Do you remember what you were doing in first grade? Picking your butt? Thinking about ghosts? Wearing a cape? It's probably unlikely that you were gabbing about the Harvard crew team with your cubby buddies. Kids these days, well, they are.
Yesterday in education, the New York Times published an extensive report on the newest trend in American education for children, which pushes younger and younger kids into college prep programs and foists awareness about careers and futures onto their precious little heads. It all begins, reasonably, in first grade.
But the trend has moved past just asking little kids what they want to be when they grow up; it's now manifested itself in college tours for elementary school students. Via Laura Pappano's report:
A four-year-old program in Santa Cruz County, Calif., takes 3,000 fourth graders on a single day in May to a local campus for tours, information sessions and a sampling of classes, including sociology and women's studies. Rice University, which has a teacher resource page ("Picture your students at Rice"), last year led 91 elementary and middle school tours and sent out 357 classroom packets with activities, literature and iron-on transfers for making T-shirts, nearly triple the number two years earlier.
The University of Maryland has been deluged with requests. After leading 8,000 children on guided tours in 2012-13, the program director for visitor services, Betty Spengler, said they had to limit slots. "We had so many requests, we were doing tours five days a week," she said. "It became impossible to sustain." She hopes a new teacher resource site unveiled last month will help those who can't get tour dates.
The questions kids ask most often on these tours is why they have to sleep at their schools. While there is already something uncomfortable about preening children at such a young age to plan out their adult lives, the more sinister element at hand is that the kids sound like they are being marketed a product they don't even understand:
By lunchtime, having rubbed the mascot Testudo's nose for good luck (twice!) and piled their cafeteria trays with chicken fingers, fries and pizza slices, students were sold. David Oladimejij, 11, plans to attend. "At first I wanted to go to Harvard," he said. "In the news I heard that Harvard is the best college, but I think Maryland is the best."
In response, many colleges are refusing to host non-high school students on tours, fearing that doing so will only encourage admissions anxiety for even younger kids.
"Children need to make mistakes and find themselves in dead ends and cul-de-sacs," said Joan Almon, a founder of the Alliance for Childhood who worries that the early focus cuts short self-exploration. "I'm concerned that we are putting so much pressure around college that by the time they get there they are already burned out."
Not to mention, not all kids will go to college, or need to go to college, or want to go to college. Some of the rationale that goes into preparing younger kids for college is in an effort to close the economic gap that plagues our education system:
Research shows that the college advantage is growing only for students from educated, high-income families. Since 1970, the rate at which affluent students earn bachelor's degrees has nearly doubled (from 40 percent to 77 percent) while it has barely moved (from 6 percent to 9 percent) for low-income students, according to a report out this month from the Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education and the Alliance for Higher Education and Democracy.
But first grade, no matter the student, is too goddamn early to be putting these thoughts into children's heads. Let them live.
[Image via AP]