Preschool readiness has become an obsession in this country in the belief that it will reduce achievement gaps and improve our position in international education rankings (“To Really Learn, Our Children Need the Power of Play,” The Wall Street Journal, Aug. 10). But it hasn’t worked. Which is why reformers like to look to Finland, where letting children be children is thought to be responsible for the quality of its schools.
But Finland’s success is the result of a host of other factors that simply do not exist in the U.S. Its culture and politics can’t be transferred. Moreover, Finland is a small country that is racially homogeneous. This is the opposite of the situation in the U.S. Therefore, assuming that Finland’s philosophy about childhood play is the reason for its reputation is simplistic.
Allowing young people the freedom to do what they want was the basis for Summerhill School in Suffolk, England in the 1960 when it caught the fancy of reformers. Educational theorists extolled the open style of Summerhill. But children there soon began to ask their teachers for direction. Further, by discarding old-fashioned lessons, Summerhill graduated students who knew little about the basics.
In an attempt to correct the faults of preschool readiness, we run the risk of swinging too far the other way. Children need direction. Turning schools into extended playgrounds will shortchange them in the long run. Unfortunately, education in the U.S. goes from one extreme to the other.
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