Overheard and Unbelievable

I read the Nanny Diaries a couple of years ago. Although it was a horribly written book (the movie was not much better), it stayed with me as my first introduction into the insane things people did to their kids in the name of education (or more like the insane orders parents give their nannies to do to their children), and that perennial need to make sure they “get a head start” in life (which if you think about it, isn’t a very sporting notion.) What I am talking about is interviews for pre-school. Prep school for pre-school. Hiring consultants to help you get into the right pre-school. In my mind, this is insane, and, I thought, exclusive to the money-addled folks in Manhattan.

I was wrong. Last week, I hosted a workshop at my library for kids aged 3 to 5. A nanny who occasionally comes to storytime came in with the kids she looks after and told me that she had just come from bringing her charges to an interview for a private pre-school. She then told me that they did pretty well, all because of her and her early childhood educator background. The only part of the interview they didn’t ace was drawing, ostensibly because “she hadn’t shown them how to do that yet.” The workshop was the kids reward for doing so well in the interview…


Who are these people? What the hell does she mean, she didn’t teach her charges to draw? If I remember correctly, there is not much to teach at that age. They are learning how to hold a crayon. They scribble a few shapes on a blank piece of paper and then say “Mommy, I drew you!” and you say something like “Awesome! It looks just like me!” and then they move on to the next and the next piece of paper where they make similar scribblings. As they get older, the scribblings start to have shapes. Then faces. And as they get better at observing the world and better fine motor skills, they start to learn how to draw objects and animals and other fine things. What the hell is there to teach that, at that stage, they can’t discover on their own?

Reward for doing well in the interview????? THEY ARE 3 YEARS OLD! What if they didn’t do well? Would she have deprived them of their supper? Locked them up in the room until they could produce a Rembrandt?

Why do we feel like everything must be an information transfer? Is that how we learn? I don’t think so. The things I know most how to do, I learned to do it by myself. Sure, when I was stuck, I asked for help. And yes, I learned mostly by mimicking my mother (still probably do, actually), but she didn’t have to actually sit down, pull up a flip chart and give me a seminar on how to be a productive human being. (The results are not quite in on this one). She did it by example.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not worried for these kids. They are loved and fed and it is amazing, the human capacity to turn out alright despite our numerous attempts to screw it up. But I am wondering about taking away the experience of discovering the world on your own, of making up your own theories on how things work, all of which takes time alone with the universe. That is time when your parent or guardian is exhibiting a certain negligence, where you figure out the world on your own terms. Which leads, in my opinion, to original, creative thinkers.

We are spoonfeeding our children “knowledge” and half of it is ending up smeared on their faces and not in their bellies. Maybe we should let them try holding the spoon for a change?

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