Are Children Headed for Education Overload? While Students Are Learning at Astounding Rates, Some Experts Fear the Push Is Stressing Them Out

By Kutz, Karen | Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), February 7, 1999 | Go to article overview
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Are Children Headed for Education Overload? While Students Are Learning at Astounding Rates, Some Experts Fear the Push Is Stressing Them Out


Kutz, Karen, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)


Byline: Karen Kutz Daily Herald Staff Writer

Third-graders in Wheaton are dissecting frogs.

In Elgin and East Dundee, 3-year-olds study French and Japanese. So do first-graders in Hoffman Estates.

Students in Oak Brook and Villa Park begin determining the value of "x" in the fifth grade.

And because high school juniors and seniors in Lincolnshire have maxed out of the physics curriculum, they're taking the equivalent of an advanced college physics course - studying robotics at the high school level.

And because high school students in Naperville have topped out on the math curriculum, they're taking Calculus III over the Internet with the University of Illinois.

Most educators marvel at the depth of material students absorb at ever-earlier ages.

But are we rushing our children out of childhood?

"I just hope we aren't pushing kids too far and too fast," said Dennis Lonstine, principal at Butler Junior High School in Oak Brook, where test scores rank among the state's highest.

Lonstine says students need the challenge, but he hopes there's room for something else.

"I still hope kids are not missing out on other experiences because they have to feel grown up and more mature."

Too much, too soon?

Such concerns aren't new.

In 1981, David Elkind's book "The Hurried Child: Growing Up Too Fast Too Soon" sparked debate.

Elkind, a child development professor at Tufts University near Boston, made the case that society, parents and schools are robbing children of their right to childhood.

"Today's child," he wrote, "has become the unwilling, unintended victim of overwhelming stress - the stress borne of rapid, bewildering social change and constantly rising expectations."

Lisa Zak, whose first-grade daughter, Allison, attends Fairview School in Hoffman Estates, blames parents for the push to learn more at younger ages.

"It's great that kids are learning so much, but at what cost?" Zak asked. "It's too much pressure."

Zak fears when kids have too much on their plates, they may lose their love of learning for the sake of learning.

Catherine Milord, a psychologist in Oak Brook, says the cost is higher than that. She says information overload quashes innocence.

Ronald Rottschafer, another Oak Brook-based psychologist, is even more alarmed.

"Regardless of a child's ability to catch on quickly or to display a high IQ, it doesn't mean a child is developmentally or emotionally ready for the pressure of becoming deeper and deeper into things that can wait," he said.

The main risk, he said, is increased anxiety.

"They come to some point where it's like winding up a clock spring too tightly, and they become uncoiled. They give up and get depressed and quit because it's all too hard."

And it shows up in teens.

"Today's 16- to 25-year-olds," he said, "are some of the most emotionally fragile children I've seen in a long time."

Children need play

When children feel stressed at school, they have few outlets, Milord said.

Unlike adults, who can leave a job that gets overwhelming, children are stuck, she said. They have to get up and go to school.

"If a student comes from a family that stresses academic goals and a compulsive approach to work, then that student may be trapped into not being able to get off this fast-moving train," Rottschafer said. "That type of child is headed for an emotional crisis."

With so many affluent, successful adults in the suburbs, there is too much emphasis on genius, he said.

"Parents assume that's the road to success and the good job and the big house, not realizing what helps to achieve that is solid emotional growth, family stability and the old-fashioned ability to relax and to play."

But some schools are cutting play time, not adding to it.

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