TWENTY years ago, kids in preschool, kindergarten and even first and second grade spent much of their time playing: building with blocks, drawing or creating imaginary worlds, in their own heads or with classmates. But increasingly, these activities are being abandoned for the teacher-led, didactic instruction typically used in higher grades. In many schools, formal education now starts at age 4 or 5. Without this early start, the thinking goes, kids risk falling behind in crucial subjects such as reading and math, and may never catch up.
The idea seems obvious: Starting sooner means learning more; the early bird catches the worm.
But a growing group of scientists, education researchers and educators say there is little evidence that this approach improves long-term achievement; in fact, it may have the opposite effect, potentially slowing emotional and cognitive development, causing unnecessary stress and perhaps even souring kids’ desire to learn.
One expert I talked to recently, Nancy Carlsson-Paige, a professor emerita of education at Lesley University in Cambridge, Mass., describes this trend as a “profound misunderstanding of how children learn.” She regularly tours schools, and sees younger students floundering to comprehend instruction: “I’ve seen it many, many times in many, many classrooms — kids being told to sit at a table and just copy letters. They don’t know what they’re doing. It’s heartbreaking.”
我最近与马萨诸塞州坎布里奇莱斯利大学(Lesley University)的教育学荣休教授南茜·卡尔松-佩奇(Nancy Carlsson-Paige)有过一番交谈。卡尔松-佩奇称，这种趋势反映了对“孩子的学习过程深深的误解”。她定期参观学校，看到很多年纪较小的学生无法理解授课内容：“我在很多教室看到过很多类似的情况，老师让学生坐在桌子旁，抄写字母。他们不知道自己在干什么。真让人感到难过。”
The stakes in this debate are considerable. As the skeptics of teacher-led early learning see it, that kind of education will fail to produce people who can discover and innovate, and will merely produce people who are likely to be passive consumers of information, followers rather than inventors. Which kind of citizen do we want for the 21st century?
In the United States, more academic early education has spread rapidly in the past decade. Programs like No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top have contributed to more testing and more teacher-directed instruction.
在过去10年中，越来越多的早期教育措施在美国迅速蔓延。《不让孩子掉队》法案 (No Child Left Behind)、“力争上游”计划(Race to the Top)等项目，促使学生面对更多测验，接受更多由教师主导的教学。
Another reason: the Common Core State Standards, a detailed set of educational guidelines meant to ensure that students reach certain benchmarks between kindergarten and 12th grade. Currently, 43 states and the District of Columbia have adopted both the math and language standards.
另一个原因：各州共同核心标准(Common Core State Standards)。这套详尽的教育方针，旨在确保学生在经历幼儿园到12年级的学习后，达到一定的标准。目前，43个州和哥伦比亚特区采纳了数学和语言方面的标准。
The shift toward didactic approaches is an attempt to solve two pressing problems.
By many measures, American educational achievement lags behind that of other countries; at the same time, millions of American students, many of them poor and from minority backgrounds, remain far below national norms. Advocates say that starting formal education earlier will help close these dual gaps.
But these moves, while well intentioned, are misguided. Several countries, including Finland and Estonia, don’t start compulsory education until the age of 7. In the most recent comparison of national educational levels, the Program for International Student Assessment, both countries ranked significantly higher than the United States on math, science and reading.
这些举措虽然都是出自善意，却是受到了误导。包括芬兰和爱沙尼亚在内的几个国家的义务教育都是从7岁才开始。国际学生评估项目(Program for International Student Assessment)对各个国家的教育水平做出的最新对比显示，这两个国家在数学、科学及阅读能力上的排名都比美国高。
Of course, these countries are smaller, less unequal and less diverse than the United States. In such circumstances, education poses fewer challenges. It’s unlikely that starting school at 7 would work here: too many young kids, disadvantaged or otherwise, would probably end up watching hours of TV a day, not an activity that promotes future educational achievement. But the complexities of the task in this country don’t erase a fundamental fact that overly structured classrooms do not benefit many young children.
