NY Times on the importance of play in early childhood education

A friend sent me an article from today’s Times, making the same point I’ve been trying to make for the last few years.  Play is a key to getting young kids interested in learning and interacting as part of an inventive, inquisitive group.  I was glad to get the piece, which supported my thesis, though it also aggravated me slightly to read it.  

Written by a freelance science writer in the well-balanced style that is the Times’ trademark, it quoted several educational researchers who believe that more play should be part of early schooling, instead of the accelerated academics pushed by our country’s misguided, corporate-driven educational mandates.  “No Child Left Behind” (surrrrrre…), the article suggests, may underestimate the academic value of young children discovering learning in joyful play, rather than by forcing them to do cognitive tasks at an age when they cannot fully understand or participate in them.

True enough.  Play is crucial for a lot of reasons, at all stages of life, but particularly for kids beginning school.  Glad to see the NY Times printing an article about it.  Here’s the thoughtful, well-written piece.

A sardonic tendency, ingrained by my father, no doubt, twitched after reading an article which, to me, stated the painfully obvious and brought this unfortunate analogy to mind:

“Seven-year multimillion dollar Harvard study of 100,00 children and young adults strongly suggests that children forced by abusers to engage in sexual activities are far less likely to be enthusiastic about sexual intimacy later in life.  Researchers debate….”

I know, I know.

We get to the heart of the discussion on play vs. academic tasks for tykes with this paragraph:

The stakes in this debate are considerable. As the skeptics of teacher-led early learning see it, that kind of education will fail to produce people who can discover and innovate, and will merely produce people who are likely to be passive consumers of information, followers rather than inventors. Which kind of citizen do we want for the 21st century?

The answer really depends on who you ask, as many answers do.  Those who profit from a passive, easily manipulated consumer society have a vested interest in keeping masses of Americans as stupid and gullible as possible.  Which kind of citizen do we want for the 21st century?  It depends on who “we” is.  If it’s the good folks who make billions on ever more sophisticated standardized tests for tykes?  No brainer.  If it’s those who believe that democracy can only work properly with an educated, thinking populace able to intelligently discuss and creatively tackle problems?  

Well, you and I know which side we’re on– but then, nobody is paying us the big bucks to be on the side of profiteers at any cost.  Easy to condemn educational profiteers, I suppose, but, on the other hand, everybody’s got to make a living.

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