Debate Magazine

The Problem Comes When We Spend Our Days Trying to Prepare Kids for What Comes Next Instead of Addressing Their Developmental Needs Right Now

By Stevemiranda

I got a peek at my seven-year-old son’s report card, issued by the local public school district. It’s a curious document.

It contains an elaborate assessment rubric with seemingly dozens of categories. Here is one statement, under the subheading “science”: “Conducts testing procedures to identify the properties of different soil components.”

And another one, under “Social Studies”: “Understands the role of government and civic involvement in a local community.”

Did I mention that he’s seven years old?

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As a society, we’ve determined that the point of school is to transmit academic content from teacher to student. And that’s fine, if you’re in college. And maybe when kids become teenagers, it can be important for them to really get command of some serious academic skills and concepts.

But because we’ve narrowed the definition of school to just academic content—without any explicit discussion of the importance of understanding human development—we end up with a state-issued report card designed to assess whether seven-year-olds understand the role of government in the local community.

When I first read this, I thought, How could any seven-year-old possibly have even the slightest grasp of what government does?

Then, more: Why in the world would any seven-year-old need to know this? What are the developmental needs of seven-year-olds? Are any of those developmental needs met by understanding how a bill becomes a law?

* * *

Documents like this get created because, instead of viewing kids as progressing along a path of human development, society sometimes views them as miniature adults. It’s entirely possible that young adults interested in science should be able to conduct testing procedures to identify the properties of different soil components. In a high school science class, this might be a great focus.

The problem comes when, in middle school, we start to project ahead and assume that kids will need to learn this in high school. So instead of creating a program that is developmentally appropriate for middle schoolers, we offer a less sophisticated version of high school. In elementary school, we offer them a less sophisticated version of middle school. We spend our days trying to prepare kids for what comes next instead of addressing their developmental needs right now.

But as Sir Ken Robinson observed in his most recent TED talk, “A three-year-old is not half a six-year-old.”

Similarly, a seven-year-old is not half a 14-year-old.

I understand that politicians need to get re-elected and superintendants are under pressure from the public to raise test scores. But I suspect everyone would be a lot happier—including politicians and superintendants, because of the likely rise in test scores—if we celebrated kids for who they are right now instead of treating them like miniature adults.

(NOTE: This post is dedicated to my son’s awesome second-grade teacher, who knows him well and honors his unique developmental path. Thanks, Katie!)

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