readers? Would you pay a buck twenty-five to be told you’re evil by a stack of pressed pulp? I wouldn’t.) What we’re given is a picture of kids “being all they can be” but without guns and camouflage. The methods are what some educators would consider uninspiring and dry, but a certain amount of “drill-and-kill” repetition is probably a good thing for an education. This is my favorite part of the article:
Ms. Goldman, who works at an agency representing artists, took her son, Huxton, to Kumon last September, shortly after he turned 5, in an effort to make sure, she said, “that he wouldn’t be behind the curve” when he started kindergarten the next year.
If she was hesitant, her children’s preschool was “disgusted,” she said. But she saw immediate results — Huxton began reading, adding and subtracting — and Eze, newly 3, started soon after. “These results translated into a self-esteem boost that I didn’t anticipate,” Ms. Goldman said. “They’ve gotten that there’s a thrill in achieving something. I care more about that than I care about them reading.”
I confess: I believe it. Competence is the wellspring of self-esteem and self-confidence. And kids should learn as much as they can, no? Where’s the harm? But there’s still something a little “off” about this, something that makes my curl my lip in vague disapproval. I guess I’m of several different minds.
Mind 1: This sort of thing isn’t going to do the “achievement gap” any good whatsoever, is it? (Related thought: if Kumon works, why aren’t we doing more of this in schools?)
Mind 2: Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead. If kids can learn this stuff this early, it just gives them more time to learn other stuff. Kids should learn everything they can, and if they can do calculus in junior high, well… awesome. What? You’re worrying about the achievement gap? Let me tell you about an achievement gap: Neanderthals vs. Cro-Magnons. There’s an achievement gap for you, buddy, and guess which side your kid is going to be on?
Mind 3: Three’s really too early. Kids should be developing their physical and perceptual faculties at that age, not prepping their brains for life in an office cubicle. Walking, lifting, throwing, catching, building… I don’t actually have a problem with the instruction itself, but I do worry at the loss of what it’s replacing. This sort of drill is probably wonderful for six-year olds.
Mind 4: It’s only a small portion of the day, and that leaves plenty of time for other things, doesn’t it? What else is the kid going to be doing? Watching TV? Is that really better?
Mind 5: Fine, it’s good for the kid. But it’s the practice and instruction that’s good for the kid. That’s not what this is all about. This is about our youth turning into a competitive bloodsport, and that’s not healthy.
Of course, it all comes down to the big H: Harvard.
Parents and policy makers may be ambivalent, Professor Gopnik said, but the popularity of programs like Kumon is “pushing very young children’s lives and curriculum in preschool programs more and more in this direction.”
“Part of them are saying, ‘This isn’t right, 3-year-olds should be playing in the sandbox and putting together mixing bowls,’ but then they’re thinking that maybe if the kid next door is doing it, it’ll be time to go to Harvard and my child won’t have the same advantage,” she said. “We are in a culture where education is the path to success, and it’s hard for people to recognize how deep and profound learning is when children are just playing.”
By the way… anyone else notice that in the picture at the article, the little girl has put the “W” on the “M” box? Total rookie mistake… she’s soooo clearly not Harvard material.