There was an old lady who lived in a shoe.
She had so many children she didn’t know what to do.
She gave them some broth without any bread.
She whipped them all soundly and put them to bed.”
Mother of Too Many Children
Being a physician and educational activist, I sometimes see things that other people do not. For instance, there is a woman near the hospital where I work who has way too many children, all by different fathers. Naturally, they all receive government financing, but that’s unimportant at this point.
Here is my problem: her kids, naturally, are all different. They have different interests, different natural aptitudes, and develop at different rates, but she ignores all of that. She expects each of her kids to meet the same developmental benchmarks, to show the same level of skill and proficiency, and to master all tasks at the same ages and stages as the best of her kids. If one child gets there at an earlier age than the others, she praises the child in front of all the children. If the other children don’t keep up with the best – in each and every aspect – she criticizes them, and even tells the slowest that they’re failures. It’s intellectual abuse.
Unfortunately, there are many, many women exactly like her. Men, too.
They are organized into classrooms, schools, and school districts.
The Only Important Question
Any loving, committed parent operates under a single, simple rule: What’s the next step? It doesn’t matter what one child does at any particular age. Each child learns at her own speed. Demanding that a child master tasks at the same age as another child doesn’t help. In fact, it hurts children. We need to be tailoring education to fit the child. Otherwise, again, it’s intellectual abuse.
For instance, it is critical that each child learn to walk and talk and read and write.
And use the potty. I remember a woman saying, “I don’t know why parents get so obsessed about potty training. Have you ever met someone who failed to learn it?”
Of course, there are all sorts of people who don’t master potty training, or not all that well. We see them in the clinics, they have all kinds of bowel troubles. Frequently, they were the kids whose parents didn’t wait for them to learn, who created too much anxiety, and who put too much pressure on the kids to perform.
Rather than tailoring education to fit the child’s needs, they tried to tailor the child to fit the parent’s desires.
We see the same thing with eating. We all learned to eat and almost everyone enjoys eating some things. Many of us like a wide variety of foods, and enjoy trying new dishes. Some people, however, are picky eaters who will only eat a narrow range of foods. How often are picky eaters the kids who were forced to eat something at the preference and convenience of the parent? How much suffering do we create because we aren’t tailoring education to fit the child?
It also true of walking and talking and reading and writing. And everything else besides. Children will learn if we encourage them, engage with them, but wait until they’re ready. If we don’t push, they get there.
As I said, the only real question in parenting is, What’s the next step? Good parents do not try to hammer and squeeze a child. There is no real difference between good parenting and good education because at the end of the day, it’s the same child.
Teachers do the best they can with the work load they have, and with the busted paradigms that dominate education. My argument here, repeatedly, has been to get out of the way of the good teachers, and to rethink our basic concepts of education.
Good education is tailoring education to the child, not tailoring the child to education. And our assembly-line approach to education is hurtful.
It is simply abusive.
Picture from The Young Folks Treasury, Volume 1 (1909) courtesy MamaLisa.com.