A few days ago, a friend gave me a collection of articles about preschool and kindergarten. One of them was How Much is Too Much? The Influence of Preschool Centers on Children's Development Nationwide, which discussed the effects of preschool on later behavior in kindergarten. The authors analyzed data from the National Center for Educational Statistics and came to the conclusion that preschool has positive benefits for developing cognitive skills, but detrimental effects on learning appropriate social behavior.
After controlling for a number of factors, including family income, ethnicity, and "32 different features of the child's home and family," they found that attending preschool will typically increase a child's pre-reading and math skills, but at the cost of hindering social development in several areas, including levels of aggression, bullying, acting up, sharing, cooperation, and self-control.
And then today I read this article from the NY Times, in which different researchers not only came to pretty much the same conclusion, but also say that the effects last at least into middle school.
But in each case, since I haven't read the actual studies, I have to wonder, is this negative social behavior that they describing actually undesirable for the child's future development, or just behavior that's inconvenient for the rigid style of instruction used in some elementary schools?
A docile child who does what he's told at all times is certainly easy to handle in a classroom. But does such a child turn into an adult with critical thinking skills?
A child who can sit quietly through a dull lecture and reliably regurgitate the answers to the weekly quiz will probably get good grades and do decently on multiple-choice standardized tests. But will that child actually be educated? Will she know how to learn new information on her own?
I am not arguing for letting bullies run free in the classroom, nor for children to run wild and not have age-appropriate discipline at home and at school. But I do wonder...do we need to tolerate a certain level of disruption and minor misbehavior in order let children be children? And to produce adults who can think for themselves?
One of the other articles my friend gave me seems to say yes. It describes Japanese preschool/kindergartens as places where teachers try to nurture a "childlike child" and allow high levels of noise and activity. The teachers in the article expect the children to be kind to one another and cooperative, but also highly energetic. When discipline problems arise in the classroom, the teachers encourage the children to work out solutions with the teacher gently guiding them.
I wish the abstract and news article said more about what kinds of negative behavior the teachers were reporting. I guess I have some more reading to do.