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Some Educators Concerned Over 'Superbaby' Burnout

November 20, 1986|BETTY CUNIBERTI | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — See Dick.

See Jane.

See Dick play the violin and recite Shakespeare.

See Jane speak French and correctly identify the Bach flashcard.

Dick and Jane are 3 years old.

For many parents this is not a make-believe story, but a hotly pursued reality--one that greatly disturbs some prominent educators of children.

Teaching methods that would be appropriate for older children, such as rote memorization of reading and math, and teacher-directed instruction, can damage pre-school children, said David Elkind, president of the National Assn. for the Education of Young Children.

"Young children learn differently from older children, even from youngsters just a year or two older," Elkind said at a press conference here. "With increasing numbers of young children being exposed to these inappropriate teaching methods, there is a real danger that large numbers of children will experience learning problems at an age when, in the past, most children were not even in school.

"Such youngsters face possible stress and educational burnout in elementary school."

Elkind was joined by Samuel Sava, executive director of the National Assn. for Elementary School Principals, in strongly criticizing the "Superbaby Syndrome." They spoke before the press during a convention of about 15,000 of the 54,000 members of the National Assn. for the Education of Young Children, the United States' largest professional organization of early-childhood educators, which works with youngsters as old as 8.

There's No Hard Evidence

Elkind and Sava said they have based their views on their own observations and training, as well as on years of studies, but they were unable to give hard statistics on how widespread the problem is.

USC's Franklin Manis, contacted in Los Angeles and asked to comment on their views, said he tends to agree with Elkind's and Sava's contentions, but he also said that there is a lack of hard evidence on the negative impact of Superbaby teaching techniques on infants and children.

Manis, an assistant professor of psychology, said that there are no studies documenting the ultimate emotional impact of extremely early education on children. In Japan, where children are subjected to early, rigorous and competitive schooling, studies have established no firm link between early pressures on children and a high youth suicide rate, Manis added.

But Manis also noted that studies of accelerated learning "generally show that the gains are real but they fade" over time.

The principals association's Sava said at the Washington convention, "Unless pre-school produces measurable gains in IQ, or unless young children memorize some information that adults recognize as school-related--the alphabet or a sequence of numbers--some parents dismiss early childhood programs as aimless puttering about."

"Hence, some foolish and potentially harmful manifestations of the Superbaby syndrome: flashing word-cards at 3-month-olds and Picassos at 1-year-olds, playing classical music to influence fetuses still in the womb and testing toddlers before admitting them to a prestigious nursery school."

At Marlene Snyder's Suzuki Learning Center in Atlanta, pre-schoolers--some less than 2 years old--learn to play the violin, speak French and Spanish and learn about art and computer programming. Snyder said she thinks the panic over the Superbaby syndrome may be overdone.

Told of Elkind's and Sava's statements about kid burnout, Snyder replied, "There are really no facts to back that up.

Some Rigid Programs

"I know a lot of people are concerned with burnout. It is true there are some very high-pressured places with very rigid programs of rote memorization and flashcards."

At the Suzuki center, Snyder said the 120 children, aged 3 months to 6 years, have "no pressure. Nothing is shoved down their throats. French (is learned) by hands-on experience, games, stories and songs."

The Suzuki method involves learning from imitation, and is named for the Japanese teacher who devised it 40 years ago, Shinichi Suzuki. When children learn to play the violin, they learn on a violin that has been scaled to their size.

Those desiring to attend the Suzuki school must first apply and spend a trial day there, but Snyder said that is not to determine if the child has superior intelligence, but to make sure he is comfortable in the setting. "We're dealing basically with the average child," she said.

Elkind and Sava said there are good programs for pre-schoolers, citing the Montessori method as one.

Setting Own Pace

The Montessori method, popular in the United States and abroad, allows pre-schoolers to set their own pace, learning such skills and how to work zippers and buttons, how to set a table and how to walk on a line.

They assemble puzzle maps of the continents and learn to count, add, subtract and divide with red and blue wooden rods, beads and cubes.

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