Are Schools Pushing Kids Too Far, Too Fast?

Dec 6, 2021

Did you have to take a career class… in middle school? Did you learn pre-algebra… in 6th grade? In this episode, I’m exploring the question: Are schools pushing kids too far, too fast? First, I read a letter from my son’s school that was the spark for this episode topic. Then I talk about what I’m calling the “separation of home and state”. And finally, I end with a topic that I’m calling the “content push”. After you listen to this episode, I’d love to hear from you.. if you agree, or disagree. Email me at [email protected].

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Podcast Transcript

Hi, I’m Dr. Brenna Hicks, The Kid Counselor. This is the play therapy parenting podcast where I give you insight awareness and enlightenment about your parenting and your relationship with your kids.

In today’s episode we are going to discuss whether schools are pushing our kids too far too fast. This was sparked by an email that I got yesterday from one of my son’s teachers.

Our son is in sixth grade, newly 12. And if you heard a couple of episodes ago, we recently decided that we would start homeschooling after christmas break. If you haven’t heard that one, go back two episodes and you can hear that. But I got an email from one of his teachers and it just got my brain turning, and I guess my wheel spinning, and I thought to myself, I don’t know that this is what 11 and 12 year olds should be thinking about and and pushed into.

So I’ll read you the email that I got in just a moment.

But in this episode we’re going to talk through the acceleration of the pace and the expectations that I’m observing, just across the board, in the school system. I think the expectations that are placed on kids have been accelerated. The pace of school and the assignments have been accelerated, especially in comparison to when my husband and I were in school. So we’ll talk through that.

We’ll also look at the content push that has emerged. I would say, maybe in the last decade or so, what I’m calling the issue of “separation of home and state”. So I’ll unpack that with you as well.

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All right. So let’s start with the email itself and then we’ll unpack all those different points together.

So the email that I received yesterday from our son’s teacher. As I said, he’s in sixth grade. So this is what the email says, and I’m literally quoting word for word. I didn’t add anything. I didn’t take anything out. This is the entirety of the email just so that you have a sense of where I’m coming from with this.

“Good morning. We’re moving into the final project phase for scholars currently taking their career class. We’re hearing a number of misconceptions around the idea of work and what amounts of money are needed to sustainably live. While we have no desire to burst bubbles or kill dreams, we do recommend enlightning your scholar about what it means to have a job, how much time is required, and just how much money they’ll need to earn when it comes time to move out.”

“We realize that discussing personal finances with your scholar can be sensitive. So maybe consider talking about it from a higher level by focusing on expenses. Thank you.” And then the teacher’s name at the bottom.

So let’s look at a little bit of that email together, and then I’ll move back to the point where I was going to pause originally.

“We’re moving into the final project phase for scholars, currently taking their career class.” That’s as far as I needed to get before that gave me a huge red flag. son just turned 12 and he’s in sixth grade, newly into middle school. He has seven years of required schooling left.

I personally did not take any career anything until high school. I had to (I think a lot of you probably did this, because my husband did too) do this test. It was like all of these questions, you know… would you like to work with people? Would you like to work with your hands? And then you got the results back and it said these are the fields that you are most suited for. Do you all remember that? I mean I vividly remember that test and I vividly remember those results strangely enough, it said that I needed to be a teacher, a therapist or a social worker, and here we are. So anyway, self fulfilling prophecy from when I was very young.

But interestingly, that is the only career anything that I had my entire schooling.

So for my sixth grader, I’m getting an email that says “taking their career class.” So that was my red flag, number one thought.

Number two “we’re hearing a number of misconceptions around the idea of work and what amounts of money are needed to sustainably live.”

So I actually asked our son about this last night because he didn’t know about this email. I said, “hey, so I want to read you something that your teacher emailed and I’m wondering if you know where this is coming from?” I thought maybe he would say, well “yeah, because everybody says they want to be a professional athlete and you know, then the teacher says, well that’s not practical or that’s not likely” or whatever. So I was wondering if he knew the drive behind this email. So I read that line to him and he said, “I don’t know because I guess kids are saying they’re going to like work at Mcdonald’s or something”.

And so I thought, ‘okay, interesting, so is the concern that a low paying entry level or minimum wage type of job isn’t going to be enough to support them?’ ‘Is the concern that they’re not setting their sights high enough on a job that the teachers feel is more worthwhile than another.’ ‘Is it that trying to go for being a professional athlete, You know, the likelihood of that is so small, they shouldn’t even have that dream.’

