Kate Zernike’s New York Times article explores how some parents are choosing to tutor their 3-year-old children in order to give them an edge in school. ”Programs like Kumon are gaining from, and generating, parent’s anxiety about what kind of preparation their kids will need.” In the article, Kumon’s North American CFO says that “age 3 is a sweet spot. But if they’re out of a diaper and can sit still with a Kumon instructor for 15 minutes, we will take them.”
“The best you can say is that they’re useless,” said Alison Gopnik, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, who compared the escalation of supplemental education with Irish elk competing to see which had the biggest antlers. “The result is that they go around tottering, unable to walk, under the enormous weight of these antlers they’ve developed,” she said. “I think it’s true of American parents from high school all the way down to preschool.”
Professor Gopnik said that “we are in a culture where education is the path to success, and it’s hard for people to recognize how deep and profound learning is when children are just playing.”
“When you’re putting blocks together, you’re learning how to be a physicist,” agreed Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, a psychologist at Temple University and an author of “Einstein Never Used Flash Cards.” “When you’re learning how to balance things and calculate how tall you can make your building, you’re learning how to be a physicist. Having your kid drill and kill and fill in worksheets at 2 and 3 and 4 to the best of our knowledge so far does not give your child a leg up on anything.”
“Yes, your child might know more of his letters than the child who spent Saturday in the sandbox,” she said. “But the people who are team players, who are creative innovators, they are the ones who are going to invent the next iPad. The kids who are just memorizing are going to be outsourced to the kids in India who have memorized the same stuff.”
Programs like Junior Kumon may not do harm, she said. But they do help push a consensus that young children need more and more structured curriculum.