Premature Adultification

An article out of Britain caught my eye this week:

Bright Children Should Start School At Age Six, Says Academic

Pupils should not be subjected to full classroom tuition until the age of six to off-set the effects of premature “adultification”, it was claimed.

Dr Richard House, a senior lecturer at Roehampton University’s Research Centre for Therapeutic Education, said gifted pupils from relatively affluent backgrounds suffered the most from being pushed “too far, too fast”.

He quoted a major US study – carried out over eight decades – that showed children’s “run-away intellect” actually benefited from being slowed down in the early years, allowing them to develop naturally.

Many bright children can grow up in an “intellectually unbalanced way”, suffering lifelong negative health effects and even premature death, after being pushed into formal schooling too quickly, he said.

I have to take exception to the assumption that not placing a child in a classroom setting slows down a child’s intellect. (What exactly is a run-away intellect anyway?) I do believe it is healthier to allow a child to “develop naturally”; the classroom setting is not a natural form of development. It is a manmade institution that separates children from parents and forces them into the company of age mates in an environment where movement and creative learning often bow to learning to pass a future all-important test.

It is insane to try to turn any child into a tiny adult, no matter what his or her intellect happens to be.

A child is naturally inquisitive, impetuous, in constant motion. Yes, learning self control is important to his or her well-being, and most will do so in good time if they are simply in the company of adults who display proper behavior that they can copy.

However, when children are three, four or five we should not be expecting them to sit still and pay attention. The current system sacrifices them to the god of early intervention (often with the end goal of seeing that they make more money and are therefore “happier” as adults) and then finds it necessary to put them on pills so that they conduct themselves like little adults. Honestly, is suffering “lifelong negative health effects” such a surprise?

It is natural for children to learn while being inquisitive, impetuous and active. We do not need to be pulling such traits from kids as if they were weeds. There is no need to be seated at a desk or in a circle or isolated with age-mates in order to foster learning. Neither must certified teachers be at the helm before education can begin.

What children need most in those early years is a secure and loving environment in which they feel safe to explore their world. They require involved adults who will answer the questions that they ask. Instilling a lifelong love of questions and discovery is the most valuable education a child can have; parents can teach their children how to learn.

I am fond of the story of Thomas Edison’s venture into formal education. Because he was sickly he did not start school until he was seven. (Give or take a year. I’m not remembering my research well.) However, during those early years he spent in the company of his mother and father, the world was his classroom and he was learning by asking questions, by building things, experimenting, reading and being read aloud to.

When he finally did go to school, Thomas found it unbearable. There was no moving about, there was no building or experimenting, but the worst part for him was not being allowed to ask his endless questions. He did poorly. The schoolmaster asked for a conference with his mother in which he told her that her son’s head was addled and that Edison probably could not learn.

To which his mother replied that perhaps it was the schoolmaster who could not teach.

She pulled Thomas from school, set up a science lab for him in the basement of their house and encouraged him to continue learning as he had before.

We all know what a failure Thomas Edison was. 🙂

When was the last time you urged a peach to ripen faster on the tree and had spectacular results? Does a peach suffer for having ripened naturally? Isn’t half the fun of having a kitten watching it play? Do we “hurry” it into becoming a cat? Or do we not rather expect that it will mature according to it’s own natural time table?

Photo by Armin Hanisch

Photo by Armin Hanisch

Let children be children. Premature adultification harms their future.

Further reading on this topic:

What do you think? I would love to hear your comments, please!

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One response to “Premature Adultification

  1. Pingback: What Has Happened to Education? | Carolyn Dekat

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