Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Grinding kids

But one day as we sat in her classroom, Andersen told me, “Every year I have two or three young ones in that August-to-October range, and they just struggle a little.” She used to encourage parents to send their children to kindergarten as soon as they were eligible, but she is now a strong proponent of older kindergartners, after teaching one child with a birthday just a few days before the cutoff. “She was always a step behind. It wasn’t effort and it wasn’t ability. She worked hard, her mom worked with her and she still was behind.” Andersen followed the girl’s progress through second grade (after that, she moved to a different school) and noticed that she didn’t catch up. Other teachers at Glen Arden Elementary and elsewhere have noticed a similar phenomenon: not always, but too often, the little ones stay behind.

Since youth sports are organized by age bracket, teams inevitably have a cutoff birth date. In the European youth soccer leagues, the cutoff date is Dec. 31. So when a coach is assessing two players in the same age bracket, one who happened to have been born in January and the other in December, the player born in January is likely to be bigger, stronger, more mature. Guess which player the coach is more likely to pick? He may be mistaking maturity for ability, but he is making his selection nonetheless. And once chosen, those January-born players are the ones who, year after year, receive the training, the deliberate practice and the feedback — to say nothing of the accompanying self-esteem — that will turn them into elites.

It is amazing how the power of something so innocuous seeming as your child's birthdate can have such strong implications over their whole lives.

I was born in July and that was pretty close to the cut off. I did generally well in school, but there were some strong turn off points. I was bumped up a grade a few weeks in at 5th grade and I was so totally lost it wasn't funny. It took a while to get caught up but it almost turned me off learning. Your self-confidence takes quite a beating when you a moved to a new class and you don't understand what the teacher is saying. The teacher was talking about squaring numbers so I drew little squares around the numbers until I finally got a textbook, yeah having to wait a week just to get the textbook really makes it hard to catchup in a class. Eventually I caught up and I was okay.

We are home schooling our daughter this year as much to redshirt her as to give her the basics she needs. Boiling it all away there are only two major skills she needs to learn right now and that is literacy and numeracy. So we have something to focus on.

Right now it has been so cold that she is having a hard time. She really likes going outside and playing and it has been too cold for that lately. We need to hit the indoor play space at the mall or even McDonalds to play off some of her energy. She did get a pink box of Legos for Christmas that she just loves though but it isn't the same as running around and climbing.

Would she get anything better in school. I don't think so. She would likely get the gift of time, or more accurately, the curse of being ignored. The teacher has to focus on the borderline kids to make sure they pass. She'll have to ignore those who can't be helped. Why? Because there is only so much time and love in the day. It is simple triage logic, save those you can and comfort those you can't. If you are gifted you are passing and will get little attention, If you are close to passing you get lots of attention to help you pass, if you are not close then you languish. Since so much of school is about that now if you are at the bottom you stay at the bottom.

This indicates to me that the Matthew Principle (those who have get) is not really an intrinsic thing but more and extrinsic thing. A gifted 5 year old doesn't look gifted when surrounded by average 7 year olds. She is not in an environment that shows off her capabilities. But amazingly it seems like that happens all the time, it all comes down to when your birthday was. I am pretty sure parents saw this but couldn't quite put their finger on it. Now we have a framework to talk about it with. And that is good.

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