In Sunday’s New York Times magazine there was a letter to the editor that gave me pause:
Despite her admirable developmental perspective, Pamela Paul fails to consider the effect of a sociocultural context that utterly ignores the developmental needs of 3- to 5-year-olds. When small children are expected to sit still, follow a schedule, even learn the alphabet — when curiosity, movement and nonconformity earn a “frowny face” — why are we surprised that so many feel sad, guilty and unworthy? No other culture treats children this age as we do. No wonder so many American kids are unhappy.
This letter was in response to an article last week about whether or not preschoolers can be depressed. The original article was really thought-provoking (if we say that they can, will we overmedicate them? is it depression or just a phase? what, if anything, should we do for a depressed preschooler? are we thinking it is something else — like special needs — when actually it is mental illness?).
But the letter — “When small children are expected to sit still, follow a schedule, even learn the alphabet” — gave me pause. Right after writing my routines post, in which I advocated expecting children to sit still and follow a schedule (and even earn the alphabet), someone says that this is wrong, and harmful to children. Maybe she’s right, and I’m wrong.
On the other hand, if you keep reading, she says “when curiosity, movement and nonconformity earn a “frowny face.”” I know that’s not true in my classroom. Curiosity, movement, and nonconformity are treasured in my room.
And I think that there are good reasons for what I do in my class. For one thing, the letter writer is presumably college-educated. She is probably talking about kids from middle-income homes with college-educated parents. And maybe those kids don’t need much in the way of academics in preschool. Most of my students come from families in poverty, where few, if any, family members have been to college. I do what I do to get my students to travel as far as possible so that when they go to kindergarten, they will have the skills and experiences and knowledge of children from middle-class families, and they will not be allowed to fall behind right from the start.
I’m tying myself into knots over this. What do you all think?