Early Education Pitfalls

Elementary school is for three things:

  1. Socializing our kids
  2. Teaching our kids how to read pre-approved novels, multiply single-digit numbers in their heads, and memorize the “important” presidents like Abe Lincoln, John Quincy Adams and George W. Bush
  3. Beating some of their natural curiosity and imagination out of them and replacing it with what we think they should learn instead

I am not saying that kids shouldn’t go to school! I’m saying that kids need more encouragement to develop their own skills as well.

By them time they get to a certain age (like 16 or 17) it seems like some kids don’t have any idea what they want to do with their lives, but are feeling such a strong social pressure to “go to college” because that’s what everyone else is doing, that they give in, without a reason. No wonder we eventually end up with so many unhappy people at desks and cubicles, wishing they could have pursued their childhood passion professionally.

We would be in a much better place if our parents/teachers focused on some of our natural interests at an early age rather than forcing us to over-learn things we aren’t naturally geared towards learning.  We could set up a system where children learn the basics, but get a chance to focus more (like 50%) of their learning on an area that suits them better (like picking a major in college.)

But until the day when this kind of learning is more widespread, some kids will be “left behind.”

What Parents Can Do

Make no mistake, elementary school is one of the most important times for a child. Any psychologist will tell you that they are very impressionable at this age. And bad experiences seem to stick with them forever. Don’t believe me? Think back to random memories from your own childhood (like around the ages of 5-8.)

As a parent, you have some power if you choose to send your kids to school. You can try to encourage your kids, from an early age (very important) to keep pursuing some of their natural curiosities. If you notice that little Madison likes to draw, and is pretty good at it, you should encourage him! You can be damned sure that Madison is going to get yelled at for drawing in his math class if he is caught, thus starting the typical path toward his eventual confusion.

I’m certainly not saying that ALL the confusion young people have about what they want to do as adults (professionally) comes from not being encouraged as a child. Some kids probably just don’t know. But a GREAT deal of future trouble could be eliminated for your child if you encourage them to develop their talents outside the classroom. If you are consistent enough in your praise, involvement, and encouragement, you can counteract the negative effects of force-fed learning and the social averaging that I talked about in an earlier entry.

Otherwise little Madison may end up going to college, spending tens of thousands of dollars to become a lawyer, and then failing miserably after a year.

As a parent, don’t confuse your kids further. Encourage them.



  • Elizabeth November 15, 2007 at 4:37 pm

    This sounds a little like the Spanish system, where you choose one of four general specializations for your last two years of high school, and then you choose your major when you apply to college. It’s harder to change majors than in the states, you usually have to start from scratch, but that’s less of a problem because tuition is much cheaper (I’m paying 400 euros for a half-time courseload — for the year. Even when you take the exchange rate into account, that’s still dirt cheap). However, for me, that system wouldn’t have worked. In high school, I had no intention of majoring in math. I planned to study political science or international relations at college. However, when I got to college, I realized that I didn’t like poli sci and international relations, and I did like college level math. If I had started to specialize at age 15, I wouldn’t have gotten to experience college level math, and would probably have stuck with political science, not knowing how unhappy I was because I didn’t have math to compare it to.

    I agree that it’s important to encourage whatever talents or inclinations children show, especially if those talents won’t be encouraged in school. However, I don’t think that forcing kids to specialize in high school or earlier is the best way to achieve that. In high school, many people (like me) don’t have the self-knowledge and the breadth of studies to know what is truly their calling. Maybe if, from high school, two tracks were offered; specialization, or general studies. But we already have that, in some form, with governor’s schools, charter schools, and other focus high schools. Perhaps it’s a question of publicity?


  • Mike November 15, 2007 at 5:07 pm

    There is probably a balance that could be achieved here. Some schools do this by encouraging kids to focus on their talents through extracurriculars and to be part of “honors clubs.” The problem I see is that this happens when kids are already in high school, when the most formative years of childhood really occur much younger.

    I agree that there should be a couple of tracks that are options (as you say, specialization or general.) This way kids who don’t yet know what they are really interested in could explore, while others who have strong natural talents in one area could specialize. These are just some thoughts.


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