Raymond Moore is well aware he has a hard job ahead convincing American parents they may be sending their children to school too soon.
What he is saying -- that boys and girls do better in class, are happier and become better adults if they stay at home until they are 8 or 10 years old -- goes against all we've heard in the past 15 years about the value of schooling in the formative years.
It also goes against society's trend toward getting Mother out of the house and into a career. If the youngsters don't go to school until they are 8, then it's probably Mother who will have to stay home with them.
So, "Let's change society," says Moore, a teacher, former U.S. Office of Education official and educational consultant who with his wife Dorothy, a remedial reading teacher, has written a book "School Can Wait" (Brigham Young Unversity Press, 282 pages, $7.95 paper).
Social pressure is putting the wife into the work force, he says. "We ought to be honoring her for motherhood. Let's give mothers tax credits for staying home."
Moore, at 64 is the image of a college professor: tall, slender, a full head of gray hair, neatly dressed in blue pinstripe. He argues quietly but forcefully that the nation, in requiring schooling at age 6 or 7, is "involved in massive, pervasive child abuse."
He and his associates at the Hewitt Research Foundation of Berrien Spring, Mich., where he is president, have analyzed 7,000 childhood studies, he says, and he has concluded that the "problems of learning failure and delinquency are directly attributable" to early schooling.
Most children initially are excited about school, he says, but by grades 3 or 4 (when they should be beginning classes) "they lose interest."
A child "who goes to school before he can reason consistently -- one who can't answer 'why' or 'how' -- that child becomes a victim of his peers," says Moore. He or she "comes home with bad manners, bad language and bad habits. He gives your (the parents') values the back of his little hand." b
The youngster who spends more elective time with his peers than with his parents become "peer-dependent -- and takes a dim view of himself, of his future, of his parents and of his peers." Eventually, "this child doesn't have any values to pass on."
Moore suggests it's something like this situation that brought us the college rebels of the '60s and the drug culture of the '70s.
Moore points out that his arguments apply generally to children from normal homes with "warm and responsive" parents. He adcknowledges that disadvantaged children or acutely deprived children may require the "structured help" of such pre-school programs as Head Start.
A new study directed by Cornell education Prof. Irving Lazar reportedly provides evidence that pre-school training pays personal and social dividends as the child grows up. Most Head Start evaluations are not that positive, says Moore. He sees the value of Head Start, not in its academic achievements but in its ability to get parents "more involved."
Moore also argues that his research indicates that nearsightedness in children is "directly attributable to going to school too early." Children are confined in enclosed compartments doing close work such as fingerpainting, he says, "instead of running free like little lambs."
The Moores' four children did not go to school until they were 8, "and they never had any problems in school," he says. Children who enter school at 8 to 10 "will likely do well. They will catch up -- and pass -- other children socially, academically and behaviorally," he says. "We have massive proff of this." He cites one study that indicates that later schooling reduces reading problems to 2 percent of the students.
Moore says children should begin their formal education in the third or fourth grades wth students of their own age.
Throughout his argument is his contention that the child learns better at home. A parent with one or two children can devote more time than a teacher who faces a classroom of 30 or 40. When a child learns to read in his mother's or father's lap, as they read to him, he's not under the "stress" he might find in the classroom.
Parents, he says, should work with their children from the time they start walking. They should read with them and begin allowing them to help in the house and yard. In this way, he says, they become more self-reliant because they "feel needed, wanted, depended upon. The child who learns to work and serve others is a a happy child."
Moore believes tens of thousands of families are keeping their children at home. He estimates that 80 to 90 percent of the nation's school boards won't send out the truant officer, others will work out a teacher-monitoring program and less than 1 percent will go to court. He works with families seeking to keep their children out of school.
In some cases, however, the child is better off away from the home and in school, when the parents are "financially, emotionally or physically unable to handle them. Then, Moore says, the child should get care that is as much like a home as possible.
"We're spending a lot of money putting little kids in school that is damaging them, and then we pay out the money all over again to remedy this," he says. "We should be spending the money on parents, helping them understand the dignity of parenthood."