In the last week, I’ve read three different books from the education “genre,” as it were. You might say that I’m on a bit of an educational kick. The first book, which I will discuss here, was Better Late Than Early: A New Approach to Your Child’s Education; the first part of the book is spent explaining that the author believes that formal schooling is best held off until the child reaches an integrated maturity stage, which was suggested as being anywhere from seven to eleven years of age, depending on the research he quoted; the most common range seemed to be eight to ten years.
The author lamented that some states were lowering the age at which school becomes compulsory; until I read this book, I had not realized that the compulsory age had once been as high as eight within just the past few decades. In my own state, the compulsory age is six. He also discussed how he thought that the push toward greater preschool availability was a move in the wrong direction. Again, an interesting perspective to read in hindsight, because the idea of preschool has gone from “someplace where disadvantaged youth can go to get a good start” to “everyone and their brother has their child enrolled in preschool” in the intervening years. That said, his recommendation that funding be spent on supplying parents with “in-home training” rather than shipping the children off to preschools was something I was happy to see, especially in light of the changes that have come about with such programs as Early Intervention which do, in fact, go into the home and conduct therapy with the children within the parent/child setting, giving advice on things that the parent can do that will help the child with whatever skills are developmentally lacking.
What was surprising to me was to see that the author did not mention the solution that jumps right out to me: home education. But then, it was written in a time when home education was not viewed as legal in most places, let alone practiced by very many. If we’re going to keep the child out of school until he is eight, it begs the question: why not keep him out longer? If he is learning well at home, why do we need a different solution? I’ll discuss this further in parts two and three of my educational book review in the next week.
I would give part one of the book four out of five stars, because I believe that it conveys an important message; it just needs some updating.
Part two, though. Ugh. I’ll tell you up-front: I would only give it one star. In part two, the author attempts to convey exactly what parents can be doing at the different developmental stages. I’ll admit that I only lightly skimmed the sections that pertained to children older than my own, focusing mainly on the “birth to eighteen months” and “one to three years” chapters, so perhaps there were nuggets of truth to be found in those latter chapters, and in my disgust, I missed them. Hence why I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt by assigning it one star. But the two chapters that I did read?
Treating demand-feeding as nonsense, and stating that even as newborns, babies only need to eat every three to four hours, and can be given some sugar-water if need be to keep them on schedule? Not only discouraging baby from comfort nursing, but even from seeking a replacement soother, such as his own thumb or a pacifier? I could go on, but I’ll refrain. Suffice to say that as someone who believes firmly in many of the tenets of attachment parenting, I was a little shocked to see him go from quoting research studies about developmental levels in the first part of the book, to flat-out ignoring developmental levels in the latter part!
I would love to see a revision of this book to reflect the cultural changes in our educational world – such as the Department of Education’s existence, for one thing – but also to properly reflect the developmental stages of infants and toddlers. Even the good ol’ AAP, which isn’t exactly known for its crunchiness, would shudder at some of the author’s recommendations. Oh, and I would love to see consideration given to homeschooling, since we now see anywhere from 1.5 million to 2.1 million children being educated at home, depending on who you ask.
Taken as a whole, I guess the book manages to eke out two stars. Maybe. Perhaps. I’m undecided. One and a half stars?
What would I recommend in its stead?
You Are Your Child’s First Teacher: What Parents Can Do with and for Their Children from Birth to Age Six – this author follows many of the ideas of the Waldorf educational philosophy, some of which appear to be rather developmentally-appropriate. Other portions are, well, a little philosophically/spiritually “woo-woo” for me, but this was a book that I found was more than bearable from a “take the meat, spit out the bones” perspective. It also ends each chapter with an excellent list of resources.
Keep an eye open for part two of my educational book review in the next few days…
This post is part of Semicolon’s Saturday Review of Books.