Yesterday I listened to another report on the practice of “red shirting” kindergartners. Just another way that parents hope to give their child an advantage and help him or her, but most often him, achieve more academic and athletic success. States vary in their age requirements for kindergarten, but many still use a date in August as the deadline for enrollment. So parents of the youngest children are opting to keep their progeny at home or in preschool for an extra year. They want them to be mature, leaders, confident, and well, just bigger.
I don’t have a problem with any of that. I’ve often observed that older children are more mature and confident in my class. They sometimes have more skills and greater aptitude. But they can also be behavior problems and have terrible attitudes, especially toward the younger students. They sometimes have bad habits, mostly in the areas of pencil grip and handwriting, that have continued for so long that they cannot be corrected. They sometimes openly bemoan the fact that a neighbor or friend or cousin their age has gone on ahead of them. Their grades are sometimes the same as the youngest student in class. My point being that each child is unique and NOTHING is going to guarantee their success in education. And if everyone starts “red shirting”, well…
Parents and policymakers who seek new programs and plans for education always seem to forget one thing- there is no magic factor- no program, plan, or practice is going to be the “best” one for each and every student. No matter what we do or teach or legislate, some child is going to be left behind the others. Some child is going to fail to graduate. That is a fact of life as old as time. Yet we try to avoid it at any cost. We spend millions of dollars on plans that are supposed to guarantee that every child in America gets the same elementary education, graduates from high school, goes on to college, and then gets a job. Wake up and smell the crayons folks! Not possible. Education cannot possibly alleviate all of the societal and environmental and genetic differences that separate children from their classmates. Education is but one of many, many factors that determine success in life.
For a long time the standard teacher mantra was “I believe every child can learn.” Well, that’s true and I can still say that with conviction. However, the reality is that one child is going to learn to read and another is going to learn to tie his shoes! We have to stop denying that. A child with an IQ of 130 and a child with an IQ of 74 are going to experience different levels of success! No program or curriculum plan is ever going to close the gap between those two. And it may not matter one bit if either child is six instead of five when he starts kindergarten.
This is not my way of saying “give up”. I am not the least bit negative about the overall benefits of education. We all need to know and understand as much as possible about the world and our place in it. I love teaching! I love my students! But I think it is high time we get back to differentiated instruction and fully explore the concept of giving each student what he or she needs to reach their unique potential. A one-size-fits-all plan just doesn’t make sense for education.
I hope the parents who hold their children back for a year do it because it is the right thing for their child, not because it is the latest popular plan for success.