As parents, professionals, and educators, we fall into cognitive traps. The most common one is to assume that “what got us here will get us there.” A second cognitive trap is to aim squarely at the middle. Of course, this is operating under the assumption that change requires us to manage the middle, instead of embrace more complexity which could realize bigger long-term gains.
Third, we avoid embracing the complexity facilitating the individual child’s journey in education because it’s hard. Instead, we draw arbitrary lines in the sand or say “good enough” when we know that “good enough” could be great with a little more time, more resources, or more courage.
Finally, we sometimes ignore what people who “know more than we do” have to say because we think we know it best because we have just enough related experience to make us feel over-confident about our true expertise.
A recent Washington Post piece highlights all of these cognitive traps in the ways that we build early childhood education in the US. Our country’s last several attempts at building standards for early childhood education suggest a preference for standardization, process (rather than long-term outcome) measurement, and force-fitting children into an ideal-type. There’s little evidence, however, that these approaches to early childhood education produce results.
Why is that the case? Here’s what the experts say:
- Policymakers assume that one-size fits all for young children, but the evidence is absolutely to the contrary. Children learn at different rates and their minds and bodies are accessible to different types of growth and development at different times. Educating based on the assumption that children are the same just doesn’t work.
- In creating the early childhood systems that we have under the past two administrations, policymakers also have assumed that old systems and processes work. In particular, the policies assume that traditional classroom learning, drills, and tests to assess outcomes work for younger children. The evidence simply does not support this.
- Schools increasingly are favoring classroom learning over experiential learning and cutting down on essential exploratory opportunities (recess, unstructured learning time). The impetus to do this is the false belief (see the second item above) that more time on task learning the basics will produce better results. In fact, more exploratory and experiential learning – children engaging and manipulating their environments – produces more resource, gritty, creative, and resilient children.
At Montessorium, we are firm believers in following the child; limiting evaluation and assessment and focusing on a child’s strengths; creating space for a child to be a child; and embracing that old approaches to education may not work in a world that isn’t ours but our children’s to inherit and manipulate. We believe the system can be better and there’s a clear path for how.
By setting aside our cognitive biases and recognizing that the US education system that brought us to our successes, we are being wise. We are acknowledging education in the US in the 21st century will require more personalization rather than less. It will require expertise to guide us, not past experiences. And it will require ingenuity and thoughtfulness as we craft educational policy that follows the child rather than dragging them to average.
About the Author
Bill Anderson is a father of 4 who shares his experiences about parenting and life with Guidepost Parent.
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