Yesterday my wife and I went to a 'meet the new teacher' gathering at our children’s day care. On the momentous occasion of our children transitioning from their current class to their next, we were given an opportunity to learn the new teacher’s backgrounds, their credentials and personality. We found them great and justly so - it does cost a bit. At the end of the session, it was mentioned that our elder son would be starting his letter writing soon and the head teacher mentioned that they would start with the letter C. As soon as they master writing C, they will proceed to O. I sat there a little flummoxed on the newly discovered order of the English alphabets. As if reading my mind, an audience member behind us piped up with the question du jour; What about starting with A? Then B, C, D etc. like the rest of us learned...
The teacher looked incredulously at us for a split second, resolved to herself that she was speaking to a bunch of parents who really do not know too much about educating their four year olds and slowly proceeded to explain. She told us that starting with the letter C is the easiest as it involves writing the letter in a single pencil stroke whereas starting off with the letter A would involve three discrete strokes to complete the letter. She told us that starting with the letter A will be mentally taxing on the little child. She went onto intone that children will find it emotionally and mentally stimulating to start with an easy letter first and then proceed to the tougher, taxing ones towards the end.
I was not convinced. Somehow, I felt that dumbing down little tasks and making life easy for children in their formative years is necessarily not a good thing. Let me explain.
Our children will live and work in a very different world from what we inhabit. A world more flat, more cohesive and more integrated where global economies intermingle and people, resources and goods cross international boundaries like we drive across states today. In such a world, our children will face competition from the likes of children bought up in countries like Taiwan, China, South Korea, Japan and India. In most of these countries children are given a tougher beginning to life, more material to study and a rigorous outlook in general. They are taught to survive the rough and tumbles of a system that they will have to navigate successfully and triumph a couple of decades from whence they start to write their first letters. Mollycoddling them with asinine explanation of 'mentally taxing’ and ‘emotionally and mentally stimulating' will not work in the future global marketplace where skills, tenacity and competitiveness will rule ever more so. Shielding our children from competition and striving to make their already comfortable lives more so will not do us any benefit in the longer run. Of course, I did not mention any of my wayward thoughts to the hapless teacher, but talked long and hard into the night with my wife. We are still working out a plan.