My husband and I were talking about this and he said to me, “it used to be, if a kid said ‘I want to be an astronaut’, everyone would say, ‘yeah, go for it’ or ‘I want to play in the NFL’, ‘work hard, go for it’.” And then the next line of this email says “while we have no desire to burst bubbles or kill dreams…”

Well isn’t that what’s happening if your if your kids in your class are saying they want to work at Mcdonald’s as their first job, or they want to be a professional athlete, or they want to be an astronaut, or they want to go to the moon, or whatever. It is that they’re saying. Mind you, I think it’s important to remention they’re 11 and 12.

It’s okay to have really big dreams when you’re a kid. Untouchable, unreachable, unrealistic dreams. That’s what childhood is about. You set your sights so high. You know that phrase, ‘if you set your sights on the moon you’ll at least land among the stars’. You know like ‘dream big, go for it’. Believe that you can do it. That’s the American dream.

So we’re not “desiring to burst bubbles or kill dreams”. But we are, because “we recommend enlightening your scholar about what it means to have a job”. They’re 11 and 12. They won’t even think about having a job until 16, maybe later.

There’s a lot of parents that say your job is school. You don’t need to work until you graduate. And I know I know every family is different, and I know there are kids that have to get a job by the time they’re 14 or 15, because they have to help support the family. I have no problem with a child working. I got a job the day I turned 16. I got in my car, and I went and got my first job at a steakhouse. I was a host and I loved that job.

So I have nothing against getting a job when you’re in high school and working and earning money. But what it “means to have a job”. 11 and 12 year olds don’t need to worry about that.

How much time is required when you’re a kid? You you work small hours. I never worked more than 20 hours a week when I was a kid. So how much time is required when you’re an adult? totally different story. These kids are 11 and 12

“Just how much money they’ll need to earn when it comes time to move out”. Now we’re talking about 18, 19, I can’t fathom why 11 and 12 year olds need to be thinking about what’s going to be required when they move out of the house, seven, eight, nine years from now.

And this begs the question, back to the podcast topic, are schools pushing too far too fast?

I don’t think 11 and 12 year olds need to be burdened with this. I don’t think they need to be worried about this.

I say to our son all the time. “Kids have kids problems, buddy, that’s an adult problem. You don’t have to carry that problem”. I say that all the time, and I mean it, and I encourage parents to say that to their kids too.

You know, the other day my car was smelling kind of funny, like it smelled like something was burning. My engine light was fine, but it just smelled funny and we couldn’t really figure out what it was. My son was like “mom, what if your engine has a problem, What if, what if you need to go take it to the shop? What if something happens”? And I heard that burden in his voice and I said, “Hey buddy, you’re a kid and you have kid problems. I’m an adult and I have adult problems. This is an adult problem. I promise you that it’s my problem. I’ll take care of it”.

Kids should not carry those burdens and those stresses and those problems because they’re kids. In my opinion, “how much money they need to earn when they move out” is not an 11 year old problem.

And so anyway, I don’t need to talk any more about the email. But that is why we are even talking about this together.

So here’s point number one with this. The pace and the expectations have become so accelerated.

He is, right now, having to do a 10 minute presentation for the same class. He has to choose an occupation that he thinks he would like to do. And he has to give a 5 to 10 minute presentation, complete with a Google slideshow, that talks about his chosen occupation that he wants to consider, and how much he’s going to make, and how much he’s going to have to work, and all the ins and outs of this career path, futuristicly speaking.

You don’t know Kayne, but our son is awesome. He’s telling me about this presentation last night and I said, “so I’m not sure what you’re supposed to include in this presentation, Is it just supposed to be what the requirements of the job are?” And he’s like, “no, you have to talk about how much you’re going to make, and what you have to do, and like, what your daily job requirements look like”.

And I said, “okay, so I wonder…” Now he’s historically always said he wants to play professional baseball. You know, us, we’re a huge baseball family, he plays baseball. He’s a great ballplayer, God’s given him incredible talent and skill in baseball. So he really does have a vision that he wants to go as far as he can go in baseball. So he will often wright, if he’s asked what do you want to be when you grow up, he’ll often write a professional baseball player. Much to my dismay, he often says he wants to play for the new york Yankees, perish the thought.

