The always entertaining and thought-provoking Lenore Skenazy
writes an insightful and amusing piece today in the Wall Street Journal
gently castigating and poking fun at the marketing gurus and parents who package or who seek to find packaging of ordinary playthings as devices geared toward the development of a super-genius. While attending an international toy fair in New York last week, Skenazy discovers that the common sense purposes of a ball no longer speak to its value. Now, we are told, it is a "tactile stimulating sensory aid that helps develop gross motor skills." As she puts it, every article once sought for the pure joy the thing might offer is now touted as "early intervention in a box." It is not enough that a baseball comes with the promise of someday throwing a four-seam fastball and Big League dreams; it now must argue its merits on its contribution toward your child's future admission to Princeton--and I'm not even talking about a baseball scholarship! Ugh. How sad, and, unfortunately, how familiar!
Since my own children are long past the tiresome world of eager pre-school interventionists--with their well-meaning but often unimaginative theories about the best ways to develop gross and fine motor skills--I had nearly forgotten how depressing and oppressive that world could sometimes be. Depressing because so uninspired and oppressive because it seems part of some large conspiracy to mold every otherwise capable mother into a ball of self-doubt and confusion: "I know your Nicky enjoys playing with Legos . . . but is he maximizing his capacities with respect to the pincer grip in this activity? And what will this mean for his handwriting and scissor skills in kindergarten? Will he be behind? And how will he ever make it on to geometry from there?"
I used to wonder what it might be like if, say, instead of contemplating the possible benefits to hand/eye coordination in a boring drill of picking up beads with a pair of tweezers, parents and pre-school gurus were to place at least as much emphasis on the moral imagination of the children in their charge. What if, instead of worrying so much about paving a path toward Princeton, we instead started worrying about paving a path toward an ordered soul? Wouldn't Princeton (if that's even something remotely in your child's cards) take care of itself? What if, instead of only striving to create "good students" we instead began to strive toward creating good people? (Think how many "good students" of your acquaintance happen also to be rotten little brats . . .) Then, perhaps, we could stop de-constructing every activity that a normal child will do anyway (when left to his own devices), and parents and educators instead could focus their
energies on teaching children the difference between such concepts as right and wrong, good and bad, noble and ignoble, sublime and base, joy and sorrow, justice and injustice--and a few I'm, no doubt, forgetting at the moment. Does anyone imagine that such children would someday find it impossible to master video games or fly fighter jets? Would it be impossible to teach such children to throw a four-seam fastball? Could not a soul, so turned, take on the wonders of geometry or the mysteries of the universe? Experience tells us that they can, but hubris suggests we can perfect the formula.
The worst thing about the direction our minds seem to be tilted toward when it comes to educating very young children is not that we are sucking the joy out of their experiences (though we do try, mightily, sometimes to do that); it is that we are making moral idiots and buffoons out of ourselves in the process. We are focused on all the wrong things. Children can take care of their play time with minimal intervention from adults. But if adults spend most of their time fretting about children's play time and the tactile experiences these offer, they are in danger of squandering the precious time they have with those children by neglecting to point them toward the higher kinds of learning seen in glimpses at their own hard-won wisdom and experience. Perhaps then the paucity of our own wisdom and experience (and the subsequent doubt we must feel because of it) explains our reluctance today to so display it?
Yet this question remains: does Princeton offer any improvement?