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Why Should Children Go to School?

The question posed in the headline of today's column is not as simple to answer as it seems ("Child's Play Is About More than Games," The Wall Street Journal, Aug. 28). The usual response is that children go to school to learn knowledge and skills. That's certainly still the case.  But there are those who believe that when children are allowed to design their own free play they learn seven invaluable lessons no classroom can teach.

I don't doubt for a minute the importance of play for children.  Finland, which is known for the quality of its schools, gives children far more opportunities and time to this than the U.S.  But I think the concept can be carried to an extreme. If "learning at its most powerful" takes place primarily outside the classroom, then are teachers superfluous?  After all, some believe that children will best learn the following on their own: innovation and creativity; cooperation; self-control; paying attention; managing difficult tasks; learning to practice; and solving problems and taking responsibility.

These seven affective outcomes are vital.  But I fail to understand why they can't be taught by teachers in school.  There's nothing magical about the playground.  In fact, without adult supervision, children who are left alone to play could just as well behave like the children in Lord of the Flies. It's how teachers structure their activities that makes the difference.

If that were not true, then New York City's efforts to expand free full-day pre-K to all four-year-olds are a waste of time ("In First Year of Pre-K Expansion, a Rush to Be Ready by the First Day of School," The New York Times, Aug. 29).

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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