Recently, a new branch of Kumon, the tutoring company that is increasingly targeting young children, according to yesterday’s New York Times article, opened in my neighborhood, replacing an African American-owned clothing boutique. The neighborhood, Prospect Heights in Brooklyn, is one of the fastest changing neighborhoods in New York according to recent census numbers. The neighborhood is now 45 percent white, compared to 28 percent white in 2000. Pass by the local playground on a sunny spring day, and it’s obvious these demographic changes are primarily the result of young, middle-class families moving in.
So Kumon, which drills children as young as 2 on their letters and numbers, has probably made a very astute business decision. The question the New York Times article raises is whether the parents who are flocking to Kumon are as wise. The article suggests that the Kumon phenomenon is a result of the Tiger Mother hysteria, which was building even before Amy Chua published her book. (Wesley Yang’s recent cover article in New York Magazine has a few interesting points on whether imitating the Tiger Mother-style of parenting is a good thing, at least from a male perspective.)
Based on the research, the reality is that the parents who are fretting about whether their children will be able to read chapter books and multiply by first grade are the ones whose children will probably be just fine, whether or not they spend their afternoons running around a playground or practicing their vowels and consonants. In fact, the experts have argued that the playground is probably the better option for parents interested in raising the sort of well-adjusted, creative, intelligent young people who will do well in college and the job market 20 years from now.
Instead, perhaps middle class parents should be more concerned about the learning opportunities for low-income minority children who are not always so fortunate, and who will be the majority in the coming years. Ensuring that these kids get a good start will increasingly become just as imperative for the country’s prospects, and thus the prospects for their own kids.