The kindergarten teacher stands emotionless behind her desk. She rotates her body quickly to the left.
Teacher: Jennifer, what letter comes after g?
Teacher (turning slightly): Correct. Jon, what is one plus one?
Jon: Uhhh, two.
Teacher: Correct. Terri, what is the next number in this sequence: 10, 20, 30, 40?
Terri (quickly): Fifty.
Teacher: Correct. Pete, what sound do the letters ph most often make?
Pete: I don’t understand.
Teacher: What sound is formed by the letters ph ?
Pete: I don’t know. I can’t read.
Teacher: It’s fff. As in fail or flunk or the letter f, which I’m sure you’ll see a lot on your report card. (Laughter breaks out.)
Teacher: Now students, we must vote to see who will give up his desk and be labeled a slow learner for the rest of his educational career. Which one of you left your thinking cap at home and had it chewed up by the dog? Who’s a few crayons short of a 64-pack?
School can be a cruel place.
Sure, no teacher would intentionally subject a student to public humiliation and vote him into the “dunce” corner. But some children quickly pick up on other kids’ weaknesses and stick labels on them that last years.
While “stupid” and “dummyhead” may not be as cleaver a putdown as the ones that spew from a certain bespectacled, British game show host, the words can wound deeply.
“Our culture permits few exceptions from the established timetable,” Dr. James Dobson says. “A 6-year-old child must learn to read or he will face the emotional consequences of failure. This is why I favor either holding an immature child out of school for a year or home schooling him or her for several years.”
Dr. Dobson also feels that age is the worst criterion on which to base a decision regarding when to begin school.
“That determination,” Dr. Dobson says, “should be made according to specific neurological, psychosocial and pediatric variables.”
Guidelines recommended by the U.S. Department of Education say a child entering kindergarten should be able to take turns, sit long enough to read a story together, work or play without constant supervision, say ABCs, count to 10, draw a square, cut with scissors, not hit or bite when angry and keep up with other kids on the playground.
At the same time, Dr. Dobson believes that parents are the experts when it comes to their children. He respects parents’ rights to choose the best time and educational option for their children—whether that’s public, private or home schooling.
“A late blooming child may not be ready for the social competition and rejection often experienced within large groups,” Dr. Dobson says. “Some youngsters may not even have completed a vital neurological process called myelinization.”
At birth, the nervous system of the body is not insulated. That’s why an infant is unable to reach out and grasp an object; the electrical impulse is lost on its journey from the brain to the hand. Gradually, myelin coats the nerve fibers, with the visual apparatus coming last.
“A child who is extremely immature and uncoordinated may be neurologically unprepared for the intellectual tasks of reading and writing,” Dr. Dobson explains.
Carefully considering some of this information could’ve helped Pete’s parents prevent him from taking the “walk of shame.”