I was planning to do a full review of the book Einstein Never Used Flashcards: How Our Children Really Learn and Why They Need to Play More and Memorize Less.  Unfortunately, I had to return it to the library before I quite finished it, although I had more or less given up on it before then.

This really is a good book, packed with solid research, and if that is what you are looking for, I do recommend it.  The authors present plenty of compelling evidence, if you need to be convinced that children learn more from free play than from sitting still and memorizing.  And yet, while I was reading it, something was bothering me.

There seem to be several schools of thought when it comes to very young children and early childhood education.  Probably the most prevalent, in spite of evidence that undermines this view, is the idea that since the brain develops so rapidly in the first few years, we need to hurry up and cram it all in. The Common Core curriculum certainly seems to take this attitude, and since it is an alarmist perspective (any parent of young children is reminded a dozen times a week of how fleeting! how precious! this time is; and these reminders are accompanied by various obligations … take pictures/appreciate it/PACK THOSE LITTLE MINDS TO THE BRIM WITH FACTOIDS!), no wonder many people are frightened into believing that every waking minute of toddlerhood needs to be “productive” or else delinquency waits down the road.

The opposite school of thought, which seems to be gaining more interest, is that children are more or less pre-programmed to learn and develop, and as long as they aren’t seriously deprived of nutrition, affection, and a healthy environment, they will learn to read and write and count, just as they learn to crawl and cruise and walk.

Of course, this is vastly oversimplified, and there are plenty of ideas and opinions in between these two extremes.  But as much as the first, productive, mindset bothers me, I think I am most disturbed when the first mindset attempts to masquerade as the second.  And this is what I felt Einstein was doing, and why I lost interest in finishing it.  While the premise of the book seemed to be saying that children do not need to be forced into artificial learning scenarios, and of course they are not advocating flash cards, the learning activities they did suggest seemed to me to undermine the thesis of their own work.  Perhaps these are intended to reassure parents, who need to feel like they are doing *something,* but the rest of the book felt off, and I think it was because, ultimately, they seemed to be arguing for the same kind of “productivity” as their opponents, only they believe it is best/most effectively achieved in a different way.  In either case, childhood is seen as a unique opportunity to create a mini-learner who excels in literacy and numeracy, rather than as developmental stage that has purpose and value in and of itself.