Rethinking the Goal of Childhood Education
When thinking about the goal of childhood education, the word success comes to mind. But how do we define success in our children? Many parents cite good grades as a marker of success in their child’s education. But the reason grades signify success is that they allow students to get accepted into high-performing universities.
And what is the point of forking over thousands, sometimes hundreds of thousands, of dollars for a fancy piece of paper with the word “Degree” on it? Well, this would be to get a high-paying job, of course. But to what end? Is financial stability the only thing we wish our education system to produce in our children? Is this all there is?
What makes children happy in the long run?
Schools are, rightfully, geared towards academic success. But this seems to be the only kind of success they strive for. We must ask ourselves: Is academic success the end-all-be-all of life? Have we even stopped to consider what makes our children happy?
Of course, parents want their children to be happy. But, as studies have found, and as we have certainly all observed at some point, academic success is oftentimes pursued in place of happiness. A United Nations survey asked U.S. children if they liked school- 78 percent said they do not.
In addition, a recent Associated Press survey found that school is the most common source of stress among people ages 12-17. Dr. Kate McReynolds, a therapist in New York City, recounts her experience in helping one child:
“The parents kept their son in kindergarten and paid me to meet with him weekly, despite my insistence that he did not need therapy — only more time to play! As the months wore on, his unhappiness grew, and his behavior deteriorated. He developed nightmares and stomach aches. What stunned me though was that no one in the room responded to this young boy’s unhappiness.”
Academic-related success is not a bad thing, but when it is so overemphasized in our culture that parents are enrolling their children in school before they are developmentally ready so that they can “get ahead”, something needs to change.
Is college the right choice for every child?
Many well-intentioned parents often push their students academically for the purpose of helping them get into a good college. However, many students are not well-suited for college, either because they are not academically inclined or because they have no desire, and thus little motivation, to attend college.
One option that is seldom introduced to students is the option of attending a trade school, as opposed to a traditional four-year university. While four-year universities do in general lead to jobs with higher salaries than those from trade schools, trade schools can be an excellent, financially stable option suited for students who prefer hands-on tasks.
In addition, trade schools have lower drop-out rates than four-year universities, possibly because universities may admit students that are not inclined towards a life of academia. Trade schools also cost less, saving graduates from a lifetime of student debt payments. Many students would end up happier overall by attending a trade school rather than going the traditional college route.
Changing the definition of “success”
In considering the overall happiness of a child as a metric of success, many early childhood education programs are now offering a more comprehensive approach to student goals. Some cities and programs are already making headway in this area. Nurse-Family Partnership is addressing the concern of child nutrition, which often has a significant impact on both the academic success and the happiness of children.
The Abecedarian Project in North Carolina focuses on a play-based learning environment for children, and Lumin Education in Dallas is providing emotional and behavioral therapy to students who need extra support at school.
One organization’s efforts alone are not going to change the goals of childhood education. Rather, this will require a steady process of step-by-step progress towards re-structuring the American education system for the betterment of our children and their well-being.