“They need to do this much homework now because it’s coming in Middle School; they have to get ready”!!!

This was the argument I received for second graders pounding through hours of worksheets per night. These would be seven year olds who were laden with hours of “home-joy” [sic] on subjects of esoteric importance positively tangential to their age-appropriate development. The grounds for this sternness was nothing more than that they would encounter this level of required effort “soon”, so when better to start than “now”?

Even many long years before this, the zeitgeist proposed a fairly explicit game-plan that “life is hard and the sooner you youngsters understand it the better off you’ll be”. The argument was tendered right on down to vulnerable infants, on whom militaristic sleeping schedules were impressed since after all, those babes had no right to force their will on an adult; ‘life, after all, is hard and that lesson needed learning right away’.

Flash forward to mid-High School where the testing and career pressure brought to bear on students is unrelenting and excruciating. Evidently it is imperative that they decide now what it is that they will study in college several years hence because, after all, life is hard and if they don’t start training for it right away, they will be losers evermore in that lifelong economic game of earning.

Does anyone else find all this anticipating of downstream disaster a little precipitous? Can we not allow our young a little peace of mind to relax into the day-to-day pace of their present life? How can it be possible or efficient to learn today when constantly besieged by a forecast of imminent doom, contingent on extreme excellence being attained right this instant?

When I hear the anxiety broadcast by my teenager, I feel ashamed of my parent-caste. We are promoting an untruth that these children’s lives will be irremediably harmed should they not determine next week how to occupy the rest of their live-long days. Once, it was foretold by social class that what the parents did, so should the child forevermore. We ended all that with our experiment in New World democracy. It took just a handful of generations to develop some of the finest universities on the planet and the GI bill of 1944 to enable widespread class-independent matriculation.

But that does not mean children should spend their every waking moment engaged in gamesmanship to assure ascendency to the hallowed ground of College. The end does not give purpose to the means; it is in the process of learning that one authentically graduates to a school of higher education. One’s entire educational career should not be focused on achieving entrance. It is toward the inherent good of learning that all this educational striving is intended. College matriculation follows learning as a natural progression of educational development, not as a reward for pre-graduation milestones achieved.

All aspects of our present educational system serve to squeeze ever-younger responsibilities of “Choice” onto our children’s shoulders. All these small schools devised by our superintendent and his plutocrat handlers to funnel children along specialized career paths, amount to so much pre-ordained electronics-era vocational training. It remains little different from the old-world rigid social class structure our revolution scorned. Long before basic elements of learning have been attained – that is, math, music, science; language, social and studio arts; physical education of both body and spirit – these essential foundations are sacrificed to specialized, narrow applied-versions of the shadowed original. Broad-based learning, learning for the love of learning, even learning from mistakes – all these are casualties of learning for the sake of one’s scripted, test-determined future. The pressure to conform is stunting. It is anti-democratic and anti-intellectual. We are compressing our children into educational dies, resulting in terror among our children that some piece of themselves might not fit within the conscripted confines.

It is little more than our own lack of patience, our own version of “educational ADHD” that forbids these children from following their own learning muse. If we were not so intense in our requirement that they leapfrog one educational hurdle after another regardless of deep understanding or authentic interest, they could perhaps discover on their own a spontaneous fervor for figuring things out, for creativity or even synthesis. But our own hyperactive need to fiddle with their educational model drives an ever more tightly wound derivative of schooling for measurement’s sake, and not for the pursuit of knowledge. We have got to find a way to release the pressure our own adult neuroses are leveraging on the spirits of our offspring.