Posted in education, schools

Why I strongly oppose redshirting

I learnt about the modern-day trend of redshirting, deliberately holding kids back from starting kindergarten at the normal age, maybe 5–10 years ago, and it stunned me. This isn’t just for understandable cases like kids with birthdays around the cutoff date or not wanting to separate a child with a late August birthday from a close lifelong friend group. Nope, it’s increasingly common and matter-of-fact among people with more money than sense.

California has something called transitional kindergarten, meant for kids with birthdays in the last few months of the year who are just too young to qualify for real kindergarten. Elsewhere, many kids attend pre-K and preschool. All of these things are apparently becoming much more academically rigorous, to the point where kids are now expected to enter kindergarten with advanced skills.

Gone are the days when kindergarten was all about play-based learning and gentle entry into academia with simple lessons like learning how to read. Today kindergarten is the new first grade.

It shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone that the majority of parents keeping their kids in preschool till age six (even as old as seven and eight sometimes!) are the usual suspects, rich and upper-middle-class people, often suburban. Normal working-class people, even the lower-middle-class, don’t have the time or money for this. They can’t afford to finance years of private preschool with a pricetag equal to an adult college, nor are they so precious about coddling kids and deliberately stunting them.

As late as when I was growing up in the Eighties and Nineties, parents trusted their kids to roam the neighborhood until it got dark, ride their bikes everywhere, and live much of their lives without adult supervision. Now there are fricking content warnings on old Sesame Street episodes where kids aren’t accompanied by a hovering helicopter parent 24/7, and kids are strapped into carseats until age six and booster seats until thirteen.

There’s also a common refrain of wanting their kids to be the smartest, biggest, most popular, most assertive, most natural leaders in class, without having to God forbid struggle with any academics or have an equal playing field with kids of the same age. No one is entitled to a smooth, perfect ride through life, and someone has to be the youngest kid in class. Also, you can’t predict if little McMadysynlynnlee or Aidanbradencadenjaden will be popular, a sports star, head cheerleader, class president, valedictorian, etc., at all of five years old. You’re putting way too much pressure on them to live up to your snobby expectations.

What with redshirting extending so far now, and the way some kids’ birthdays fall out, this creates kindergarten classrooms with students as young as four and as old as seven or even eight. Those age differences are HUGE when you’re in elementary school! Although at least it’s not as creepy as Sudbury’s “age-mixing magic.”

A modern kindergarten class is not a one-room schoolhouse. It’s structured far differently by design.

Many people who were redshirted say they feel it stunted their development, that it was awkward being much older than classmates and not graduating high school till 19 or 20. Any potential initial advantages quickly disappear.

Then you get absolutely bizarre justifications like this:

This woman’s entire post is full of such nonsense, all about what SHE wants, not what’s really right for her kids. “I want them to be class leaders, and I’m convinced they’ll automatically have that personality.” “I’m not ready for my princesses to be away from Mommykins.” “I want to prolong their childhood as long as possible.” “I can’t afford the pricey private school of my dreams so soon.” “I want my kids to have a natural advantage over those icky plebes who started school at the normal age.”

Guess what, learning how to read and write won’t Magickally become much easier just because you waited until your snowflake was seven instead of four or five. The longer you put something off, the more difficult it becomes. They have to leave Mommy and Daddy sometime. Kids in prior generations weren’t kept in bubble wrap and treated like fragile glass flowers.

Many advocates of redshirting and democratic schools like Sudbury love to gas on about Finland’s educational system, where kids don’t start till age seven, but they’re ignoring a lot of important factors. One, Finnish kids are still engaged in learning at early ages, just not with formal academics. Two, there are less than 550,000 kids in the nation’s schools, compared to tens of millions in the U.S. Three, it’s not academically rigourous, and doesn’t even have standardised tests or a lot of homework. Four, not all learning is supposed to be creative or fun. Five, Finland’s educational system is failing compared to academic powerhouses elsewhere. But if you’re a hippie, I guess it’s perfect for you.

There’s also reason to believe many of these kids, particularly boys, who were redshirted for perceived immaturity actually had undiagnosed special needs. Starting kindergarten a year or two later only exacerbated their problems.

The fact that so many affluent parents now think nothing of deliberately holding their kids back from starting school at the normal age will always seem bizarre to me. School is supposed to be challenging, and the ages for each grade exist for a reason.