Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Kindergarten Slackers Threaten Civilization As We Know It

From Mississippi, terrible news! "Mississippi's youngest students pile on the absences, lose learning time" declares the Hechinger Report!

The story opens with a "frustrated" principal dealing with parents who want to pick their five-year-old children up early. What is wrong with these slackers? Do they not understand that by October, their offspring must be writing sentences, know most of the alphabet, and recognize and write the first ten numerals.

There's not really a lot of digging to do in this article. Here are the two salient facts. 1) Kinder attendance in Mississippi is worse than for any other K-8 grade. 2) Kinder attendance is not mandatory in Mississippi. So we can handle the 'splaining part of this story in two quick sentences.

The handwring and pearl clutching part-- that takes more than two sentences.

“I think that a lot of families don’t put that value in kindergarten being the first official year of education,” says state superintendent Carey Wright. Well, yes. Because their children are five years old.

The article notes that the Southern Education Foundation reports that one in fourteen Mississippi K students had to repeat Kindergarten-- in 2008. I'm not sure what to do with this shocking-ish statistic from seven years ago. You know what I would find interesting--  a study that followed  those students from seven years ago to see how things had turned out for them.

But meanwhile, our frustrated principal is bemoaning those lost minutes. “If they miss 30 minutes four times, that’s two hours of instruction," she says. Really? At the end of the day, what's going on with that room full of five year olds is valuable, rigorous instruction.

I can remember not too long ago when the discussion about kindergarten was whether or not to have a full day of it. Now we've jumped straight ahead to requiring kindergartners to have a full day of intense instruction so that they can do numbers and letters and sentences and test-taking. And I have just one question--


Why why why why why why WHY why why?

Where, in this mad dash to crush childhood, to regiment the happiest humans on earth and beat them into compliance, where in all of that did we get the part where someone showed us conclusively and clearly how this would benefit anybody? 

“Kindergarten is, for many kids, the entry point into formal education,” Snow said. “It’s their first time in a structured learning environment.”

Okay-- why is that? What evidence and data and study and research went into determining that this entry point should come a year earlier than it has for generations? And I'd like to see that evidence really quickly, since this ramped-up clamped-down version of kindergarten seems to be only a mid-point on our journey to institutionalize pre-K students.

The destruction of kindergarten as a child-centered, play-rich growth opportunity for students has two of the classic earmarks of reformsterism. First, there's no evidence offered-- just a frantic insistence that we must toughen up these kids and get them Learning Stuff Right Now because if we don't, the United States will be taken over by Estonia and our economy will collapse and loving multinational corporations will turn elsewhere for their worker bees and we will all be eating dog food out of a can in our van down by the river!

Second, it reinforces school as an institution-centered place. The schools in this article are not there to serve the students-- the students are there to meet the needs of the school. The school needs them to show up, because it will be inconvenient for the school if the students are behind next year. There is no discussion of benefits for the students; only the problems for the school. This is reformsterism-- where students exist only to make schools look successful.

This is not how public service works. You serve the public in ways they find useful and helpful, and when they start pulling away from your service, that is a sign that you as a public servant are not doing your job. If the fire department starts hosing down houses that are not on fire, they don't get to start bitching about how the houses they visit are flame-deficient.

If five year olds don't want to spend time in your kindergarten, if every day they can't wait to leave, if they would rather be anywhere else every day of the week-- you are doing it wrong. The children and their families are not defective-- you are.


  1. YES YES YES. I've said this before on your blog - part of what's going on in Reformster World is the crushing of childhood by people who, at heart, have absolutely no respect for, or understanding of, childhood as an important phase of life. They remind me of medievalists, who (by many accounts) regarded childhood much as we regard old age, as a period of life where people are too defective to really bother about - only the medievals at least left small children alone, while reformsters hope to drag them ASAP into adulthood. Ugh. -- A five-year-old who spends an afternoon with Mom or Dad at the park is doing something infinitely more important than memorizing a bunch of numbers.

  2. I swear, every time you write a post, it's like Colbert's Teets: "My Best Ever!"

    But each one IS like that. This is no exception.

    Thank you.

    1. "Tweets!" I swear, I typed "Tweets!"

    2. I don't know-- I kind of like it as a sort of archaic oath-- "By Colbert's Teets, I swear I shall storm the castle or die!"

    3. And this post just got even better! Sometimes, it's a good thing that there's not a revision option...

  3. I would LOVE to see a study following up on those Ks from 7 years ago.
    Here in OK, we have some all day pre-k. It makes me very sad. It was hard for me to send my girls to all day K. I absolutely would not have done all day pre-k.