Jim Liebelt Christian Blog and Commentary

Is Your First Grader College Ready?

Ed note: An interesting read in the New York Times about the cultural trend in education to create awareness and focus on preparing for college with children as young as first-graders. The article explores the issue including both pro and con perspectives.

*The following is excerpted from an online article from the New York Times.

Matriculation is years away for the Class of 2030, but the first graders in Kelli Rigo’s class at Johnsonville Elementary School in rural Harnett County, N.C., already have campuses picked out. The mock applications they’ve filled out are stapled to the bulletin board.

“The age-old question is: ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ You always ask kids that,” Ms. Rigo said. “We need to ask them, ‘How will you get there?’ Even if I am teaching preschool, the word ‘college’ has to be in there.”

Forget meandering — the messaging now is about goals and focus. “It’s sort of like, if you want your kids to be in the Olympics or to have the chance to be in the Olympics,” said Wendy Segal, a tutor and college planner in Westchester County, N.Y., “you don’t wait until your kid is 17 and say, ‘My kid really loves ice skating.’ You start when they are 5 or 6.”

Credit President Obama and the Common Core Standards for putting the “college and career ready” mantra on the lips of K-12 educators across the country. Or blame a competitive culture that has turned wide-open years of childhood into a checklist of readiness skills. Whatever the reason, the fact remains that college prep has hit the playground set.

One has only to search Pinterest to see the trend. Dozens of elementary schoolteachers share cute activities that make the road to college as clear as ABC. One cut-and-paste work sheet has students using circles and squares to sequence the steps. There are four: mail your application, get accepted, graduate high school and “move in, go to class and study hard!” “College weeks” have become as much a staple of elementary school calendars as the winter band concert. And campus tours are now popular field trips.

An example: Rice University, which has a teacher resource page (“Picture your students at Rice”), last year led 91 elementary and middle school tours and sent out 357 classroom packets with activities, literature and iron-on transfers for making T-shirts, nearly triple the number two years earlier.

Reaching out to children years ahead of serious college consideration can seed brand awareness for the university. Or amp up an already anxiety-laced process.

“Children need to make mistakes and find themselves in dead ends and cul-de-sacs,” said Joan Almon, a founder of the Alliance for Childhood who worries that the early focus cuts short self-exploration. “I’m concerned that we are putting so much pressure around college that by the time they get there they are already burned out.”

Some agree. A number of colleges refuse to host tours for children in grades below high school, expressing sentiments similar to those on the Boston College website, which notes a “desire not to contribute to the college admissions frenzy.”

In some quarters, that frenzy is well underway by middle school. The perception that it’s harder to get into top colleges has parents starting earlier.

The impulse to line up achievements and to consider how a child’s record will play on a college application is contagious, said Mary Meyer, whose sons are in fifth and eighth grades in the Lamar Consolidated Independent School District near Houston. “It is the game we are playing these days. It is too much, but I don’t see it changing, so you have to join in or you will be left behind.”

The Harnett County college project, this year adopted by all five first-grade classes, including Ms. Rigo's, has pleased some parents and puzzled others. One, Lora Collins, a Kansas State graduate, thought the college talk was useful. For many local families, she said, “it is just not in their mind, in their thought process, to think about going to college.” A few have not been so receptive, complaining that students should be focusing on reading, writing and math.

Young children simply cannot understand what college is, according to Marcy Guddemi, executive director of the Gesell Institute of Child Development. “You may as well be talking about Mars. It’s totally meaningless.”

As for older children, they can grasp college but developmentally struggle with making choices, she said, so early planning may not be fruitful — or fair.

“We are robbing children of childhood by talking about college and career so early in life,” Dr. Guddemi said. “Kids being pressured to think college, to pick a college, that everything you do is for college, you miss the here and now.” Also, she observed: “Not every child will go to college. That is just a fact.” Equating degree-earning with success may set up some to feel like failures.

Source: New York Times

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