A recent Newsweek cover pictures an overwhelmed-looking little girl next to a pile of college-level textbooks that is considerably taller than she is. The story, "The New First Grade," grapples with the question: "Are kids getting pushed too fast too soon?"
The writer, Peg Tyre, laments the fact that children are being pressured toward academic achievement at younger and younger ages. Thirty years ago, she writes, youngsters learned to read in the first grade. These days the reading lessons begin at least a year earlier. In fact, "The New First Grade" is kindergarten.
The article describes a shift that’s taken place in kindergarten, which, 10 years ago, was more play-based. Now, it’s unmistakably academic. Ms. Tyre writes, "the earliest years of schooling have become less like a trip to ‘Mister Rogers Neighborhood’ and more like SAT prep." Kids are tested and re-tested. To get a competitive edge for their children, some parents are holding them out of kindergarten for a year -- a practice Newsweek describes as academic "red-shirting."
The message conveyed by the Newsweek cover story is that we’re emphasizing early academic development over social and emotional development. The concern seems to be that kids will miss out on recess and finger painting and burn out by the third grade. But it’s overblown. Perhaps there are overzealous parents and educators out there. Theories come and go about the optimum age for a child to learn to read and do math. And, as every parent of more than one child knows, learning rates vary.
But all this hand-wringing over whether we’re pushing kids too hard academically would be funny if it didn’t miss the real threats America’s kids face as they enter public schools across the country. International tests show America’s students are not at risk of over-performing academically. The real threat is to any traditional moral values that have been built into their lives before entering school. Entrenched in the teaching of readin’, writin’ and ‘rithmatic are lessons and messages designed to shift and shape those values. And it’s not always in a direction Christian parents and pastors would agree with. At some public schools, the vigilant parent will begin to notice a systematic undermining of moral absolutes. They’ll take a look at a textbook that presents "all kinds" of families: adopted, those with biological parents, grandparents -- and same-sex parents. The less-discerning moms and dads will think that’s teaching tolerance. It’s not. It’s indoctrination. And studies show it’s working.
Later, students will be taught that what they learned in Sunday School about God creating the heavens and the earth (and Adam and Eve) is not quite right. We evolved. They’ll learn a bit about Christianity -- as history. Some will probably learn more about Islam. In early December there will be a "Winter Concert." In late December, they’ll get a "Winter Break." No mention of Christmas. Tragically, many school kids will learn that any innate or learned revulsion or biblically based disapproval they have toward homosexuality is actually bias or bigotry.
These things may or may not take place every day, in every class or with every teacher. But here and there, throughout the curriculum, Christian students’ faith will be questioned, their patriotism undermined, and in the name of teaching "health," their inhibitions and sense of modesty broken down. The values kids have learned in Christian homes are "unfrozen," and then "clarified," with lots of challenges and open-ended questions to get them to question traditional beliefs. The values then become "their own" at which point they are affirmed by the secular and sexualized culture and "refrozen." It takes a strong student, involved parents and lots of debriefing to minimize the damage to a child’s faith and values that will take place during the years a child spends undergoing this process.
Are parents over-stressing their children with high academic expectations too early in life? Some are, and they should back off a little and give their kids room and time to be kids. But the greater and more worrisome pressures on our children are those that tear at the Judeo-Christian values that were once the norm in America. Those pressures are everywhere. In the public schools, our children are a captive audience.
Penna Dexter is a board of trustee member with the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, a conservative activist and an announcer on the syndicated radio program "Life on the Line" (information available at www.lifeontheline.com). She currently serves as a consultant for KMA Direct Communications in Plano, Texas, and as a co-host of "Jerry Johnson Live," a production of Criswell Communications. She formerly was a co-host of Marlin Maddoux's "Point of View" syndicated radio program.
© 2006 Baptist Press. Used with Permission. All rights reserved.