Here’s a little something to make you barf first thing in the morning like you’re six weeks pregnant. (Warning: if you are pregnant, proceed with caution!) In a story about “redshirting” children–mostly boys–and starting them in Kindergarten at age 6, Kristina Dell reveals this little nugget about why holding children back from starting school is an attractive idea to many parents, especially competitive wealthy parents:
But often it’s the parents, not the teachers, who insist on redshirting their sons. Besides academics, many see multiple bonuses for their boys to be bigger. “A majority of boys’ parents that I have spoken to feel like the social life of a boy has a lot to do with sports,”says Debbie Moussazadeh, a mother whose daughters are in kindergarten and third grade at Horace Mann School, a private school in the Bronx. “A kid who is older for that year may have a bit of an advantage on the field.” Parents who have read Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers are well aware of the Canadian hockey study he cites, which found that the number of players who made it to professional hockey leagues was disproportionately composed of people who were the oldest in their grade. “I had parents say to me, ‘Don’t you want Holden to get a sports scholarship?’” recounts [parent Holly] Korbey. “But I would say, ‘He is four years old and I don’t even know what he’s good at.’” What’s more, parents see it as a good thing socially if their boys have an extra year to grow, so they won’t be shorter than the girls in their class down the road. “People were seriously concerned that Holden would drive later than everyone else and wouldn’t get to go on dates,” says Korbey.
But the incentives to push back boys often work in the opposite direction for girls. Parents don’t necessarily want their girls to undergo body changes while their classmates are still playing with American Girl Dolls. “Many parents don’t want their girls to be the tallest and hit puberty first,”says Aimee Altschul, a doctor in Fairfield, Connecticut who has two daughters (whom she did not hold back) in pre-kindergarten and first grade.
Apparently, everyone knows that boys have to be taller, stronger, and better at sports than girls, and everyone knows that girls who grow boobies or use deodorant in third grade are disgusting pigs! Otherwise, how will we reproduce heterosexuality, especially now that women earn more college degrees than men? We can’t have a World Turned Upside Down with tall, academically successful, basketball-playing girls dating shorter boys! If the boys are shorter, the girls might not understand who they’re supposed to date turn out lesbian or something! Horrors!
(Does anyone else find this interest in children’s bodies and development creepy, vicarious, and more than a little prurient?)
I have noticed that children are a lot older when starting school than they were back in 1973 when I marched off to Kindergarten immediately after celebrating my fifth birthday. Many teachers and school districts encourage this I think because of the pressure of assessment tests–having 9-year old third graders probably boosts their scores above what a bunch of barely-eights might achieve. Elementary school seems a lot more serious than it used to back in the 1970s, when Kindergarten was half a day and more about literacy readiness than literacy. There’s even homework in Kindergarten, when I can’t remember any homework until fifth grade. So I can understand why schools want older, more mature students in their classrooms. (But as this story suggests, what happens when it becomes the norm to start school at 6? Will 7 be the new Kindergarten-ready age? How about ten?
Childhood in America is rapidly coming to resemble womanhood in America: fraught with impossible contradiction. We want children to be innocent, yet we sexualize them at ever-younger ages with the toys, clothing, and media we produce for them. We want them to Achieve Great Things, but we want to delay the start of their school years. We want them to dominate the playing field, yet we devise more electronic games that encourage physical inactivity. Can we just let children be children and stop programming their brilliant careers and sex lives for them? At least until they’re fourteen year-old sixth-graders?