Introducing… the 5 year old college graduate

Okay, so I’m exaggerating slightly.  But, I expect to see that headline any day now.  It’s got me thinking about this dichotomy that we see between the US and much of the rest of the world.  A friend posted this article on her Facebook today.  While I send kudos to the young lady involved in the story, the mention of the kid who graduated Rutgers at 16 got me thinking about this trend.  I experienced it when we first moved here.  People told me that we could probably convince the school to let the TwinBeans start KG1 early (at age 3) since their birthday was in February.  They seemed confused that I wasn’t the least bit interested in doing so. In fact, I found the idea horrifying.  Why would I want to place my 3 year olds in a school environment?  They were learning new things including vocabulary, numbers, letters, colors, and other vital information at their nursery.  They weren’t missing anything.  And, if we waited until they actually were supposed to go to school, they’d be among the oldest in the class.  I only saw upsides.

I have a number of friends who were pushed into putting their kids in KG1 at three by well-meaning in-laws.  To a person it did not work out particularly well.  The kids were immature, had a hard time focusing and sitting still, were unhappy in school.  This is not to say that ALL kids would have this challenge, but most would.  To set the stage some, I was the youngest person in my class.  My birthday usually fell the day before school started.  The start of school was the cut-off.  And I was perfectly happy.  At one point, the school considered skipping me a grade.  They chose not to for a simple reason – socialization – not mine, my older brother’s.  He’s just a year and a half older and based on his birthday was one grade higher.  They were worried that it would be hard on him having his younger sister in the same grade.  I didn’t mind, they made other arrangements to keep me challenged.  So, it’s not that I think younger kids can’t perform as well.  It’s that I know MY kids and they weren’t ready for school at age 3.

In the US, there is this trend toward “redshirting” kids.  This is basically holding them back so that they are the oldest kids in class.  I don’t mean like my kids, within the right timeframe, but just happen to be older.  These are people whose kids are supposed to start first grade at 6 and wait until they are 7.  Often this is done specifically so that they will be more physically mature and thus have a better chance at playing sports (like so they’ll have advantages in high school).  Imagine. It’s a controversial approach, but fairly prevalent nonetheless.  In some school districts, it’s the rule rather than the exception.  And although I would only hold my child back if they needed it academically, I can kind of get it.  As an illustration, I started my girls in ballet a couple of years ago.  The ballet teacher was expressing her almost frustration that JujuBean lacked concentration.  I smiled and reminded her that ButterBean is two years older.  Of course, her concentration is better.  Because of her size, JujuBean is often confusing people.  They expect her to be more mature than she is.  And yet, when you compare her classmates to her, she not only looks older but acts older.  Mostly this is because she IS older.

In Jordan, we see the opposite trend.  Everyone is pushing, pushing, pushing to get their kids into school very young.  They want their 3 year old starting school.  They want their 15 year old going off to college in the US. It seems to me in most cases, it’s about bragging rights for the parents.  When they talk to me, they’re typically disappointed.  Rather than a “wow how smart she must be” reaction, I usually have a “why in the world would you want to do that?” reaction.  I ask them what benefit it is to their child that they are heading off at 15 to America.  After all, most Jordanian young adults are very immature when it comes to performing daily tasks for themselves.  It’s the rare youth who has cooked a meal, done their own laundry, had freedom to come and go as they please.  In the US, 15 year olds would have a hard time adjusting to this freedom.  A Jordanian child is likely to have twice the trouble.  So, my reaction is pretty much an anti-climax for the parents.

Even in the US, you see some of this push to graduate early, start college early, get a job early.  But again, I fail to see the benefit to the child.  If they aren’t challenged, challenge them.  But really, do you think it’s easier for a 15 year old to find a job?  El 3atal is nearing 40 and still gets comments about his youth.  And a 15 year old is supposed to be taken seriously?  It seems to me that there are two typical categories of people who have extremely young college entrants, immigrants (often Asian) and homeschoolers.  I’m not sure why the homeschoolers are on this list.  The immigrants seem to share this Jordanian view that earlier is better and see how smart my kid is. Sigh.  And I find myself wondering, should we foreigners in Jordan start a support group to help each other stand strong against family pressure?  Fortunately, we didn’t get any.  TetaBean mentioned a friend’s daughter who was going to college at 16 or something and I asked my usual questions.  Suddenly she seemed to see that there would be significant downsides to it.  It hasn’t come up again and my kids (all 3) are among the oldest in their classes.  And I’m perfectly happy with it.

Happy  Cradle School!


6 thoughts on “Introducing… the 5 year old college graduate

  1. You are assuming that Arab males reach maturity in their late teens or early twenties. Mature Arab males in the MENA region are the exception, not the rule. There are men in their fifties with the maturity level of teenagers. Sending their offspring to college at age 15 is something to brag about since the parents are still immature adults.

    Happy Cinco de Mayo.

    • Joe, in fact you are correct. I am actually assuming very few people in any country these days reaches full maturity in their late teens or twenties. As for Arab males, I’ll defer to your greater wisdom on this topic. Happy Cinco de Mayo to you too.

  2. Great post. I remember talking with colleagues a couple months ago about my frustrations with some students. In particular, some first graders that had a very difficult time with the expectations I had in class regarding thinking skills and cooperative learning. She let me know that they actually were too young for first grade and ought to be in kindergarten. No wonder, my expectations were inappropriate – I was shocked! Why, when children are pushed to be competitive and the “smartest in class” do parents put their kids at such an extreme disadvantage? Like you, I’d much rather my kids be older in class (or – just right) and succeed. Our school has done some multi-grade level groupings and overall it’s gone very well as it does address this issue to an extent. As a teacher I try to accommodate to student needs, but having kids that simply have no business in the classroom is an extra challenge I don’t want.

    • Um Tulip, absolutely. We’ve seen this. Some kids are ready, but lots of them are soooo young. There’s only so much a teacher can and should do, and when it’s for kids too young to be there… well, there’s even less that needs to be done, I’m afraid.

  3. My mother has a lot to say on this. I am the oldest of 6 and was put into KG at a early age 4. My brother (2nd oldest) went in at a late age 5. She said the differences in how we handled the material and basic maturity levels was astounding. For the following 4 kids, she resolved to put them in later, rather than sooner and swears to it, to this day.

    When we got to Jordan we had people here pushing us to put the boy in early too and I had some arguments with hubby about it – but he did finally admit he simply wasn’t ready. Thank God!

    • Emi, glad to hear that you didn’t bow to the pressure. I tend to be with your mom on this one, for sure. It depends on the kid totally, but better to err on the side of lateness ;). All that extra time to mature is very helpful much of the time.

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