Some research indicates that early instruction in reading and other areas may help some students, but these boosts appear to be temporary. A 2009 study by Sebastian P. Suggate, an education researcher at Alanus University in Germany, looked at about 400,000 15-year-olds in more than 50 countries and found that early school entry provided no advantage. Another study by Dr. Suggate, published in 2012, looked at a group of 83 students over several years and found that those who started at age 5 had lower reading comprehension than those who began learning later.
一些研究显示，阅读及其他方面的早期指导，可能会帮助一些学生，但这种帮助似乎是暂时的。德国阿兰努斯大学(Alanus University)的教育研究者塞巴斯蒂安·P·萨盖特(Sebastian P. Suggate)在2009年开展了一项研究，对50多个国家的40万名15岁学生进行调查，发现早上学并没有带来优势。萨盖特在2012年发表的另一项研究，在几年的时间里对83名学生开展了调查，结果发现那些5岁开始学习的学生，阅读理解能力不如晚些开始学习的学生。
Other research has found that early didactic instruction might actually worsen academic performance. Rebecca A. Marcon, a psychology professor at the University of North Florida, studied 343 children who had attended a preschool class that was “academically oriented,” one that encouraged “child initiated” learning, or one in between. She looked at the students’ performance several years later, in third and fourth grade, and found that by the end of the fourth grade those who had received more didactic instruction earned significantly lower grades than those who had been allowed more opportunities to learn through play. Children’s progress “may have been slowed by overly academic preschool experiences that introduced formalized learning experiences too early for most children’s developmental status,” Dr. Marcon wrote.
其他研究发现，早期教学实际上可能会使学业表现变得更糟。北佛罗里达大学(University of North Florida)心理学教授丽贝卡·A·马尔孔(Rebecca A. Marcon)对343名参加学前教育的儿童进行了研究，其中有的学前班“以学业为导向”，有的鼓励“儿童自发”学习，或者介于两者之间。她在几年之后查看这些已经升入三或四年级的学生的表现，发现四年级的学习结束后，那些接受教学式指导的学生的成绩远低于那些有更多机会通过玩来学习的孩子的成绩。马尔孔写道，“学前班促使儿童接触正式的学习经历，这对于大多数儿童的成长阶段来说都是过早的，而这种过多的学前班学习经历可能会阻碍”儿童的进步。
Nevertheless, many educators want to curtail play during school. “Play is often perceived as immature behavior that doesn’t achieve anything,” says David Whitebread, a psychologist at Cambridge University who has studied the topic for decades. “But it’s essential to their development. They need to learn to persevere, to control attention, to control emotions. Kids learn these things through playing.”
然而，很多教育人士希望缩短孩子在学习期间的玩耍时间。“玩通常被认为是一种不成熟的行为，不会成就任何事情，”剑桥大学(Cambridge University)心理学家戴维·瓦特布雷(David Whitebread)说。“但这在他们的成长过程中是必不可少的。他们需要学会坚持、控制注意力，控制感情。孩子通过玩耍学会这些事情。”瓦特布雷研究该课题已有数十年时间。
Over the past 20 years, scientists have come to understand much more about how children learn. Jay Giedd, a neuroscientist at the University of California, San Diego, has spent his career studying how the human brain develops from birth through adolescence; he says most kids younger than 7 or 8 are better suited for active exploration than didactic explanation. “The trouble with over-structuring is that it discourages exploration,” he says.
在过去20年中，科学家已经对孩子的学习过程有了更多了解。加州大学圣迭戈分校(University of California, San Diego)神经系统学家杰伊·吉德(Jay Giedd)的专业领域是研究人类大脑从出生到青春期的发育过程;他表示，与说教式的解释相比，大多数不到7或8岁的孩子更适合主动探索。他说，“过于死板的教学会阻碍探索。”
Reading, in particular, can’t be rushed. It has been around for only about 6,000 years, so the ability to transform marks on paper into complex meaning is not pre-wired into the brain. It doesn’t develop “naturally,” as do other complex skills such as walking; it can be fostered, but not forced. Too often that’s what schools are trying to do now. This is not to suggest that we shouldn’t increase access to preschool, and improve early education for disadvantaged children. But the early education that kids get — whatever their socioeconomic background — should truly help their development. We must hope that those who make education policy will start paying attention to this science.