Kids are different. Times have changed. This we know. But does “smarter” necessarily mean “better”? Does access to more information correspond with greater levels of compassion, understanding, and kindness?
I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that my second-grade son is smarter than I was at his age. Admittedly, I’m basing that declaration on my own observations and recollections and not on any concrete evidence such as intelligence tests.
But here’s why I think my son (and today’s kids in general) are smarter:
1. Longer school days. Most kids today are in school for a longer period of time each day than they used to be. Longer school days mean more academic instruction, more work time, more learning. (When I first started teaching, I was an afternoon kindergarten teacher. My students were in school from 11:20am to 2:35pm. Today’s kindergarten students go to school for the same length of time as kids in every other grade level).
2. Higher expectations. Teachers today have higher expectations of students. When I was a kindergarten student, we spent a considerable part of the day “socializing.” We cut, we colored, we built with blocks, we played dress-up. Today, those activities would be relegated to a preschool center. When I was a kindergarten teacher, I was expected to keep a structured, academically-oriented classroom setting. My students were expected to sit still for longer periods of time, to listen and pay attention, to complete more worksheets, to participate in periodic district-mandated assessments, and then go home and do daily homework. And, they did it all.
3. Information is readily available. When I was a kid and had a question my parents couldn’t easily answer, we might take a trip to our public library in search of answers. As I got older and school work got harder and involved more research papers, my parents invested in a set of World Book Encyclopedias. Today, when my son has a question, we head to the Internet for the answer. All the answers to his questions are available with just a few taps or swipes. “Let’s Google it” or “Let’s ask Siri,” have become popular refrains. No child’s answer needs to remain unanswered.
4. Wider exposure (to the not-so-good). Today, you can hear words like “bitch” on public television. Kids see large billboards featuring people in their underwear. My son sees the posters advertising a new movie and asks me what the word “hell” means. When I was growing up, kids seemed more sheltered. We were exposed to ads for cigarettes, but foul language and scantily clad humans weren’t a part of my daily existence.
5. Wider exposure (to everything). I admit that I did not learn about Frida Kahlo until I was a college student. My son, on the other hand, has learned about her in school. During art class. He’s taken field trips to the art museum and been able to see her paintings up close. As a family, we regularly visit the Art Museum, the Natural History Museum, the Aquarium, and the Science Center. Today’s parents are expected to regularly provide our children with these enriching, well-rounded experiences.
6. Greater availability. When I was a kid, I watched “Sesame Street” when it was on television. If I missed a day’s show, I’d have to wait another day to see Bert and Ernie. Today’s kids can watch what they want when they want. They’re watching (and learning) while in the car. They’re sitting in grocery carts, playing games on their parents’ smart phones, and watching Baby Einstein DVDs on portable DVD players on long trips.
7. More varied ways of learning. Teachers know that children learn differently. Some are auditory learners, some are kinesthetic learners, and others are visual learners. And parents are more easily able to adapt to their own child’s needs and preferences. Today’s kids are learning the alphabet by looking at letters, by singing the familiar song, by tracing letters in whip cream, by watching little “letter of the day” videos, by constructing letters with marshmallows and pretzel sticks, by playing interactive games, by reading, and by completing worksheet pages.
Kids are different. Times have changed. This we know. But does “smarter” necessarily mean “better”? Does access to more information correspond with greater levels of compassion, understanding, and kindness? As a parent, and a former teacher, I’m inclined to look on the bright side of things and say yes. But time will tell.
Wendy Kennar is a freelance writer, who finds inspiration in her 7-year-old son and from her memories of her 12-year teaching career. Her writing has appeared in several publications and anthologies including: the Los Angeles Times, Christian Science Monitor, Role Reboot, United Teacher, L.A. Parent, MomsLA.com, and Lessons From My Parents, among others. She blogs at http://wendykennar.blogspot