Another Bulletin From The Moore Foundation

...a synopsis

For more than 40 years some of us have been concerned that most children are surrendered by homes to institutional life before they are ready – with serious implications for the children, the family, society, nation and world, including economic and moral disaster.  In the late 1960’s following a stint at the U.S. Office of Education, I became convinced that our children were victims of dangerous trends toward earlier schooling.  We had reasons to be skeptical of school claims for early academic achievement and socialization simply because “young children learn so fast.”  By giving our schools “green grain” for their mills, we make their task impossible.  Although challenging conventional wisdom and practice was not a pleasant prospect, colleagues around the world have more and more given support to our research, some reversing historic positions to do so.  We offer here a synopsis of our books (Better Late Than EarlyHome-Grown KidsHome-Spun Schools, and Home-Style Teaching and our monograph “Research and Common Sense” from Columbia University’s Teachers College Record, Winter 1982-83.), and chapters in more than 30 college textbooks in various languages.

Our conclusions are actually quite old-fashioned.  They seem new to some because they differ largely from, and often challenge, conventional practice.  Our early childhood research grew out of experiences in the classroom with children who were misbehaving or not learning because they were not ready for formal schooling.  Concerned first with academic achievement, we set out to determine the best ages for school entrance.  But more important has been the socialization of young children—which also involves senses, coordination, brain development, reason, and social-emotional aspects of child development.  These conclusions come from our Stanford, University of Colorado Medical School, Michigan State and Hewitt investigative teams who did basic research, and also analyzed more than 8,000 early childhood studies.  We offer briefly here our conclusions which you can check against any sound research that you know (It is thoroughly documented in our book, School Can Wait):

Readiness For Learning. Despite early excitement for school, many, if not most, early entrants (ages 4, 5, 6, etc.) are tired of school before they are out of the third or fourth grades – at about the ages and levels we found that they should be starting.  Tufts University Psychologist David Elkind calls these pressured youngsters “burned out.”  They are far better off wherever possible waiting until ages 8 to 10 to start formal studies (at home or school) – in the second, third, fourth, or fifth grade.  They then quickly pass early entrants in learning, behavior and sociability.  Their vision, hearing and other senses are not ready for continuing formal programs of learning until at least age 8 or 9.  When earlier care is absolutely necessary, it should be informal, warm and responsive like a good home, with a low adult-to-child ratio.

The eyes of most children are permanently damaged before age 12.  Neither the maturity of their delicate central nervous systems nor the “balancing” of the hemispheres of their brains, nor yet the insulation of their nerve pathways provide a basis for thoughtful learning before 8 or 9.  The integration of these maturity levels (IML) comes for most between 8 and 10.  It is not fair to test children for formal learning before at least age 10.

This coincides with the well-established findings of Jean Piaget and others that children cannot handle cause-and-affect reasoning in any consistent way before late 7’s to middle 11’s.  And the bright child is no exception.  So the 5’s and 6’s are subjected to dull rote learning which requires little thought, tires, frustrates and ruins motivation, stimulates few “hows” and “whys”.  Net results:  frequent learning failure, delinquency.  For example, little boys trail little girls about a year in maturity, yet are under the same school entrance laws.  HEW figures show that boys are 3 or 4 to 1 more often learning disabled, 3 or 4 to 1 delinquent, and 9 to 1 acutely hyperactive.  So, unknowing teachers far more often tag little boys as “naughty” or “dumb”.  And the labels frequently follow them through school.

Socialization.  We later became convinced that little children are not only better taught at home than at school, but also better socialized by parental example and sharing than by other little children.  This idea was fed by many researchers from Tufts, Cornell, Stanford and California.  Among the more prominent were (1) Urie Bronfenbrenner who found that at least up to the sixth grade, children who spend less of their elective time with their parents than their peers tend to become peer-dependent; and (2) Albert Bandura who noted that this tendency has in recent years moved down to preschool, which in our opinion should be avoided whenever good parenting is possible.  Contrary to common beliefs, little children are not best socialized by other kids; the more persons around them, the fewer meaningful contacts.  We found that socialization is not neutral.  It tends to be either positive or negative:

Positive or altruistic and principled sociability is firmly linked with the family – with the quantity and quality of self-worth.  This is in turn dependent largely on the track of values and experience provided by the family at least until the child can reason consistently.  In other words, the child who works and eats and plays and has his rest and is read to daily, more with his parents than with his peers, senses that he is part of the family corporation – needed, wanted, depended upon.  He is the one who has a sense of self-worth.  And when he does enter school, preferably not before 8 to 10, he usually becomes a social leader.  He knows where he is going, is independent in values and skills.  He largely avoids the dismal pitfalls and social cancer of peer dependency.  He is the productive, self-directed, citizen our nation badly needs.

Negative, me-first sociability is born from more peer group association and fewer meaningful parental contacts and responsibility experiences in the home during the first 8 to 12 years.  The early peer influence generally brings an indifference to family values which defy parent’s correction.  The child does not yet consistently understand the “why” of parental demands when his peers replace his parents as his models because he is with them more.  Research shows that such peer dependency brings loss of (1) self-worth, (2) optimism, (3) respect for parents and (4) trust in peers.  What does the child have left to lose? So he does what comes naturally: He adapts to the ways of his agemates because “everybody’s doing it,” and gives parent values the back of his little hand.  And…he has few sound values to pass on to the next generation.

So home, wherever possible, is by far the best nest until at least 8 to 10.  In a reasonably warm home, adult-child responses, which are the master key to education, will be 50 to 100 times more than the average teacher-child responses in the classroom.  Where there is any reasonable doubt about the influence of schools on our children (morality, ridicule, rivalry, denial of religious values, etc.) home schools are usually a highly desirable alternative.  Some 35 states permit them by law under various conditions.  Other states permit them through court decisions.  Home schools nearly always excel regular schools in achievement.  Although most of them don’t know it, parents are the best teachers for most children at least through ages 10 or 12.

If we are to believe sociologists Frederick Le Play, J.D. Unwin or Carle Zimmerman, we must spend more time with our children in the home, lest our society like Greece and Rome, be lost.  The conditions are now identical to theirs.  Let’s have more loving firmness, less indulgence; more work with you, fewer toys; more service for others – the old, poor, infirm – which lead to, and follow, self-worth as children of God.  Parents and home, undiluted, usually do this best.  Home-Spun Schools (Word, 1982) will tell how others did it.  And Home Style Teaching (Word, Feb. 1984) will give you new confidence as a teacher whether you teach in home or school.

Raymond S. Moore