Dude, where's my cohort?

I'm glad that my post below started some discussion, but I'm not done railing against the man. This time, I'm taking issue with the practice of advancing kids through school by age, rather than ability or accomplishment. Now, I must grant that advancement by age is a well established practice- in the sense that it's done nearly everywhere, and has been done for a long time. There seems to be very little else to recommend age-advancement, however. What arguments can be advanced in support of it?

Probably the first argument most will give relates to socialization. The idea is that kids of a given age will be better able to interact with each other. What supports this idea? It seems that children are certainly not of an age with their parents, and yet during childhood, they interact very well. Frequently they relate with their older or younger siblings, or even other family members of similar age. Children are so malleable that they can fit into nearly any situation- that's what they're made to do. What's more, when, outside of school as currently implemented, are people formed into groups solely on the basis of their ages? The idea that kids should be socialized in groups of homogeneous age seems like poor instruction for the future!

Another argument sometimes advanced regards the teachers: it is easier for teachers to deal with groups composed by age. Children of a particular age tend to be at a given developmental stage. There is certainly truth to that. However, a group of students of any age will have many individuals of differing development- teachers must still cope with the outliers! Also, remember that children are develping intellectually, emotionally, and physically- all at once. Should physical development- the most directly tied to age- be the factor setting the clock? Unless school really is to be glorified daycare, then the teachers ought to primarily be intellectual resources for their students. Hence, students' intellectual development should be paramount in advancing them.

This is not to say that school plays no role in instructing children in acceptable behavior. It's just that for the system of education to be at all effective in its mission- producing citizens capable of contributing to society and participating in our democracy- they must already have the rudiments of acceptable behavior upon entering. If they do not, and parents instead rely on the schools to instill their children with this essential knowledge, we end up with todays mess- teacher as babysitter/disciplinarian/instructor.

Digression: In the previous paragraph, I wrote that the mission of our education system is to produce productive citizens. The more cynical (read: realistic) among you will object that this was not the intent behind establishing said system. Rather, you'll say that the intent was to keep kids busy learning to accept authority until they reach their physical peak, at which point they'd be put to work. Or, you'll say that the point was to produce young adults with just enough education to participate in the manufacturing economy. That's all well and good (and probably true; I can also be cynical), but for the good of our world, those things can't be the mission of the education system (any more). Instead, it must be that we endeavor to give each citizen the tools to be productive and able to discharge their civic duty. It is not possible to stay a democracy if the people cannot understand the actions of their government (and the consequences of said).End Digression

It does not follow that education cannot be fun. While the acquisition of some of the skills can be dreary (reading, basic math), the exercise of those skills can be wonderful fun. The exercise of those skills- developing an appreciation of literature, music, art, science, film -whatever!- can even teach people about who they are, enabling them to express and create.

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