Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Bring back mud pies

The London Times printed a disheartening review of test scores over 30 years. It seems the children are getting dumber.

Far from getting cleverer, our 11-year-olds are, in fact, less “intelligent” than their counterparts of 30 years ago. Or so say a team who are among Britain’s most respected education researchers.

After studying 25,000 children across both state and private schools Philip Adey, a professor of education at King’s College London confidently declares: “The intelligence of 11-year-olds has fallen by three years’ worth in the past two decades.”


In the easiest question, children are asked to watch as water is poured up to the brim of a tall, thin container. From there the water is tipped into a small fat glass. The tall vessel is refilled. Do both beakers now hold the same amount of water? “It’s frightening how many children now get this simple question wrong,” says scientist Denise Ginsburg, Shayer’s wife and another of the research team.


So why are children now doing so badly? Possible explanations are numerous. Youngsters don’t get outside for hands-on play in mud, sand and water — and sandpits and water tables have been squeezed out in many primary schools by a relentless drilling of the three Rs and cramming 11- year-olds for the national tests.

“By stressing the basics — reading and writing — and testing like crazy you reduce the level of cognitive stimulation. Children have the facts but they are not thinking very well,” says Adey. “And they are not getting hands-on physical experience of the way materials behave.”

I dare say the results will be the same in the States. The folks in England actually have the ability to reach back and compare because they still have at least one test that has remained the same throughout all this time. Some educrat slipped up there, I'm sure.

I'm appalled at the lack of free play time allowed in a child's life now days. I don't know whether to laugh or cry when I see schools recreating home life at great expense. I cringe when folks write me asking what sort of curriculum they should purchase for their 5 year olds. When I recommend lots of exploring the backyard, crayons and finger paints and cozy reading time with a parent that seems inadequate to many of them. Some have a hard time with that simple prescription because their adult and school trained minds are more comfortable with that school model and they've long ago forgotten their own science experiments which gave them a good foundation for book learning. To adults it looks like foolish play, but to children it's a vital learning time as England is being reminded.

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