Anyway, so I thought he was going to say that he was going to choose a professional baseball player. I don’t know if it’s because he knows that I’m not really involved in this assignment or whatever, but he goes, “I think I’m going to say that I want to be a professional golf ball reclaimer”, or I don’t know what the word is. There’s actually a job title where, for golf courses and whatever, all the lost golf balls that end up in the ponds, the lakes, the rivers, the woods, whatever. There are people they hire, and they go collect all these balls, and then they refurbish them, and they resell them.

I don’t even know where he came up with this idea. I don’t know how it happened. But he’s like, “Mom, I did research and they actually make good money. You can make like $100,000 and you know, you just go to all these different places and you put on your gear and you go collect all the golf balls and then you clean them up”.

He had this whole system worked out where he was going to make $100,000 a year collecting golf balls. I thought it was so funny.

I’m like, “you’re so my kid” meaning, you go with these random things just to complete an assignment. So I digress.

Anyway, he’s doing this presentation and although he’s not really taking it seriously, as evidenced by the golf ball collection choice, I’m thinking to myself, “I don’t understand why 11 and 12 year olds need to be thinking about expenses and how much they’re going to earn and what they’re going to have to do on a daily basis”.

You know, we didn’t even have anything related to a career decision until the end of high school, and it was really more geared for what degree we were going to choose in college. Therefore what career path would that be guiding us down. So it wasn’t really, what job do you want? It was, what degree are you getting and what job will you be able to get with that degree?

So this accelerated pace and expectations just seems overwhelming to me. I struggle because, you know my bent on play. You know, my perspective on kids being kids, and the importance of childhood, and the importance of being able to go be a kid, and be with your friends, and have fun, and have kid problems, and these are adult problems. I feel they are being pushed and that’s a struggle for me.

So point number two, the content push.

Now I know there are a lot of different beliefs, and there are lots of different approaches to what is okay to teach in a school and what’s not okay. I don’t want to get into that argument. So I’m not going to get into the content that, in my opinion, is often immoral and worldly and sexualized. That has been making its way into the approved curriculum content for schools. So I believe that that exists, but that’s not what I mean.

When I say the ‘content push’, what I mean is the content of the courses at such young levels.

So right now my son is taking pre-algebra. He’s taking typing. He’s taking career. He’s memorizing very high end scientific facts. He’s memorizing every country and state of the entire globe. He has done the european map, the asian map the north, central and south American maps. He has memorized every continent’s countries…. the entire continent of Africa. He’s had to memorize every country now.

Do I think that geography and topography and knowing about the world is important? 100%. Do I think 11 year olds need to know that? No.

So the content push has become so much that I think that it’s interfering with our child development. I think kids aren’t allowed to have fun. They’re not allowed to be carefree. They’re not allowed to be burden free. They’re not allowed to be stress free. And when my son spends hours and hours and hours and hours memorizing the african countries on the african continent at 11, I feel that that’s overwhelming. It’s overwhelming for me, and I’m his mom, and I’m not actually trying to memorize the countries!

So I think the content push has become another factor in the schools. Pushing too far too fast.

Finally, here’s the big one: the “separation of home and state”.

You did hear me say that. I know it’s usually ‘church and state’, but here’s my, perspective on this. I feel that what schools are now focusing on in the classroom is the role of the parent.

I feel that when you have children, you make the decision to bring children into the world. You own the responsibility and the expectation of parenting them well. And that means educating them, explaining to them, having conversations with them, exposing them to things, giving them experiences, having conversations, answering all of the ‘why’ questions, explaining how something works when they don’t understand it.

Talking about money, Talking about balancing a checkbook. Talking about a credit card. Talking about mortgage. Talking about all of those things, that is the responsibility that takes place in the home. It’s not the responsibility of educators in the school system to parent. It’s their job to teach and educate.

As I said in my home schooling podcast, I am 100% supportive and appreciative, and a huge advocate for teachers. We need more of them. We need better of them. We need to support them, and love them, and help them know how much we value them. So this is not a bashing of teachers.

This is overarching policy that has started to require the school to step in the role of the parent.

