Private elementary school standards absurd

December 14, 2009 — by Albert Gu

It is no secret that in the past few years, the competition to get into first-class universities has escalated. High school students burden themselves with extra classes and extracurricular activities in order to give themselves a little edge over their peers. Their parents are no less obsessed—they often attend getting-into-college seminars and enroll their children in expensive prep classes. Many expensive private schools have sprouted all over the country, from boarding schools like Phillips Exeter Academy to more local private schools such as Harker. All this is understandable; after all, getting into a good college can be the gateway into a high-quality life. However, the craze has to stop somewhere.

Private elementary schools such as Trinity, Horace Mann, and Collegiate have existed for decades but kept low profile. In recent years, more and more parents have been pushing their precocious youngsters to apply to these elite schools. Demand has been growing, so new schools have been founded, the most recent of which is the Speyer Legacy School in west Manhatten, which opened its doors this year with a ridiculous admission price of $28,500 for kindergarten. Only 26 highly advanced children in the kindergarten through second grade were accepted, all of whom scored in the 99th percentile on admission tests. Most of the 14 kindergarteners could already read fairly complex words, such as the names of wildlife animals.

While the desire of parents to provide the best possible education for their children is understandable, putting such young children through elite schools is just absurd. They are subjected to a rigorous academic curriculum with set standards for each grade, starting from kindergarten. This type of education is completely pointless when given to any child below middle school.

Elementary schools need to focus on exploring rather than learning concrete facts and trying to reach set goals on what children should know by a certain age. For instance, students at Speyer are told they are discussing meteorology rather than the daily weather, and that they are learning about entomology rather than insects—pointless terminology that obscures the fact that they are just learning about every day matters, not researching a scientific field. This rigorous “studying” of certain subjects in fact hinders children’s ability to be creative by laying out facts in front of them and preventing them from actively questioning the world by themselves.

Another negative aspect of private elementary schools it that it can hinder the children’s social abilities. Most obviously, such expensive schools usually have minimal class sizes, and the small student-to-teacher ratio is not necessarily beneficial because children get fewer chances to socialize. In addition, educators often view recess and exercise as mandatory but pointless activities to keep kids fit, not as a vital element to their social and physical development. Expensive schools try to appear better than their public school counterparts by developing extensive physical fitness programs, but no fitness regime can compare to letting the children roam free by themselves.

Parents fret over their bright children not getting the high quality education they deserve, but pushing them through expensive, elite private schools may not be as beneficial as they think, if at all. The focus of educating young children should be on exposure, which any school can do, not teaching them more advanced facts. Most successful students pull ahead during middle and high school as a result of personal interest and exploration in a subject, not their parents’ prodding. The best solution is that if parents feel like public school is progressing too slowly for their child, they can let him play with friends at school and teach him themselves at home.