Stop the Academic Madness!
Stop worrying about your kids’ academics.
This is for you, parents, caregivers and teachers: stop worrying about the academics!
We have so much evidence – over 60 years of evidence in the form of research, studies, anecdotal records that show that you don’t need to worry about your child’s academics. (And actually there’s plenty to show you why you worrying about their academics is damaging, a post for another day.)
Young people learn best through play – true play, not adult-crafted, play-based, sneaky learning-play. Young people learn best when they have authentic, hands-on experiences rooted in supportive and caring relationships. Kids learn best when navigating the learning they need because they’re trusted to grow and learn.
The research doesn’t say if you come from this neighborhood or if you are in this socioeconomic class then you need academics while your peers of privilege can play. It also doesn’t say the opposite. Often I hear arguments are made that children need to catch up because they’re behind. I also hear arguments made that not all children will learn well on their own. Still others say if you don’t teach them (insert subject here) this exact way, they won’t learn it.
Most of these arguments are based upon a deficit mindset. The thought is that based on test scores and other quantified metrics (that are inherently inequitable), children are deemed to be on one side or the other of an imaginary achievement gap. It seems like the harder educators work to close the achievement gap, the more it persists, standing there like a confident toddler with crossed arms saying, “you can’t make me do it.”
*** Edited to add while the achievement gap is imaginary because it's based on data that can't be measured, I recognize it does have very real consequences as in test scores determine if you have opportunities for scholarships and access to higher education. This is a bigger social issue, not one rooted in the achievement gap.
Worries over academics are often the reasoning used by families who come from a place of privilege, often white, to choose private or charter schools over their neighborhood public school. Parents’ worries over academics are often cited by educators as the reason they focus as they do on academics. Teachers’ worries over academics are often cited by parents as the reason they focus as they do on academics. We all really just need to stop.
Children don’t need to be taught academics. They need to be supported and cared for first. Their mental and emotional well-being must be in order for them to learn properly. If that is there, and they have an environment rich in resources, and stable, caring adults who intentionally observe their learning and growth and put new opportunities in front of them as they’re ready, they will soar. No matter what.
I’ve spent a lot of time on calls and in virtual meetings these past few years of pandemic living. I’ve heard about learning loss, achievement gaps, equitable practices, the pushdown of academics, and the need for more academics. There is a constant push-pull of parents and educators hearing from the other that there needs to be a bigger emphasis on academics. I keep a binder of research that shows otherwise and yet I’m left scratching my head wondering what will it take for the practice to meet the science. Is it parents who need to hear this? Is it teachers? Is it administrators? Is it politicians? I really don’t know. I think it’s all of the above.
So let me be the one to say it:
Children do not need you to figure out how to shove academics into their brain.
Children need you to allow them, give them time and space to wonder, be curious, and find moments of awe in their every day life.
Children need you to love them, support them, recognize their individual strengths, and see their beauty.
The biggest gift we can collectively give our children, our families, our schools, is to back off and watch them soar.