05 April 2008

Hot-Housing Children

The term hot-housing children sounds like a practice destined to confine children into a life of prostitution. Yet, the term is not quite so sinister as that, at least in theory anyway!

Hot-housing children is the practice of isolating gifted kids with a view to expediting academic success at an early age. Most of us have no doubt read stories of kids deemed to be geniuses and admitted to some of the most prestigious institutes of learning in the world. The simple idea being that if you start them early then they will be productive early.

The case of Sufiah Yusof highlights just how badly this can go wrong. Sufiah was a child prodigy that seemingly had it all before her. Recognized for her academic and intellectual talents as a youngster and admitted to Oxford at just 13 years of age (picture borrowed from The Sydney Morning Herald).

The biggest problem I see, and I am no expert, is that if you are entering university at 10, 12, or 15 years old you are missing out the most fun years of primary and high school! So, you grow up to be a genius adult that has never had the nurturing fun years of childhood. Not being a psychologist seems irrelevant here because this kind of loss of childhood appears to be a recipe for disaster to me.

But back to the story the young genius Sufiah is now a 23 year old prostitute turning tricks for 130 quid an hour somewhere in Manchester (United Kingdom)! Maybe this is her choice and maybe it isn't but whatever the case it is still sad! It is a sad indictment of our community as a whole that we let a kid with so much potential be so poorly cared for and managed that she falls through the net and into a situation that has all the signs of turning into a case of "what could have been"...

Perhaps the answer is not universities for these child geniuses but perhaps some other specialized facility of advanced learning where their respective talents and interests can be developed amongst geniuses of the same age rather than in the broader university scene...maybe we need a genius to work this one out for us too!


Michael M said...

Truly that is a sad story!
However, it seems to me that you are indulging in the fallacy of the small number!
i.e. ONE example, however shocking, sad or lamentable, is only 'proof' of itself.

Lack of coversation at home and an irrational fear of strangers, combined with other factors (see below) are certainly no less harmful than hot-housing, which does not, as far as I understand it, deprive a child of any of the 'normal' activities of childhood any more than simply compelling a child to spend hours a day in a classroom.

I am much more concerned about the terrible consequences of 'conventional' scvhooling the in UK:

Almost one in six children are unable to write their own name or say the alphabet as they start school, new figures show.

The analysis of more than 535,000 five-year-olds shows many cannot hold a pencil properly or write words such as 'mum', 'dad' or 'cat'.

Thousands more are failing in other areas of early development:

Fewer than half reached official benchmarks in seven key areas, including basic literacy, the ability to mix with other children, being able to wash and dress alone, working in a group or expressing themselves.

According to data published by the Department for Children, Schools and Families, many more boys than girls are struggling in the first year of school, as they lag behind in every aspect of the curriculum.

Experts blamed the findings on the lack of conversation in the home and a decline in outdoor play - coupled with a rise in addictive video games and television.

The conclusions come just weeks after a lobby of almost 300 academics wrote to The Daily Telegraph saying that children's development had been "contaminated" by a cocktail of addictive computer games, test-driven schooling, increased traffic and irrational fear of strangers.

go well

Rob Baiton said...

Michael M...

Thanks for dropping by and leaving a comment.

I do not know that I am indulging in a fallacy. I am merely saying that this is a sad example of how it can go wrong. If your interpretation is that I am saying all cases go wrong, then that is your interpretation.

My point is it can go wrong and even where it does not turn out badly, there still remains questions of "lost childhood" in the sense of not being able to do what other children do.

A gifted child will remain a gifted child. The issue for me is are there better ways to allow the child to develop their talents without putting them into university at 13.

Yes, I am concerned with declining literacy and numeracy skills as well. I am skeptical that hot-housing children not interested in expedited learning is necessarily the best way forward.

In terms of basic literacy and numeracy skills, or the lack thereof, says something about the parents and the parenting priorities that the parents have not found the time to teach their kids the alphabet before they enter pre or primary school.

In any event, a discussion on education and especially early education is warranted and perhaps even urgent. If hot-housing sparks that discussion then so be it.

Christopher Bennetts said...

This page is on the first page in google for "hothousing children" so i surfed in while writing about the topic on my blog.

I have made to posts mentioning it so far.



As you say any discussion on the important topic of early learning is good.

I am thinking about the experts saying that one of the problems is a lack of conversation at home.

Right now i see this with my baby girl almost two. The mother just does stuff for her but does not involve her or explain things to her. I talk to her incessantly about everything happening. I even explain concepts that conventional wisdom would suggest is way beyond her capacity to understand but more importantly I listen and respond enthusiastically to her feedback and I get fantastic results with her.

Rob Baiton said...

@ Christopher...

Thanks for the links back to your articles / views on the issue. I am not against hot housing children, but I think it is something that needs to be managed in such a way that the children themselves get the best of both worlds; they get the intellectual stimulation mixed in with the opportunity to enjoy just being a kid.

As a parent, I think there is little doubt that I want what is best for my son. However, I think that as a parent I must also be considerate of what is best for him and his development over the short, medium and long terms to give him the best possible opportunities to succeed.