October 23, 2008

The Graying Of Kindergarten: The Goal Is To Keep Them In Puberty, Part 1

The article is actually called The Lengthening of Childhood, but somewhere sometime the other phrase caught on, which is a shame, because this phrase is much more accurate.

The facts are these: a trend that began in the 1960s is holding back kids one year before they start kindergarten.  Instead of starting at 5, they start at 6. Part of this is due to changes in state laws which have pushed back the enrollment age cut off (e.g. must be 5 by September, instead of by December).  But this is only a small part.

There are three important trends. 

First, the kids held back are not being kept at home-- they are being enrolled in preschools.  So it is a purposeful delay of kindergarten specifically, not a delay of "going away to school."

Second, upper income, white parents hold their kids back at the highest rate.  Infer as you will.

Third, boys are held back at higher rates than girls, and this difference is increasing every year.

Unfortunately, the authors draw the wrong set  of conclusions from these findings.  For their own (good) reasons, they are arguing the impact on society, not on the individual.

For example, while there is a clear benefit in the first few grades to being one year older, the authors find that this improvement is not present later on in high school.  In fact, they show, the older kids are at a significant disadvantage-- for example, higher drop out rates.

But if a kid is one year older when he drops out, he'll have finished one less year of school, so yes, he'll be less educated.  But the expectation of the kids of the upper income parents-- the highest rate-- isn't that they're going to drop out.  So this negative doesn't apply to those kids.

Similarly, the authors say the delay depresses lifetime earnings; but this is obviously only  because they will work one year less in their lives.  Again, the individuals themselves don't care about this; society and the tax collectors do.

Where they do see benefit is in athletics: an older varsity player will be, on average, stronger than a younger one.  The practice of benching someone for a year so that they get older is redshirting, and the authors apply it to the kindergarten process as well.

So on the one hand, the practice has two clear negatives on society; but the more urgent question-- the one that would actually influence the practice-- is the impact on the kids themselves..

First, you have a class problem.  On the one hand, it sounds easy to criticize this practice as the social engineering of the rich.  But, on the other hand, if the other parents around you are doing it, how can you not do it yourself?  Would you willingly put your kid at a theoretical disadvantage when you have the means to not do that?  It's similar to the universal healthcare counter-argument: can you force a group of people to accept worse healthcare than they are getting now?  To accept it for their kids?

And this puts pressure on less affluent but aspiring parents to do the same-- the difference being that their five year olds won't be in private preschools, they'll be in daycares.  They will, in effect, get one less year of "education" than the rich kids.  What they hope will be a competitive advantage may be a disadvantage.  In other words, they' might be screwed either way.

As I say to everyone who will listen, which is no one, you can't blame the rich for doing it, and you can't blame the poor for wanting to riot.

Second, one might ask why this is happening to boys more than girls.  It's obvious to anyone who has ever seen a boy that they appear, as compared to a similarly aged girl, completely retarded.  So it makes sense that affluent parents-- any parents-- who have the option, will redshirt their five year old boy and hope he gets another year of maturity under his belt so that-- and this is my point-- he can keep up with the girls.  So the problem isn't simply that boys mature slower than girls, it is that they are required to perform the same exact skills at the same exact time.  Any surprise boys hate school more, "ADHD" is more prevalent, etc?  And there is more anxiety and thus pressure about the potential ineptitude of sons than daughters.

What's interesting and upsetting about the discussion of redshirting is that it is phrased in terms of class differences, which are the consequence; and not gender differences, which are a source.  The problem isn't redshirting, the problem is the school. You expect your five year old boy to read like a girl?  And when he doesn't-- what?  Hates reading?  Hates girls?

Third, you have the problem of the parents themselves who are looking for every advantage to give their kids because they don't know what else to do, they can't judge what's valuable or not.  So they look around at other kids and parents, and compete.  They don't know what the point of an education is, so they say "get into a good college."  That's the goal of 18+ years of education.  That single outcome.

For what?  They pretend that they have to do these things because the other kids do have these advantages, but they have no faith in the kids themselves-- that their outcome will be largely independent of what college they go to or even if they go to college.  College is, in a word, a scam; everything that promotes that goal is therefore doubly so.

I'm a doctor-- no one has ever asked where I went to college; no one has ever asked how I did in high school chemistry.   You can argue these things were important then, to get into medical school, but they really weren't.  Getting Bs instead of As may have meant I went to a different school, but not that I wouldn't have been a doctor, or a good one, or a bad one.  And since my real education didn't come from the schools anyway, it's moot.

I wonder, and I have not studied this, if one positive consequence of redshirting is that   studies that show American students are dumber in math than other international kids may be bunk, since those studies compare kids of similar ages, not similar grades.  Our 15 year olds may simply be in an earlier grade. This may also explain why the education gap disappears in college.

I'm tempted to conclue that the problem of redshirting is analogous to abortion: instead of trying to convince people it is a good or bad thing, we should just try to  eliminate the need for it.


Part 1 here. (This is it.)
Part 2 here.
Part 3 here. 


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