Friday, October 08, 2010

My Child Is Exceptional

Friends in the teaching professions tell me they hear it all the time. Parents insist that their offspring are "exceptional" and should be in the accelerated program.

Most often, the kids aren't. They're average.

The parents put their little darlings into training at an early age, looking to the distant future when it's time for college and who wouldn't like to boast that their child was accepted at Harvard or Dartmouth or Sarah Lawrence?

Hence, the demise of the picture book.

You won't get into an elite Ivy League school if you spend your childhood looking at pictures. Reading is where it's at, and recent studies claim that parents are pushing their kids to read at an early age. Publishers like Simon & Schuster have noticed the drop-off in sales of picture books for the young.

By the time kindergarten comes around, parents expect their children to be able to handle chapter books. Wandering around in imaginary worlds of vivid colors and images, in that case, is a complete waste of time.

The publishers will respond to what they see as diminished demand and diminish their output. That's bad news for children's book authors and illustrators, but it's worse news for the kids.

A picture tells one thousand words, but if a well-meaning parent deprives their child of the opportunity to develop the skill to interpret those words, the child misses out. It isn't all about printed words. The brain has two sides, and overloading one won't strengthen the other.

Critical thinking skills come into play with picture books. It's a different situation with reading words, where a parent can hear the progress as little Johnny reads aloud. Figuring out what's going on in a picture, and making sense of the world, are internal actions that cannot be monitored.

So there will be a generation of little Einsteins, skilled at memorization and rote and able to get good grades that will lead to acceptance at elite universities.

And there will be a generation lacking in imagination and creativity, incapable of drawing pictures in their minds because they never learned how. Who will be the architects and designers and engineers and writers and artists?

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