The Obama administration has planned a new $500 million early learning initiative, designed to deal with children as young as five who can’t sit still in a kindergarten classroom.
As a clinical psychologist with 20 years of experience evaluating and treating children, I am expert at understanding five-year-olds who can’t sit still. I am also a parent of a Kindergarten student. I am here to inform taxpayers that this program is a colossal waste of money. I can save the government–meaning you, the taxpayer–a half billion dollars by solving this profound problem right here.
Spending $500 million to get five-year-olds to sit still is like getting a Democrat to stop spending other people’s money. In theory it sounds good–really good–but it simply goes against nature. The natural inclination for most five-year-olds is to be extremely active. Normal pre-schoolers spend much of their day practicing their gross and fine-motor skills, with boys being especially active learners. They are not inclined to sit still, shut up, and listen to a teacher for anything but short periods of time.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius referred to a series of studies that suggested that half of five-year-olds weren’t ready for the rigors of Kindergarten learning: “A number of children were missing the social and developmental skills which would allow them to sit in a classroom or play with others or listen to a teacher for any period of time.”
Is it any coincidence that half of Kindergartners are boys? They are not supposed to be able to sit still very well, any more than a 14-year-old is supposed to stop himself from developing zits.
So, solution number one: stop expecting boys and girls to regulate themselves identically. Girls tend to sit still more readily than boys at this age. This does not mean that they are more developmentally sound; it simply means they are different and have unique learning needs. Boys don’t simply like to move around more; they need to move around more. Any classroom that does not allow for this–and even encourage it–ignores the needs of half of the children.
One of the likely unintended consequences of this study will be that blame will be placed–not on the curriculum of Kindergarten classrooms or on teachers and administrators who have unrealistic expectations for children–but squarely on the brains of those children who do not meet their requirements for “Kindergarten readiness”. Increasing numbers of normal children will be diagnosed with disorders such as ADHD, and then prescribed medications to make them sit still, shut up, and listen. This would tragically absolve the school of its responsibility in the problem.
And what about those children who really are deficient or behind in their development? The government can save their time and money on this conundrum, too. Parents are primarily responsible for training their children. Part of that training includes regulating diet, sleep, and exercise, essential foundations for proper brain functioning. The other essential part of that training includes discipline: creating a template of relating to adult authority that requires reasonable obedience and respect. Far too many parents are ignorant, lax, or neglectful in this regard.
Solution number two: parents need to step up their efforts to train their children. It isn’t the government’s job to prepare children for their education. If the government needs to do anything, it’s to support parental rights and encourage economic conditions that allow more parents to stay home with their children so that they can do their job raising and training their children.
I’ll take that $500 million. I can put it to much better use.