Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Are Children Dumber Today Than They Used To Be?

Lest I get in hot water with all the parents out there, my short answer is "no." Now let me explain the question.

I recently learned of a bill coming before the Utah Senate which would fund all day kindergarten throughout the state. Perhaps I am thinking of my own kids only, but I am convinced that all day kindergarten is not helpful to most students. For those who would point out that it is optional and not required I will say two things: first, when will that change, because our trend is towards adding requirements such as these to combat falling achievement results; and second, This post is not just about all day kindergarten. (Now on to what it is about.)

Forty years ago we had fewer after school programs, less technology in schools, and less emphasis on standardized testing. We also had higher literacy rates, better scores on math and science tests, and probably higher graduation rates (I could be wrong there - I have no data). If we add those two things together we should come to the conclusion that after school programs, more technology and emphasis on standardized tests are not the solution to the problem facing our education system. (They are great for the bottom line of some technology companies and some education companies who specialize in testing or after school programs.)

I don't mean to imply that having computers and other technology in schools is bad, or that tests make kids dumber (I know some people who make either of those arguments) but we should see that they do not solve the underlying problem.

Another trend that I think has a greater impact on our education system than the technology, tests, and extra programs is this - the vast majority of students today come from one of two kinds of homes: single parent homes or two income homes. This was not the case forty years ago. The real problem confronting our society and manifesting itself in our education system is that children are not getting the care from involved parents that they used to get. They are getting more activities and government sponsored daycare solutions and less of mom or dad sitting down to help with homework, attending parent-teacher conferences, being aware of what's happening in their lives, or even playing with them in the back yard. Our problem is homes which are nothing more than places to sleep and families which are all about blood relations with no thought about relationships.

Programs like all day kindergarten make it that much easier for parents to decide that they can both work and let the government raise their children. I admit that some people are in a position where they need outside help, but in most cases it is a matter of convenience rather than need. Society should not be burdened by the financial and social cost of funding a convenience. For those who have needs, we should be looking for ways to help their needs without making it convenient for others to go joyriding at our expense.

4 comments:

Laura said...

An interesting thought . . . as I was in Romania I learned that one of the goals of Communism, one of the ways that they kept the society divided and isolated was by breaking up families. Mothers and fathers were both required to work outside the home, children were sent to government-mandated daycare. Another interesting point; they took the kitchens out of the homes, when Ceaucescu was taken from power (read assassinated) he was in the process of building what we missionaries fondly called the "Hunger Domes." They were massive cafeteria-type buildings that were created to feed hundreds (thousands?) at a time. Let's put it this way, today they are shopping malls. Also, all utilities were controlled from a single place--even hot water and heat for the homes. Nothing was kept at a personal level, but everything was kept by the government. Now, lest any of those of you who don't know me think I am anti-government, let me state I'm not (though any elaboration is for elsewhere). Last interesting aside for now, the Communist government also mandated monthly pregnancy tests for women. If they were found pregnant they were sent home from work. If they didn't want the baby, it simply went to an orphanage. Oh, and did I happen to mention that birth control was outlawed? Ceaucescu wanted a great population. Anyone have any questions as to why we heard so much about Romanian orphanages now??

Now, why am I blabbing on about all this. Only to say that as I read David's post, it really struck me how this all-day Kindergarten thing (as in government being too involved and people not involved enough) is problematic. I agree with David that parents hand too much responsibility to the schools and we as communities rely too much on the government to save us. Think of Hurricane Katrina, how many people had so many problems because they were not personally prepared in any way? Not knocking them, know they had a hard time and how much can you prepare for a hurricane? However, I was continually upset by the comments about the government not doing enough and not fast enough, etc. And look how many are still living off the government after so many years. Where was their savings? Insurance? I think continually on what the prophets have counseled about preparedness and self-sufficiency. I think this must also come in spiritual, emotional and intellectual ways. We must be more involved in our civic responsibilities, not allowing everyone else to make decisions that affect our lives and families so heavily. I myself am not very good at this yet, but I'm trying.

Anonymous said...

I do believe all day kindergarten is the wrong approach for fixing acedemic under achievement. And I agree that it will be supported by 2 income families and single parents. What is happening to "childhood?" I'm sorry for the children. I'm sorry for the parents.

Allie said...

I wouldn't put my child in all-day kindergarten. I'm struggling with the idea of him being in first grade next year. All day- away from home.

Home schooling is looking interesting.

That said, (and take this for what it's worth) I have read studies that said children who were behind their peers upon entering kindergarten, were caught up by first grade if they were in all-day kindergarten.

Ideally, parents should spend time with their children, teaching them, but that doesn't always happen.

Show me a way to fix broken families and then I will agree that all-day kindergarten is not the way to go.

Perhaps there should be specific requirements to allow children into all-day kindergarten (of course, that would require more testing...).

David said...

Allie,

Thanks for the comment. Just so you know, my blog has moved to davidjmiller.org - with all the posts and comments.

I have left my response there.