Tiger Mom, Meet Kumon

kumon, tutoring, pre-k

I hope an afternoon at Kumon is more fun than their logo indicates.

“Age 3 is the sweet spot, but if they’re out of a diaper and can sit still with a Kumon instructor for 15 minutes, we will take them,” Joseph Nativo, chief financial officer for Kumon North America, told New York Times reporter Kate Zernike.  She writes, “In New York, where the company is colonizing storefronts like so many Starbucks, enrollment in Junior Kumon has tripled since it began opening centers in 2007.”  Where I live in Park Slope, the Kumon center stands awkwardly across the street from a Domino’s pizza franchise, and it probably sees more toddlers come in and out of its doors than Domino’s does orders.

According to the Times, “Parents pay $200 to $300 a month for their 2-, 3-, 4- or 5-year-old to spend up to an hour twice weekly being tutored at a Junior Kumon center — 20 to 30 minutes each on reading and math.”  Sounds like something a “Chinese parent” would subject their kids to, right?  But if Zernicke’s reported trend-spotting is correct, many of the parents who bring their kids to Kumon centers in New York don’t have the heart to be “tiger parents.”  That’s why they hire someone else to drill their kids.  But does hiring a tutor make a difference?

“The best you can say is that they’re useless,” Alison Gopnik, professor of psychology at the UC Berkeley, told the Times.  Pre-K tutoring results in kids who “go around tottering, unable to walk, under the enormous weight of these antlers they’ve developed,” she said.  Not to mention the fact that for $10 or less, any parents can go to Staples or a similar store that sells school supplies and buy a first grade workbook to complete with their children at home, garnering the same results.  It worked for my daughter, without any kind of drilling – she filled in the book because she thought it was fun.

Zernike notes that “Officials at Kumon say it is often thought of as an ‘Asian’ program — a description they reject.  There is no competition or pressure, they say; everyone gets a perfect score on the worksheets because they are given countless opportunities to correct themselves.”  But, she adds, “Junior Kumon has proven popular among many accomplished immigrant parents.”

One such parent, Estee Bauernebel, sees Kumon study as an essential part of childhood.  She thinks education in America lags behind the rest of the world, noting that “In Australia they’re doing basic multiplication in first grade.”  Kumon students are among those who can do basic multiplication at a young age, like 6-year-old Kate Wattenberg who “finished 90 multiplication problems in six minutes.”

Yes, but can she tie her shoes?  My daughter can’t.  I’m thinking of hiring a sneaker tutor if she continues to be remedial in the footwear department.

Despite parental interest in programs like Kumon, experts seem to agree that tutoring kids before kindergarten is of little effect.  Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, author of Einstein Never Used Flash Cards, says:

When you’re putting blocks together, you’re learning how to be a physicist.  When you’re learning how to balance things and calculate how tall you can make your building, you’re learning how to be a physicist.  Having your kid drill and kill and fill in worksheets at 2 and 3 and 4 to the best of our knowledge so far does not give your child a leg up on anything.  Yes, your child might know more of his letters than the child who spent Saturday in the sandbox, but the people who are team players, who are creative innovators, they are the ones who are going to invent the next iPad.  The kids who are just memorizing are going to be outsourced to the kids in India who have memorized the same stuff.

Source: New York Times

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