Messenger - Vol. 1, No. 2, Page 6
Winter 1992
Too early to fail?; Pressures and benefits of pre-school education
     In her latest book, Academic Instruction in Early Childhood:
Challenge or Pressure?, Marion C. Hyson, acting chairperson of the
Department of Individual and Family Studies, examines the debate over
the costs and benefits of emphasizing academic skills with young
     "Some have argued that formal academic instruction and high
performance expectations give young children a head start on school
achievement. Others have held just as strongly that these expectations
are developmentally inappropriate, leading only to superficial
learning and damaging pressures," she writes with co- editors Leslie
Rescorla and Kathy Hirsh-Pasek in the book's introduction.
     "There is a great deal of interest in this topic now, as across
the country, a number of states are becoming more and more interested
in early-childhood education and trying to decide what kinds of
programs really are best for young children," Hyson says.
     "President Bush has said one of the educational goals for
Americans for the year 2000 is that every child start school ready to
learn. People are asking: What does that mean? Ready in an academic
sense? What kinds of programs would be helpful in reaching this goal?"
     Hyson's book, a source book of supplementary reading for students
and academics working with child development, also appeals to teachers
and parents of young children. When the publisher Jossey-Bass Inc. set
up a booth at the recent conference of the National Association for
the Education of Young Children conference, the book sold out rapidly
on the first day it was available.
     In their book, Hyson, Rescorla and Hirsh-Pasek were careful to
include research from a number of sources as well as contributing
chapters themselves.
     Hyson's first chapter focuses on the characteristics and origins
of an academic pre-school and examines what schools are doing to
emphasize or de-emphasize academics in early-childhood education.
     Her second chapter looks at the "hothousing" phenomenon, in which
parents structure a child's environment to hurry his or her growth.
She examines parental actions that contribute to the construction of
"hothouse" environments, both outside the home and within.
     "The chapter looks at how parents behave with children around
early-learning tasks. It examines what kinds of things parents do to
create what they think is an appropriate early-learning environment
for children and it looks at the reasons for parental differences,"
Hyson says.
     Much of the work in the book draws from an academic environments
study conducted by Hyson, Rescorla and Hirsh-Pasek several years ago.
In that study, the researchers examined the nature and developmental
consequences of parental and school academic expectations among
socio-economically advantaged families in Pennsylvania and Delaware.
Currently, Hyson and Rescorla are expanding that research by working
with minority and low-income families.
     "Preliminary findings suggest that, if anything, parents who have
fewer resources and those who are minorities feel even more strongly
about developing academic skills at an early age," Hyson says.
     Hyson also is working on a book on early emotional development
for Teachers College Press at Columbia, and she recently submitted a
grant proposal to allow her to conduct more research into emotions and
early-childhood education.
     -Beth Thomas