Category Archives: The Problem

Dressing to Join the Crowd, or Not

My oldest son, Marco (7), and I stick out when we go to certain sporting events. We look quite peculiar, out-of-place, there. Last weekend, we joined in a local bike ride for charity called Tour de Menlo. We wore plain shorts and jerseys with tennis shoes, while everyone else wore expert bicyclist clothing – those special tight shorts with padding in the crotch and tight synthetic shirts, often smothered wall-to-wall with advertisements. Many people also wore those biking shoes that … Continue reading

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The Ultimate Digital Divide is Age, Not Income

The headline of a recent New York Times article reads, “Digital Divide is a Matter of Income.” I disagree. The article says that 57% of poor households use the Internet. That’s low, but I’m sure the percentage of preschoolers who use the Internet is wayyy lower. Sure, even infants can bang on a mouse, but kids who can’t read can’t use the vast majority of the Internet that requires reading for navigation. It’s not a big deal if young kids … Continue reading

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School is 25% of a Kid’s Life

Of a school-aged kid’s waking hours, 25% are spent at school.* You’d think the percentage would be close to 100%, with the way parents and society at large obsess over it. Ask a parent how his or her child is doing, and you’re very likely to hear about school grades. Ask a Congressman how kids are doing, and you’re likely to hear about test scores. Ask a college professor who studies children how kids in America are doing, and you’re … Continue reading

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Childhood Can’t Be Changed Without Parents’ Help

A large proportion of child development professionals – folks like teachers and playworkers and professors of child psychology – are very dissatisfied with childhood in the 21st Century. They believe kids are sitting in front of screens way too long at home, and are supervised too much by adults in activities outside the home. Thus, they don’t play on their own nearly enough outdoors. Unfortunately, most of these professionals are oblivious to the fact that a number of parents far … Continue reading

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Censorship of Play

I’ve learned a very disturbing fact recently. Media companies are actively censoring stories of unsupervised play. That’s right – to the book publishing, TV, and movie industries, unsupervised play is as taboo as sex, drugs, and violence. Believe it. I’ve spoken about this in-depth recently with a children’s book author and a children’s television producer. They were both told that they needed to add an adult to stories in which children were playing with no adults around. This lone change … Continue reading

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Learning How to Work

Kids these days don’t know how to work. That concerns me a lot more than it does most other parents. When I was nine, I started working at my dad’s store, a pharmacy and home medical supply retailer. I made 25 cents an hour at first, which, even then, was wayyy less than the minimum wage of $1.60. (Yes, my dad broke the minimum wage law – more on that later…) I cleaned shelves. And floors. And toilets. At the … Continue reading

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Play and Learning

NOTE: This is the second of a three-part series on the value of play, by Robert Hess. The first article is entitled, Play’s Unfortunate Reputatlon, and the third article is entitled, Play Broadens and Deepens the Mind. The relentless drive toward more academics and less play is beginning to generate a backlash. Some parents, like Sara Bennett and Nancy Kalish, authors of the book The Case Against Homework, have become outspoken critics of our current education system. These parents are … Continue reading

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Play’s Unfortunate Reputation

How dare he play at school?!?  photo:

Where did we get the notion that play and learning are incompatible?

Consider the following widely held beliefs: “Play is the opposite of work” and “learning takes hard work.” If true, these would entail that to maximize learning, we must minimize play: The less we play, the more we will learn, and the more we play, the less we will learn. I will call this the “No-Play Dogma.”

The No-Play Dogma, or something akin to it, appears to be at the core of our educational system and philosophy. It is widely accepted as fact, almost trivially true, by most educators, policymakers and, sadly, also parents. The basic assumption is that time spent outside the classroom has little or no educational value. Free time, time to play at will, is regarded as dispensable, a small price, if any, for greater academic achievement.

Though the decline in play admittedly has other causes as well (e.g., more households with single-parents or two working parents, increased street violence, more traffic hazards, digital entertainment), the No-Play Dogma does strike me as the chief culprit. It is also the root cause that is most easily remedied‒because it exists only in people’s minds. In an upcoming article, I’ll present some scientific evidence that play does, indeed, aid learning. Continue reading

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Is Preschool Important for All Kids?


How the heck did we get the idea that all three-year-olds need to go to preschool? Now that I’ve had two sons waste a year at age three in preschool, I really started to think about this question.

Three years ago, my son Marco, now 6 and doing very well in kindergarten, floated around in his own world for a year at a renowned play-based preschool, Bing Nursery School in Palo Alto, CA. He didn’t really engage with any other kids. He didn’t seem to care about any other kids there. He claimed to like school OK, but we couldn’t really detect that he got any measurable benefit out of it.

Now, my second son, Nico, is three, and he’s been attending another well-regarded play-based preschool. He’s a very different kid than Marco in many ways, but he shares one thing: he’s gotten nothing out of preschool at the age of three. Zero. In the meantime, at home, he’s a very happy, social kid who plays very well with Marco, with his younger brother Leo, and with many neighbor kids.

Over the past few years, I’ve spoken to quite a few parents who have had problems with their three-year-olds or four-year-olds – both boys and girls – at preschool. The problems aren’t identical to those of my boys, but in each case, the child wasn’t getting much out of preschool or was actively disliking it.

Who should we blame? The schools? Us parents? Our kids? Continue reading

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Is She as Bad as She Seemed in That First Article?

Lipstick on an authoritarian mother.

In a word, “yes.” Amy Chua has been claiming that she’s not that bad ever since the excerpt from her book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, was published on a couple of weeks ago. That article set off a firestorm of protests from parents, including my popular parody of it.

So, I went to see her in person last night at a bookstore in San Francisco. She had the mostly sympathetic crowd in the palm of her hand. Audience members guffawed and threw her softball questions and clapped politely.

I was not persuaded, though. She sugar-coated her Tiger Mother philosophy, but she didn’t back down at all. Remember, we’re dealing with a Yale law professor here, so we should expect a highly articulate, clever defense. Indeed, she made her brand of abusive, hyper-controlling parenting seem more palatable than it seemed in article. Continue reading

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