A Staggering Suggestion

27 10 2007

The news this week has been packed with topical stories that have grabbed my interest and make great subjects for blog posts. So much so that a story from Wednesday had to wait until Saturday to be covered. Let me begin by saying there is plenty to support the idea that summer babies do sometimes suffer, particularly at a young age. The brain, like every other part of the body, grows, and younger children generally have smaller brains than much older ones.

Of course the gap within one year at school (a maximum spread from September to August) is not particularly large, but you would think that on average the summer babies would have less developed brains than the winter ones. I wouldn’t argue with that.

However why I object to staggering exams is that it is yet another example of taking a “one size fits all” approach. Many summer babies I know were actually more intelligent than the winter babies in their class. The most striking example of this was when I was 11 and there was a girl who was 10 and did better than the oldest kid in the class who was actually 12. Different children develop at different rates.

Age is not the only factor that determines the brain’s development, if it were we would not have child prodigies. Age should not be any sort of factor in marking exams because it could unfairly benefit summer children who happen to be more advanced than their peers, or unfairly hurt winter children whose brains are less developed.

What should happen is what occurs right now anyway. Children who are advanced are often moved up or given advanced classes whilst children who are not as advanced are held back. Reading between the lines, the reference to the fact that summer children are often “mistakenly” thought to have special educational needs suggests that this is a case of an overly liberal attitude. It’s a case of political correctness gone mad, heaven forbid we “hurt their feelings” by holding them back a year.

Being less advanced than your classmates on account of age is a “special educational need”, and I don’t see why that term should be derogatory to begin with. Dyslexia is not derogatory (although many use it that way). So what if it’s because you’re “unlucky” to be born at the “wrong” time of the year? Life is full of situations where you’ll be less lucky than your peers, it’s how you deal with such adversity that matters.

The more I read about our attitudes towards kids in school these days the more I fear we’re nannying them too much. One teacher even went so far as to say that summer babies suffer due to “emotional” issues. I guess if it were winter babies falling behind we’d be blaming SAD. We seem to be trying to find excuses for why some children do badly, instead of simply admitting that maybe these children simply are as intellectually gifted as others. Not everyone was born to be a rocket scientist, nor should they be. We all have different roles in society, we all have different abilities. The irony is these excuses come at a time when exams are being routinely criticised for being too easy!


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6 responses

28 10 2007
Jayne d'Arcy

I am afraid that children are getting molly-coddled and pushed into a one-size-fits all attitude. I wonder what our future will be like with those grown children. I don’t know about that August baby thing. My youngest brother was an August baby. He did poorly in school because of an attention deficit disorder. He read his first book, The Old Man & the Sea when he was 20. At 21, just for the hell of it, he went for an IQ test and we were all surprised to find out he has a genius IQ. One of Jim’s heroes happens to be an Indian mathematician I’ve never heard of. Jim’s an enigma. 🙂

28 10 2007
Mr President

Jack having ADD explains a lot of things. I find I tend to get on better with people who have ADD or ADHD presumably as it’s some sort of commonality. I think most people with attention disorders tend to be quite similar in terms of having philisophical/imaginative brains, it’s one of the side-effects of having a brain that naturally wanders.

Most of the people I know with attention disorders are great writers and thinkers, or fantastic at music or art. All of them are able to come up with the most amazing insight into things because of the way their brains are wired and I’d like to think that even I am capable of this sometimes. So although some sufferers may not do well at school (I was lucky) it would be wrong to think they’re any less intelligent than others. They are often geniuses.

Looking back I’m amazed I did well at school, despite being amazingly disruptive. Like many sufferers I had a genius-level IQ but also (and I find this is rare amongst ADD or ADHD sufferers) a fantastic memory for facts. Whilst I can very easily forget things I need to do or birthdays, facts seem to sink into my brain like a sponge. I think that saved me from doing much worse because even if I didn’t pay attention in class things just…stuck.

Sounds like Jack had it extra tough at school with the ADD and being an August baby and yet I doubt he’d ever want to “excuse” his poor performance at school. His struggles through school helped shape him as the man he is today and that man is a genius. An incredibly talented musician and equally talented writer, he didn’t need to be molly-coddled.

I fear for a future where no kid has ever had it tough. Even the “spoilt rich kids” people think have it easy have problems. I am reminded of Kipling’s famous words on what it is that makes you a man (or a woman):

“If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same”

28 10 2007
BunGirl

I for one think it’s incredibly sad that our educational system seems to be more interested in a child’s self-esteem than in his educational development. We’re so worried about hurting their feelings by holding them back a grade that we push them on to the next level when they clearly aren’t ready for it. Then we wonder why they fail. Exams get easier and easier as everyone scrambles to cater to the “lowest common denominator” and kids are graduating from high school without even being able to read and write properly. And we call this education? The more time goes on, the more I think I’m going to homeschool my children when the time comes.

28 10 2007
Mr President

Wow, I thought I’d be in a minority here. I could not agree more! Education shouldn’t be about the child’s feelings or self-esteem, that’s what a good home life and family are for. Schools are supposed to prepare them for life.

I fear that many parents are so engrossed in their careers they pass the buck for their children to other people, including teachers. Instead of being there to educate children teachers are now expected to be surrogate parents.

Teachers are in turn passing the buck, trying to find any excuse for why children are doing badly at school. It’s bad enough that they keep making the exams easier, which leads to them being so shocked when they enter society for real. Like you said they’re coming out of school unable to read and write!

28 10 2007
romi41

I laughed as I read this; the best people I know in my adult life, are the ones who had to push/grimace/and even suffer a bit as they made their way through school; things that come too easy aren’t what make us who we are, and the more we keep making things easy for today’s “children”, the more effed up our “future adults” are gonna be…seriously, I hope I’m not around to see that..lol.. 😉

28 10 2007
Mr President

I couldn’t agree more. People are made/broken by adversity, not by what comes easy. The more we wrap kids in cotton wool the harsher the reality of life will be when they enter the world. What may seem “easier” now will only make their lives much harder in the long-term because they’re ill-equipped to deal with the obstacles life throws in your way.

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