Channel surfing late last week, I stumbled across an ad for a program designed to teach children to read from the moment they first express the ability to speak. The program, found at yourbabycanread.com, is promoted by a commercial featuring extremely young and adorable children reading from flash cards. One little girl, clearly younger than 2, is already adorably picking her way through what appears to be a basic chapter book. The parents of these genius children watch on proudly from the corners of carpeted rooms, smiling lovingly. It doesn’t take much to be impressed by this level of infant intelligence. Watching small mouths gurgle the words “cat” and “elephant,” the parents viewing this commercial are told that this program will provide their beloved baby with countless opportunities. They are shown charts of the brain, and told to take advantage of the time when their child is able to absorb the most crucial information. As text to brain connections are explained, the early preparation for future years of standardized tests is already seen.
Why are we so obsessed with keeping our children on the cutting edge? Why do we need DVDs and manuals to teach them how to read? Why are we so engrossed in keeping up with every other set of parents and genius baby? As I watch these infants read, I can visualize the party tricks they must become–shown off to friends and family over appetizers. I think of the 1 year old I used to babysit and the footage of how he could point to and name every country in Africa by the time he was two. It was posted on youtube. I think of the 10 year old daughter of our family friends and the video of her virtuoso piano playing that found its way to facebook this past Friday. Her mother accompanied the clip with the line “say something about this video.”
In our culture, we beg for validation when it comes to our kids. We place extremely high value on the teaching of basic “skills,” and we train them to always be impressive. In some ways I am distressed by this trend, and yet I know that I am very likely to repeat it. How do we break this cycle? Should we break it at all?