In 2016 “No child left behind” was replaced with “Race to the Top” as the government answer to education in the United States. The program sucks. Let me tell you why.
Even just the name is BS. “Race to the Top.” First off, education isn’t a race. In a race, we go from point A to point B as quickly as we can. We may stop for water breaks. But the entire focus is just getting to the end of the race.
And what is this “top”? The top of the class as valedictorian? There is only going to be one of those. So we would be labeling most of the class losers if they don’t get that. Is the “top” the peak of education? What would that be? A medical degree from an Ivy League school? A six-figure salary from a Fortune 500 company? We aren’t aiming for that. This slogan is all about elementary and high school education in America. High school education in the United States doesn’t qualify you for much of anything. Being “well educated” in this country usually refers to years of college and higher education.
So, the whole thing is just a load of crap. and it is ruining our children and their educations.
Why? Because the image that education is a race to be won has infiltrated our schools. These ideas have even snuck into our daycares, preschools, and homeschools.
Did you know that research shows that introducing academics early actually hurts children’s scores in the long run? Research has proven, time and time again, that children do best with having purely play-based experiences in preschool and kindergarten. But instead of following that path, we’ve started teaching letters and numbers younger and younger. Children are pushed to write their letters at age 3 and to be writing sentences at 5. Even though that is not shown in any way to help them write a better term paper at age 18 or even be better at reading at age 8.
You don’t give a child a “head start” by having them learn reading and writing skills as young as possible. You give them a head start by reading them stories, giving them appropriate toys that build motor skills, teamwork, and imagination. Children need to learn to play in groups, sing songs, recite rhymes and tell stories as part of early literacy skills. They need to make messes, make art, and explore their world to be prepared to learn math and science.
This quest to do things younger than is appropriate goes on at every age level. We want 5- and 6-year-olds to be interested in chapter books, even though child development shows they will be better able to understand picture books, that help them visually decode the story in addition to hearing it. Algebra skills are introduced younger and younger, even though every study on the topic shows that the mental skills needed to understand this upper-level math don’t form until puberty or later for most people.
And who suffers most in this system of pushing children to do more and more earlier?
The children with learning challenges: ADHD, ASD, SPD, dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia and all the others. It isn’t that these children can’t learn. It is that they aren’t made to race other children as part of their education. These kids need an educational model that lets them meander and play along the path even more than most. An education that lets them play beside a hill until their legs are long enough to climb it, instead of trying to force them up a mountain of math skills as fast as possible. An education that lets them rest and play with ideas that there is no time to explore in a race.
These kids are completely qualified to get to the “top” of education, or their field. Every field in the world has groundbreakers who have those labels. But they didn’t get to that place because they were forced along at breakneck speed with their peers. They got there because they got there their own way. In their own time.
I write curriculum for the parents who want to get their kids out of the race and have another way. The curriculums offered by Five Senses Literature Lessons give you lessons to do that will engage your child’s mind and body as you meander through a world of things to learn about, instead of asking them to race towards an end goal as fast as they can go. The world is interesting and worth exploring without the pressure to read, write or do math that a child isn’t yet ready for.
About the Author
Laura Sowdon, OTR/L is an occupational therapist, writer, speaker, educator and creator of the Five Senses Literature Lessons homeschool curriculum. She has worked as an occupational therapist with children in public and private schools, as well as private practice. Laura has taught and managed homeschool co-ops as well as homeschooling her own three children. Laura is dedicated to the idea of educating children at a pace that aligns with brain and physical development milestones and respects neurodiversity in all its forms.