I've spent the last week in Seattle (motto: A Beautiful Place To Suffer Your Seasonal Affective Disorder) visiting my recently-birthed grandson and his parents. My grandson is a young man of generally calm demeanor and simple pursuits, but he does his best sleeping while being held, so I spent a great deal of my time holding the baby.
That provided a great deal of time for reflection. It also provided a huge amount of time for netflix binge-watching; it may in fact be the purpose for which netflix was actually created (I recommend all of Hotel Impossible, though the Blanche episodes are superior, and Blacklist is a great use of James Spader, and I feel a lot differently about some aspects of Gilmore Girls than I did the first time, though once Luke's improbable daughter turns up and Rory steals a boat and Lorelei runs of with Chris it goes straight to hell, furthermore, the last season of Parks and Rec really doesn't need a follow-up and I worry that they'll from one of those shows that ended perfectly to one of those shows that didn't know when to shut up, and it also occurs to me at this moment that I may still be a bit jet lagged still).
I hold a baby and I look for signs of personality. I watch every little expression, waiting for the special ones like the goofy smile. My grandson has a great I-am-figuring-out-the-problems-of-the-world face. I think about the things he's going to do and see and say when he's a bit more able to do such things, and I stop roughly every ten seconds to be amazed that this is a tiny human being, and I marvel at all the simple things he is learning about how to be human in the world, learning bit by bit and piece by piece in front of me.
I wonder about the unusual balance of power. On the one hand, he's completely unable to do anything for himself, doesn't even have the tools to express himself clearly. On the other hand, we adults who are dealing with him must deal entirely in terms of what he wants or needs, and not what we think he should want or need. Maybe he shouldn't need to be walked at 3 AM in order to sleep, but he does, and that's just how it is. I wonder at how this balance will be worked out between his own agency, his own needs, and how far the world will bend to meet him .
You know what I don't wonder? I don't wonder if he is, at three weeks, on the proper College and Career Ready track. I don't wonder if there's some standardized test he could take to find out if he's hitting his CACR marks.
"Well, don't be silly," you say (in vain). "Who would do that?"
I'm not sure I want an answer to that, but we know that my federal government education guys want to think about it for a four year old. They are proudly announcing their new pre-school grant program awards.
access to high-quality preschool is critically important to ensure the
success of our children in school and beyond,” said Secretary
Duncan. “The states that have received new Preschool Development Grants
will serve as models for expanding preschool to all 4-year-olds from
low- and moderate-income families. These states are demonstrating a
strong commitment to building and enhancing early learning systems,
closing equity gaps and expanding opportunity so that more children in
America can fulfill their greatest potential.”
It's not that I'm anti-preschool. But I have zero confidence that the feds will back preschool done right. In fact, I'm surprised to see them calling it "preschool" at all, since we usually refer to it as Pre-K to underline the fact that our real purpose if to provide prep school for kindergarten. But I expect that "high-quality" means 1) academic work and 2) if the feds are measuring quality in order to judge its highness, that will mean standardized testing of some point.
Who does that? Who holds their precious vulnerable tiny child, infant, toddler in their arms and thinks, "What this bundle of joy needs is some rigorous instruction. What I need are some standardized test results to make sure his future college success is insured."
The answer, I'll betcha, is nobody. Nobody holds their own baby and thinks that. Nobody who is working arduously on the womb-to-workplace pipeline believes they are building it for their own children. The whole structure the reformsters are building is for Other Peoples' Children.
Well, everybody should hold the baby. Our school system is large and sprawling and deep and wide in its aspirations and client base, but when making decisions about the shape and direction of education, we should be thinking about the individual tiny humans that must pass through and what they need, not what we think should be best for thousands of babies that we have never personally held. We should be thinking about how this baby will become fully human and find his way through the world, not how to mold a mass of other peoples' undifferentiated children into a set of proper cogs for the machine.
Hold him. Watch him snuggle up against you. Watch him try to make sense of what his eyes can see and ears can hear. Watch him express his version of sadness and need and joy and delight. Notice how little fundamental need he has for the ministrations of rigorous instruction and standardized testing. Yes, I know he's going to grow up and change, but this is where it starts, and you must not forget it. Hold the baby.