Swickard: When it is too early for formal public schooling

© 2015 Michael Swickard, Ph.D. Question: when is the best age to start children in public schools? This is like the question: why not teach algebra to five-year olds? Answer: our brains must develop before we can do formal logic. The age to start formal public school education is not until the age of six.
            However, a big push in our society by well-meaning people and power-hungry politicians is that earlier contact with school makes a better scholar. They say that while ignoring the research. They have many reasons not involving the welfare of the children when they want to start children younger.
            However, others people, myself included, feel that certain brain development phases must occur for children to thrive in a formal education setting. Research which I will point to suggests you can injure young children by putting them in formal academic settings too soon.
            We should look at the research but the way many professional educators have been operating of late is to ignore all research that doesn't support what they want. They say, "Forget the research we want to have a bigger empire and employ more people."
            When I was young most students began their formal education at the age of six. The generation that sent men to the moon and returned them safely started their schooling at this age. It works. The children were in family or church daycare until it was time to start school.
            Then there came kindergarten. In the 1960s there was the adoption of public school kindergarten for many students. In New Mexico it was the middle of the 1970s when the public schools uniformly started offering kindergarten. But that kindergarten was vastly different than what we see now.
            Back then it was only for half of the day and focused on play activities. Children sang songs and played games and took naps and went home saying, "I love school." Then well-meaning people said, "Why don't we keep them all day." It made sense since parents would not have to accommodate the other half of the day.
            The beauty for the politicians was it allowed public schools to hire twice as many kindergarten teachers. And for a while that was how schools went. But then administrators started talking about changing kindergarten into a formal academic activity.
            They justified changing kindergarten to formal education for five year olds so when these young students are in fourth grade they will do better making the school seem more successful. Kindergarten now doesn't look like it did. The play and informal curriculum is gone and the five year olds are just trying to learn the six year old stuff a year early. How is that working? Terrible but no one is paying attention.
            Research at Stanford University suggests the move to get children into academic classrooms sooner comes with liabilities. There is an interesting study that even mainstream news organizations are noticing. It is: The Gift of Time? SchoolStarting Age and Mental Health.
            This research from Stanford University looks at when students start and if starting a year later would be better. There are countries that start their children later in school. What is the outcome?
            The later starting children do better on the fourth and eighth grade tests and seem to not have as many mental health issues. But the research doesn't fit the political needs of our education leaders. The vast industrial public education complex needs the young children in the system.
            And I am fine with that if these politicians will just read the research and see that they can make the first year a year of curiosity, play and social involvement but they cannot teach formal education to the majority of the five year olds.
            Further, we must see our young children by their number of day alive and not birth year. I was born seven days before the cutoff so I was the youngest and smallest boy in most of my classes. Some of my competing classmates were fifteen percent older than me that first year.
            The Stanford study, which can be downloaded for five dollars talks about all of these issues. I do wish some of our leaders would look at this great research.