August 19, 2008

Teach the Children

Justin Katz

Obviously, the two articles aren't in direct opposition, and I'm not suggesting that one presents anything nearing an argument against the other, but the two felt related, so perhaps they're worth juxtaposing. First, AP education writer Nancy Zuckerbrod's memoirish piece comparing early childhood education in the England versus the United States:

The head teacher and I exchanged pleasantries, and then she laid it out. My daughter, who commonly invokes the Mandarin word for little brother and usually wins at the game hangman, has a significant "learning gap" when compared with her British peers — especially in literacy.

Dumbstruck, I said nothing at first and then started to protest, suggesting there had been a terrible misunderstanding — maybe even a language barrier. OK, that one didn't make sense. I took a deep breath and then remembered all that I had heard about the differences between early education in the two countries.

Zuckerbrod points out some academic differences across children's progression through the school-age years, but somehow, Theodore Dalrymple's thoughts on Britains "bleak houses and low expectations" seem entirely as relevant:

Britain is the worst country in the Western world in which to be a child, according to a recent UNICEF report. Ordinarily, I would not set much store by such a report; but in this case, I think it must be right—not because I know so much about childhood in all the other 20 countries examined but because the childhood that many British parents give to their offspring is so awful that it is hard to conceive of worse, at least on a mass scale. The two poles of contemporary British child rearing are neglect and overindulgence.

Both pieces are worth reading in their entirety, and it's certainly worth considering the many ways in which a society can teach its children.