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Oakes's Corner

Big Fish, Small Fish

By Oakes Hunnewell, Ed.M., CEP

An interesting story aired on “60 Minutes” this weekend entitled “Redshirting: Holding kids back from kindergarten.” It illustrated a new trend that has been developing over recent years. Parents are keeping their children back a year so that they may benefit from being amongst the oldest members of the class, much like college and universities do with their athletes. Studies have shown that older children receive special treatment from their teachers and their peers because they tend to be more physically and intellectually developed. As a result, the older students have better chances of becoming leaders in the classroom and on the athletic field. According to one mother interviewed for the segment, she would prefer her student to be an older in the class and become a leader in his environment, rather than a younger and be more of a follower. Malcomb Gladwell, a staff writer for The New Yorker and author of Outliers, a book on this very topic, says “a little extra nudge ahead when you're 6 can mean that you're slightly better positioned when you're 7, and that means you're slightly better positioned when you're 8, and so on. And you can see this pattern in one field after another.” The counter argument can be summed up by one e-mail contributor’s reaction when he said, “They never mention in the segment how awkward it is to always explain to people why I'm so old. They assume I was either not smart enough or not socially adept enough to be a normal age in kindergarten.” This counter scenario reminds me of the middle school student in the after school TV specials who looks like an adult in army boots and who never says anything.

This recent phenomenon is a continuation of a trend that began when parents demanded more access to teachers and administrators. They wanted to micromanage every aspect of their child’s education. It used to be that schools took over once the students entered their doors. When parents began to demand more access to teachers and administrators, they also began to micromanage every aspect of their child’s education. Eventually, they started to approach teachers about grades. Soon, grades started losing their value as teachers chose to give students the benefit of the doubt rather than have a confrontation with the parents. But there is a limit to everything. Teachers have their limits as to how much they will bend. So parents are finding new and innovative ways of influencing their children’s academic performance. A decade ago, they viewed skipping a grade as the yardstick for academic success and a way to keep their child engaged. Today parents want their child to experience success by being less challenged, as an older student.

The story that aired on “60 Minutes” should come to no real surprise. On a positive note, this trend may allow students to regain the balance they lost when their free time was replaced by one extra-curricular activity after another. They can finally take a breather. But I still can’t get the picture out of my mind of the man sitting in the back row of a middle school class. So who’s repeating here, the high achieving one or the one who struggles to stay afloat? I guess both.

School of the Month

New Century College -


New Century College is a program within George Mason University. The College provides a small and structured environment within a larger university setting. There are three steps to the program. These steps are called divisions which each last a year.

During the first division, students are expected to complete their general studies requirements. They do so in small class settings. None of the classes are lecture based. During the second division, students take a series of interdisciplinary courses that are team taught by professors from the University. These courses are theme based so that students can more easily follow the main points. During this year, students participate in internships to re-enforce what they have learned in the classroom. The third division lasts two years. At this point, students choose a major and rejoin the other George Mason University students in their classes.

 Students who apply to New Century College are generally either late bloomers or students with mild forms of learning differences. They typically have gaps in their learning and need study skills. After two years, they have developed the tools they need to successfully complete their bachelor’s degree at George Mason University.