April 3, 2011

No Preschool Child Left Behind

UC Berkeley psychologist Alison Gopnik has a great article on Slate about how--well, it's probably about how preschool education is going to hell in a handbasket because of misunderstandings about how kids learn and about what toddlers should be learning in the first place.

Actually, she looks at a couple of new studies that show kids end up learning more when they're prompted to discover something on their own than when they're taught it outright.

Adults often assume that most learning is the result of teaching and that exploratory, spontaneous learning is unusual. But actually, spontaneous learning is more fundamental. It's this kind of learning, in fact, that allows kids to learn from teachers in the first place.
Our kids' preschool is a guided play-based paradise, but I imagine that unless the entire early educational system in this country re-orients itself to take account of the preliminary results from these two studies, all the rest of y'all's kids are all gonna be working at Hardee's or whatever. Sorry.

Why Preschool Shouldn't Be Like School [slate]

7 Comments

So basically what Maria Montessori said 100 years ago.

Montessori? Meh, just not feeling it.

Our kids went to a Reggio Emilia preschool/daycare at Carnegie Mellon and two of them are now in a public Montessori school. Not sure if it's the public part dragging it down, but I have a hard time imagining a better education than what Reggio offers - it's unhyperboleicly magical.

I've yet to understand what Reggio really is, and I've researched it! I guess there are too many schools around here that claim to be Reggio because they know that sounds good but they don't really adhere to anything specific. Educate me!

My son goes to a Montessori school :)

The article actually uses a very limited definition of "teaching," by claiming the adult allowing the child to explore on his or her own ISN'T teaching. In fact, the best teaching in early childhood IS conducted in this manner, and this type of high quality experience is what so many studies have shown to be associated with better long-term outcomes for children.

Montessori folks are like Mac folks 10 years ago -- insufferably proud. In my community, the Montessori school takes pride in relegating art to the afterschool program -- no creativity allowed during school hours! and instead consigns students to endless hours of categorizing and coloring. Vertebrates in this pile, invertebrates in that! My friend's kid was kicked out of his Montessori program because he insisted on playing with the invertebrates after he had categorized them.

Now, Montessori is not trademarked -- anyone can claim it. So I'm sure there are some good programs out there. But every one *I've* seen is pretty rigid about how you can learn (color in the strawberry bushes, just like you see in the template!) -- the opposite of Gopnik's discovery philosophy.

I'm no expert - just a dad of three that's had kids in both Reggio and Montessori, so YMMV...

Reggio lets the child direct the learning, and the teacher's there to guide/facilitate it (and document, document, document:-). That's not to say that they don't have a lesson plan, but the kids lead, pose/answer their own questions. There's also a huge emphasis on art and expression, in both the rooms and the school. The environment of school also plays an important part in things.

Their Montessori school is just soooo structured - maybe that's necessary with modern kids that've been fueled on video games, sugar and pop culture. I watched my daughter put away her "6" bead chains today and she did it w/ a cultish reverence - I was impressed with here passion for exactness, but spooked by the underlying concept. I see the benefits of their practical life exercises, but I'm always left wondering if there's some hidden Mr. Miyagi lesson I'm missing.

Again, just my $.02 from two schools in the same city; I have limited knowledge outside that scope. Both are leaps and bounds above the average school.

I agree with your point, Avimom, about the definition of teaching; Gopnik only makes an early, context-setting reference to the idea of bringing NCLB-style "teaching to the test," expectations to preschool/early learning.

And though the article makes people in Reggio or Montessori schools feel like she's validating their decision, she does not, in fact, get into differences between various pedagogies. All these legacy approaches continue because people are invested in them, and have been satisfied with them, or because they're preferable for whatever reason to alternatives.

But I think Gopnik's arguing for something different: a teaching approach that is driven by research into how kids develop and learn. Which doesn't map neatly to any single pedagogy or policy; it's the issue of how to scale the "all it takes is a great teacher" to a larger system.

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