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How to kill your kid's creativity (Part 2)

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Reel Mama: How to kill your kid's creativity (Part 2)

Friday, July 8, 2011

How to kill your kid's creativity (Part 2)

Part 1 of “How to kill your kid’s creativity” focused on my shock in learning that entrance exams and standardized tests are now required to win a spot in many (probably exclusive) private schools and gifted and talented programs for children as young as two or three.  Much of my essay focused on a standardized test preparation service called Aristotle Circle.

In the interest of full disclosure, Aristotle Circle has offered me the opportunity to review its OLSAT workbook.  I’m going to try out some of the 1100 exercises with my daughter when I receive it, and I’m going to offer my honest feedback here in a review in this blog.   Aristotle Circle has been very cordial and professional in their communications with me. Here is what the company told me in a recent communication:

“Unfortunately for many 3-5 year olds, standardized tests are a reality private schools and gifted and talented programs require. Our goal is to help parents prepare for the test in a way that is both fun and effective - and it only works if parents like you find it a useful and practical tool you'd use.”

While I won’t be preparing my daughter for a standardized test, it will be fascinating to put myself in the shoes of the parents who are.  I’m looking forward to finding out if Leilani will find the exercises fun and effective, how long they hold her interest vs. other games we might normally play, etc.

My genuine concern about requiring standardized tests for children so young remains.  My question is the following:  in focusing so much on preparation for standardized test-taking, are parents depriving their children of the chance to innovate through creative play, especially for toddlers up to age three?  The most brain development is taking place in the first three years of life, and discovery through creative play and exploration is vital.  The workbook exercises could be a part of a child’s learning experience, but so should, for example, nature walks, time at the park, and meals at the family table.

I understand that Aristotle Circle is providing a service and responding to a demand within the parenting community.  What bothers me is what might be described as a vicious cycle spiraling out of control with today’s culture of pressuring kids to excel.  It’s a chicken-and-the-egg scenario, and much of the blame lies with these schools for the gifted and talented.  This is big business, and these schools can play into parents’ anxieties, convincing them that their children will be left behind unless they are enrolled in their programs.

I have a bit of a problem with the exclusive nature of the gifted and talented programs, because by default it implies that not all children deserve the best education possible, but only a select few whose parents can afford it.  I believe that all of our nation’s children are our national treasures.  I live in LA, and I can observe my community.  Whether it is a child of an illegal immigrant, so many of whom are American citizens by birthright, or the child of the CEO of a huge corporation, these children deserve an opportunity to excel, and they are vital to our nation’s future.  I believe public education has gotten the short end of the stick for too long.

Parents are understandably eager to avoid enrolling their children in the failing schools (usually public) at all costs and to help their children get the best education available.  No wonder today’s parents are so on edge.  Here is what Aristotle Circle said about its policy to hire PhDs to tutor children as young as two or three for the standardized tests required by the programs for gifted and talented students:

“We absolutely hire PhDs as our tutors and experts! Most ed boards who give the tests require PhDs to administer them - so our seemingly high standards are there to match the actual testing experience as closely as possible.” 

It’s ridiculous that these schools and testmakers have convinced parents that a PhD is necessary to administer board exams to three-year-olds.  The very idea of a three-year-old taking an entrance exam for anything is mind-boggling!  My husband and I both have teaching backgrounds, and academics are very important to us, but I believe this is taking it too far.

We just need to take a moment to appreciate our kids and their little milestones.  Mine right now is learning how to use a spoon.  Preparing her for an entrance exam is the last thing on my mind.  Frankly I’m not in a financial position to be able to send my daughter to a very high-priced gifted and talented school, but I’m not worried.  I believe that she will still have her shot at the Ivies and at many other great colleges and universities that offer a stellar education. We are blessed as a nation to have so many institutions of higher education that offer our nation’s students amazing learning experiences.  No other nation can offer this to its kids.  We are educating the future generations not only of the US, but of the world. 

I’m not saying that I will never worry about enrolling my daughter in an academically strong school that will challenge her and prepare her very well for her future.  But right now I’m focusing on other things.  If I provide my daughter with guidance and love, in addition to a chance to take what she perceives as “risks” in a safe environment that I supervise, such as trying something new, I know she will become the person she needs to be, and she will discover who she is on her own with my love and support. 

Read Part 1 of "How to kill your kid's creativity" here.


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