Redshirting - The Last Conversational Taboo

There are, it seems, these days very few topics modern parents must avoid when making 'pleasant conversation' with people whom they do not know well.   Race, religion, politics, sex, reproduction - all fine.  But whatever you do, please save yourself (unless you are someone who just like to stir the pot and see how far you can get people going) and do not bring up REDSHIRTING.

Redshirting (in case you live on the moon) is the increasingly common practice of delaying kindergarten for children who turn 5 any time after April (assuming a September 1 cutoff for kindergarten).  As wealth disparity grows in the US, elite colleges take smaller and smaller percentages of applicants, academic expectations shift downwards ('first grade is like seventh now), and parents read Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell this practice seems to make sense.

And then! Just when everyone is on board with the concept - research and articles like this one, Delay Kindergarten at Your Child's Peril  pop up in the New York Times and the frenzy begins all over again.

'So why is this such an incendiary topic?' a mannerly mother with the excellent fortune or insight to only give birth between October and February, might ask.  After all, who cares what other people do?  Do they honestly think it will make that much difference?  Don't these minor advantages in kindergarten even out by middle school?  If a red shirted child is valedictorian of her high school class, has she usurped that honor from the rightful heir in that age group?  What about those coveted spots at elite institutions?  Do colleges look at birth year? What about the child's self-confidence?  Is there academic data supporting this approach?  What about the parent's emotional baggage?  Does a red shirted student have a better chance of getting a scholarship? A better job?   Really doesn't it all come down to everyone wanting to do what is best for his or her children?  And the controversy lies in what he/she believes that to be.  But again, probably not the best questions to ask in a getting-to-know-you sort of way.

Of course the editors here at M4MM can not begin to advise you on the merits of either approach - we are just here to help you avoid this conversational minefield - should you wish to do so.

Lester Bangs: What, are you like the star of your school?
William Miller: They hate me.
Lester Bangs: You'll meet them all again on their long journey to the middle.

Photos from Google Images and Almost Famous web site.


Kate said...

You are absolutely right! Not a topic that sits well with most people who have grappled with this decision (we redshirted). I find Gladwell utterly fascinating!!

Anonymous said...

Well done, EBB!

Alex Dumortier said...

Interesting. Definitely deserves further thought/ research.

Amy said...

Loved Outliers and met a former NCAA athlete this year who held her June daughter back specifically for the potential sports edge. Me, I never considered NOT enrolling my five-in-July child this year, but recently wondered if I'd done her a disservice when I realized that she is by some months the youngest in her class, and remembered that in two short years all those children will be tested, and those at two standard deviations above the norm will be invited to the Gifted school, where we'd sure like her to be. Hard not to think she'll be at something a disadvantage.

EBB said...

Amy, be sure to read the "Delay Kindergarten at your Child's Peril" article we link to above. Not to mention "The Blessing of a Skinned Knee" and "Nurture Shock". While Outliers deals with the truly extraordinary (athletic stars, Bill Gates) other research shows that being younger in a group, working hard and being held to a high standard creates intellectually curious and successful students. Thanks for reading. EBB

Kate said...

I read the article you linked to and did not find the arguments the neuroscientists put forth strong. I think they are simplifying an issue that is not black and white. Redshirting is risky for some (kids not in good pre-K programs) and beneficial for others (who need more time to develop maturity). I really didn't buy their argument regarding socio-emotional preparedness and the idea that younger kids learn from older kids. Older children aren't necessarily going to languish because they don't have older peers to learn from. I agree it "matters very much who a child's peers are". I just don't think that developmental process will be in jeopardy if a child is on the older side of his classmates. I wonder about the benefits of being younger. I bet there are more ADD/ADHD referrals with younger children, particularly boys who are sent to school too early.

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