Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Friday, April 04, 2014

Early Socializing

"The minimum requirements that every child needs to meet should be so familiar, so well established, so obvious, that you could stop anyone in the street and they could tell you basics."
"The poorest children are less likely to be able to follow instructions, make themselves understood, manage their own basic hygiene or play co-operatively."
"Children from low-income families are far more likely than their better off peers to lag behind at age three, and they are more likely to stay behind as they grow up."
"Let us not pander to those who think children's childhoods are being stolen. It is a middle-class prejudice for which some of the most disadvantaged pay the price. The chattering classes will never have the problems in bringing up their children and finding the best ways to educate them from the earliest age. This prejudice prevents us naming the problem, let alone tackling it."
Sir Michael Wilshaw, chief inspector, Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) Britain

"This utilitarian shift from experience to content betrays an abject (and even wilful) misunderstanding of the nature of early childhood experience."
"The determination to dragoon England's young children into unconscionably early quasi-formal learning is catastrophic for their well-being, and is setting up many for failure at a very young age."

From letter of objection to Osted's concerns, signed by 250 academics and authors
Mr. Wilshaw's call for parents to be more aware that teaching young children personal lifestyle skills and social respect in the familial setting while their children are young, and before they enter structured learning environments like preschools, and children's centres, has not been well received by those within his country who seem to be of the opinion that children are best left to their own devices. Ostensibly, children will 'learn' of their own accord how to present themselves sociably, and to learn the parameters of social integration and personal responsibility.

And while it is true generally speaking that children do learn by observing, children also learn that manipulating situations or people, or acting out will also gain them both attention and their way in whatever it is they want to set about doing, without regard for consequences. Children's energies and curiosity should be channelled by their parents whose responsibility it is to ensure their offspring are a credit to society, that they don't end up as social misfits or social deviants.

It is never too early to instill in young children's minds that there is a right and a wrong way to behave, and gradations in between. And to encourage children as they become adept at doing things that they are perfectly well able to meet expectations in helping to keep themselves clean and neatly dressed, and to learn empathy for others to gain themselves friendships. It represents a basic obligation that society should be able to expect, that parents will teach their children by their own behaviour, that children pattern themselves and learn their values at home.

Mr. Wilshaw has issued a clarion call for new "minimum requirements" to which under-five children are exposed to ensure they are adequately prepared for full-time education. "Family is the great educator", he insists, in a child's life. And so it is. Toilet training, behaviour boundaries, recognition and response to their own names, the capacity and ability to put on their own coats and shoes, and speaking in clear sentences should be regarded as basic to a child's pre-academic education.

And he has proposed that parents be given a simple checklist of skills their young children should be expected to become familiar with by age five. Those skills as follows:
  • To sit still and listen
  • To be aware of other children
  • To understand the word 'no' and the boundaries it sets for behaviour
  • To understand the word 'stop' and that such a word might be used to alert to/prevent danger
  • To be potty trained and go to the bathroom on their own
  • To recognize and respond to their own name
  • To speak to an adult and ask for assistance
  • To be able to remove a coat and put on shoes
  • To speak in sentence form
  • To open and enjoy a book
These simple and basic introductions to emerging social maturity reflect the socialization or civilizing of children to enable them to join society at the most practical and useful level, both for their own well being as social creatures, and for the good of society as an entirety. Mr. Wilshaw has also recommended in addition that secondary schools should make a greater effort to teach children "how to be a good parent". And that's where his concerns seem somewhat misplaced, unless from that suggestion one infers that he refers to children whose home model is so lacking they need additional direction.

But is that the responsibility of the school ... how to be a good parent ... ? There are low-income parents of young children whose poverty does not prevent them from teaching fundamental social values to their children, just as there are high-income families whose neglect of their children at the most basic levels of emotional support and guidance exist, as well. It is the parents whose idea of child-rearing is a laissez faire attitude, unsupportive of the need to instruct and guide children, that they should be permitted to develop their own codes of behaviours and ethics 'naturally', that need that extra push.

Addressing the issue at an Ofsted conference, Nancy Stewart, an independent early years consultant, rather differed with Mr. Wilshaw, and informed him as much: "The sort of clear, simple understandable descriptors you have alluded to are very low-level. There is a lot of evidence about what counts in children's later success and it is not putting on your shoes and going to the toilet, and even being able to recognize your name. 

"It is things like being confident, being curious and motivated", she said authoritatively.

Plumping for blissful ignorance.

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