I’ve Started Talking To The Pictures On The Walls!
Great. 24 kindergarteners have now disrupted the entire field of early childhood education, and given me something new to worry about: what’s on my kid’s walls. The New York Times today gave way too much space to news about this little teeny tiny study in which 12 kids seemed to score better on tests after being taught for an hour in a room with plain walls vs. the 12 kids in a classroom in which the walls were covered with pictures. The researchers, or more likely the reporters, took this to mean that classrooms are all overdecorated and that kids can’t concentrate with so much color on the walls. So that’s the problem with our education system. The educational/industrial complex that produces decorations for kindergarten teachers.
Consider your own workspace. Or any place you spend a lot of time. Your living room, for instance. Or maybe your bathroom, I won’t judge. Whether you have papered the walls with Metropolitan Museum reprints or painted them orange, after awhile you don’t notice them. In fact, we only really notice the walls when something is removed or added, and then only for a short time until we again become habituated to our environment. New babies can do this, for heaven’s sake. It’s called habituation, and it’s been around for a few years now.
Last week I took my 5 year old to a playdate with a friend whose house she had never seen. When I dropped her off she was looking around carefully at everything around her, asking questions and touching things. By the time I came back 2 hours later she and her friend had their heads bent over a new chalk-and-baby wipe art form they had invented. The stuff on the walls had, well, blended into the walls. According to the large body of research on child development, 4 and 5 year olds learn to concentrate by doing what interests them. If a kid is staring at the walls, literally, either he’s bored and checked out or he’s too challenged and checked out. Variables that influence the ability to concentrate are things like levels of development in cognitive, linguistic, and motor skills, whether a child is tired or hungry, and whether the level of the work is appropriate for a particular child.
Education in this country is not great for a lot of kids. It’s not great because we invest in wars instead of classrooms. What’s on the walls of those classrooms means nothing if kids don’t have good teachers, supportive parents, a stable environment, and enough to eat. Twenty-four kindergarteners in Pennsylvania won’t change that.