Reclaiming Childhood:Letting Children Be Children in Our Achievement Oriented Society


William Crain


“The book’s central thesis is that we should skip focusing so intently on the child’s future and start appreciating the child in her present life.” It is not that the future can or should be ignored, but that over emphasis on the future deprives children of the normal and natural experiences of childhood which are part of our evolution. Our immediate reaction tends to be that I don’t do that, but on further reflection I suspect that you will find that you do it more than you have realized. Discounting the child as they are, honors them more for what they might become than for who they are today. Children are sensitive to this message. While we want some of the same things for all of our children in the future – literacy, math competency, an appreciation of cultures and diversity, problem-solving abilities, curiosity, responsibility, character – the course and timing of their paths will differ and we want them to be individuals who know who they are and what their values are. (See The End of Average and Unflattening)


Accelerating the curriculum is not new. Standards and their acceleration have been around since at least the 19th century. “In a society so powerfully and pervasively oriented toward the future, it is difficult to think about education in any other terms. It is difficult to consider education as nurturing children’s interests and capacities at their present stage. It has been especially difficult to consider alternatives when our nation’s technological supremacy has been threatened.” One of these threats was experienced by the grandparents of today’s children in 1957 when Russia launched Sputnik. Politicians became more involved with education and had college professors design elementary curricula such as “new math”. Trying to teach advanced theoretical concepts to young children was a failure. “The question of accelerating intellectual development is long-standing in psychology, and research has yet to say for sure how much speeding up is possible.” We know that depriving children of adequate experiences impairs their development but that does not prove that overstimulating children enhances their development. There is evidence that overstimulation may be counterproductive. Our students’ performance compared with those of other nations has been declining which should cause us to review the effects of acceleration and the policy of testing our students more than those of other nations, instead of assuming that greater acceleration and more testing are the answer. We should not be too proud to learn from the experiences of other nations and consider changing our approach.


Children who are playing and exploring and creating and interacting without adult guidance are not wasting time. They are doing what is natural for children to do to entertain themselves and to make sense of the world. They are developing the skills that are best developed through play. They are doing what is real and meaningful to them which will be absorbed effortlessly. Explicit instruction is faster to present, but nowhere near as effectively absorbed. Many things are now much faster than they were even a decade ago, but development must be allowed time. Even those of us who have not spent our entire lives this attached to technology and had time to grow at a slower pace can be impatient and misuse technology (see Reclaiming Conversation ).


If we think about the problems that our children and grandchildren will face and that our country and the world will face in the future, they are not problems which can be solved solely through science, technology, engineering, and math. The skills on the right side of the report card which are also essential for happiness and satisfaction are also necessary for solving the problems that they and the world will face. (See The Road to Character)


The Other Side of the Report Card: Assessing Students’ Social, Emotional, and Character Development