Children Are Not Adults

I'm at a grading conference right now. It's put on by Pearson, a corporation dedicated to making a profit off of the free public education are students are legally guaranteed, so that already introduces a bunch of conflicts of interest that make me queasy, but that's an argument for another day. More immediately, I'm listening to a lot of brilliant educational theorists selling a largely receptive audience on the fact that we need to change the way we grade students. I know these people continually run into objections about the "real world." They are sick of it. So, to combat these, they have come up with their own laundry lists of "real world" analogies which demonstrate that their preferred method of grading is more analogous to the rules of adult society we all have to play by on a day to day basis. First of all, all of these competing analogies are tiresome precisely because they are analogies. The conversation devolves to the point where both sides are saying, "My apples-to-oranges comparison involves apples and oranges that are more closely related than your apples and oranges." Ug.

More fundamentally, this effort to compete on the playing field of the "real world" perpetuates the misconception that children are adults, and that if we treat them as adults they will be more prepared for the adult world.

Let me be blunt (because that's how I roll): Children are not adults. They aren't miniature pilots or lawyers or accountants. Children's brains work differently. The rules of their society are and should be different. In fact, when I was in grad school a million years ago, a great prof in a developmental psych class taught us that the number one motivation for child abuse is the misconception children are adults. Infants are beaten by adults who believe these children have made an adult choice to poop in their diapers at an inconvenient time or to continue screaming because they want to make adults angry. Children are neglected because adults think that children have the adult abilities to cook their own food, manage their own bedtimes, and take care of their own hygiene. Children suffer verbal abuse because adults mistakenly think these children will reason about things that are said to them as adults might.

But children are not adults. So, brilliant theorists, I know you are exhausted by people throwing the "real world" at you, but please remember that you are under no moral obligation to fight fire with fire. We are educators. We should be the ones who can take the high ground and say to these critics, "That may (or may not) be the case in your world, but it's developmentally inappropriate for children." If we can't do that because we are so entrenched in the adult world that we're blind to the differences between children and adults, we've already lost the debate anyway. But if we can acknowledge that, we can think about assessment practices which attempt to prepare children for the adult world while being sensitive to the fact that they aren't there yet.