What Little Kids Need From Grownups

Play and free time may matter more than we think

(Image: Stephanie Fleary)

 

Erika Christakis’s new book, The Importance of Being Little, is an impassioned plea for educators and parents to put down the worksheets and flash cards, ditch the tired craft projects (yes, you, Thanksgiving Handprint Turkey) and exotic vocabulary lessons, and double-down on one, simple word:

Play.

That’s because, she writes, “the distinction between early education and official school seems to be disappearing.” If kindergarten is the new first grade, Christakis argues, preschool is quickly becoming the new kindergarten. And that is “a real threat to our society’s future.”

If the name sounds familiar, that’s likely because Christakis made headlines last October, writing an e-mail that stirred angry protests at Yale, where she is a lecturer at the Yale Child Study Center.

When a campus committee sent students a memo urging restraint in choosing Halloween costumes and asking them to avoid anything that “disrespects, alienates or ridicules segments of our population based on race, nationality, religious belief or gender expression,” Christakis wrote a memo of her own. She lauded the committee’s goals of trying to encourage tolerance and foster community but wondered if the responsibility of deciding what is offensive should fall to students, not their administrators.

“Have we lost faith in young people’s capacity—in your capacity—to exercise self-censure, through social norming, and also in your capacity to ignore or reject things that trouble you?” Christakis wrote.

Many Yale students accused Christakis of being racially insensitive and called for her ouster. In December, she stepped down from her teaching duties, telling  The Washington Post, “I worry that the current climate at Yale is not, in my view, conducive to the civil dialogue and open inquiry required to solve our urgent societal problems.”

What does Christakis’s role in the heated debate over racial insensitivity and free speech on campus have to do with her views on preschool? Surprisingly, a lot.

Read more at NPR Ed.



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