Because I promise you, I will teach my child how to make sure that he can pay for his bills when he’s working, and when he needs to pay for things. I will help him do a budget if I need to. I will talk through balancing that budget. I will make sure he understands how to keep a ledger of a checkbook. I vividly remember my parents teaching me how to balance a checkbook, as they were running their checkbook, and they were paying their bills. They would let me add the notation into the ledger and do the math for them.

So my parents taught me how to balance a checkbook. Not a school. Not a teacher. Not a class. I vividly remember in high school my dad explaining to me how to pay off your credit card at the end of every month. That was a lesson he taught me. I will never forget he said “babe, you will not charge anything on that card that you cannot pay off at the end of the month”. “If you don’t have the money for it. You don’t put it on card”. He’s like “that is plastic money, it’s not real money and you are going to pay interest and that’s gonna kill you, you’re not gonna do it unless you can pay for it. So you charge whatever you can pay off at the end of the month and always keep a zero balance when you make your payment”. My dad taught me that. I didn’t learn that in a school.

So in my opinion, the ‘separation of home and state’ is parents have a job to parent, and to train, and to educate, and to explain. I think the school has gotten that a little bit twisted, that they feel that it’s their responsibility.

The fact that I got an email from that teacher telling me to talk to my child about expenses and jobs and all that… that’s my job. And I say this respectfully, I don’t need a teacher to tell me that I need to have that conversation with my son. I would have that conversation with my son because it’s my job as his mom.

So I feel that that is another factor of schools pushing too far too fast. I think that’s a conversation that would naturally take place maybe at 15 or 16, but not at 11 or 12. And here we are being asked to have these conversations.

So as you can tell, it got my wheel spinning. I’m cautious and I’m concerned that if we, as parents, don’t start taking note, and being purposeful about slowing that pace down… you know, how a snowball starts rolling down the mountain and it picks up momentum and you can’t stop it… I feel like this is a moment we have to say ‘I want to make sure that I’m reining that in a little bit. I’m pulling the pace back of that’.

I would never want a child to get swept up in the avalanche of the stress, and the pressure, and the burden, and the accelerations, and the expectations, that is being driven by school, when they’re not there yet.

And let me make it very clear. I’ve talked about this before, but I’m just thinking about our son just turned 12. He doesn’t even have abstract reasoning skills yet! That doesn’t come until about 13.

So to talk about a concept which is abstract and requires reasoning such as expenses and money and working and budgeting! Those are abstract concepts that require reasoning skills. They don’t even have it yet. So why are we pushing kids to talk and deal with things that they’re not even developmentally ready to handle?

I feel that that burden falls on us as parents, as adults who love kids, to say ‘we’re going to focus on things that make sense for where you are in your life right now’. The things that matter to my son are: going fishing, climbing trees, riding his hoverboard, playing baseball and being with his friends.

So that’s what I want to focus on. That’s what I want to spend time talking about, because those things matter to him.

This other stuff, it will come. It will naturally evolve. But we’re not there yet.

So super fast pace, accelerated ‘content push’, and the ‘separation of home and state’. That’s what my brain was working on this week, so I wanted to share it with you.

I feel like you know we’re family, and we support each other, and we care about each other. And if it matters to me, I suspect it matters to a lot of you.

And thank you for the emails! I’ve been getting so many more messages, so many more comments, and replies. Thank you for engaging. Thank you for reaching out. Thank you for telling me your thoughts and and just sharing where you are in life. I’m so honored and happy to share life with you.

So thank you for sharing life with me. You can reach me at [email protected]. is where you find the podcasts. is where you can sign up to get notified.

As always. I’m so grateful that you are with me on this journey. Thank you for being a part of the Play Therapy Parenting Podcast family. We’ll talk again soon. Bye.

Cochran, N., Nordling, W., & Cochran, J. (2010). Child-Centered Play Therapy (1st ed.). Wiley.
VanFleet, R., Sywulak, A. E., & Sniscak, C. C. (2010). Child-centered play therapy. Guilford Press.
Landreth, G. L. (2002). Play therapy: The art of the relationship (2nd ed.). Brunner-Routledge.
Bratton, S. C., Landreth, G. L., Kellam, T., & Blackard, S. R. (2006). Child parent relationship therapy (CPRT) treatment manual: A 10-session filial therapy model for training parents. Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group.
Benedict, Helen. Themes in Play Therapy. Used with permission to Heartland Play Therapy Institute.

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