Perspective and experience are powerful educators. The first hammer-blows on Noah’s ark must have seemed very odd, the first aviator to leap with bird-wing appliqués surely looked a sight, and the first adventurous TV owner in a neighborhood hooked on radio was likely the focus of curious laughter. Yet with perspective and experience these situations look somewhat different.
Perspective and experience help us to hit the next curve ball, to tailor the next STEAM project, to more deeply love the next person with a special need and to see the next golden opportunity. Perhaps this is why in our world today we seem intent upon rushing headlong into providing as many experiences for children as quickly as possible. The push is on to have children doing more at an earlier age than ever before. Value is only realized when children are prepared to receive the teaching. I remember my pal Johnny telling me one day in fourth grade that he had driven the family car on the New York Thruway! Apparently his father believed (when I checked, my dad did not) in letting the children steer the car while he worked the pedals. As cool as that seemed to a fourth grader, it didn’t embolden me to have Johnny drive me anywhere; he didn’t really know how to drive. What seems new today is the sheer number of experiential exposures provided, as if somehow the experiences themselves will skip-step the whole learning package. Absent the necessary preparation and maturity true learning is not occurring.
Schools too must get in line for a few wrist-slaps for joining this cultural frenzy. It is not uncommon to hear from those comparing schools that another program teaches a specific concept in an earlier grade than we do. This is not a new phenomenon. Prior to teaching an introductory dissection unit, I once had a 9th Grade student tell me that she had already worked on a cadaver! Claiming Algebra in Grade 5, biology in Grade 8, multiplication tables in Grade 1 or cursive in Kindergarten does not ensure the mastery required for future work. The strength of a curriculum or of a school is not in its list of course titles or its claims for what is taught and when; its strength comes in its methodology, mission, philosophy and how its curriculum spirals from year to year, setting the stage for effectual learning for the students it serves.
Whether we are judging the age-appropriateness of an experience, or the introduction of an educational concept, we should ask ourselves if the necessary perspective and experiences have been mastered to appreciate them. The true value of the path we have chosen will be evident with the passage of time.