I come to this issue because of two recent stories about kindergarteners.
One was from Oregon where - guess what? Bad news about testing kindergarteners for "school readiness." Two state official up the food chain in public education in Oregon called the kindergartener readiness results "sobering."
It is important to have a baseline for each child. But this pressure of testing and standards - which are not developmentally appropriate for these children - is wrong. It is unlikely to move the needle and, in fact, is more likely to hurt them. Every single book or article I have ever read about early childhood development talks about the learning through play model (which is rapidly disappearing).
So then we come to the story from Elwood, New York about the cancellation of a kindergarten play in the name of "college and career" readiness goals.
From The Answer Sheet,
From the letter to parents:
We hope this letter serves to help you better understand how the demands of the 21st century are changing schools, and, more specifically, to clarify, misperceptions about the Kindergarten show. It is most important to keep in mind is [sic] that this issue is not unique to Elwood. Although the movement toward more rigorous learning standards has been in the national news for more than a decade, the changing face of education is beginning to feel unsettling for some people. What and how we teach is changing to meet the demands of a changing world.
The reason for eliminating the Kindergarten show is simple. We are responsible for preparing children for college and career with valuable lifelong skills and know that we can best do that by having them become strong readers, writers, coworkers and problem solvers. Please do not fault us for making professional decisions that we know will never be able to please everyone. But know that we are making these decisions with the interests of all children in mind.
Kids aren't widgets. Somehow, someway, this has gotten lost in the ed reform status quo rhetoric of "we need to be competitive against other counties" and " we need kids to be ready for jobs."
When I give talk about public education, I always ask the question, "Why do we educate our nation's children?" Is it only for economic benefit because, if so, that would be training, not educating (and there's a difference).
Former Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's special project is promoting more civics in schools. We have our own Washington State civics cheerleader is Web Hutchins, who has worked tirelessly on his Civics for All project.
It matters because we want educated CITIZENS, not just workers. That innovation that has driven our nation for the last 60+ years? It didn't come from just training people. The changes in civil rights for African-Americans as well as gay Americans? That comes from being educated, not trained in school.
We want thinking citizens who know how to evaluate what they read on the internet. We want thinking citizens who know how to discern truth from fiction from candidates as well as elected officials. We want thinking citizens who know the value of a clean environment.
We want thinking citizens who believe, as did our founding fathers, in truth, liberty AND the pursuit of happiness. A lot of happiness comes from being able to have empathy for others, work with others collaboratively and understanding the value of traits like leadership and artistic values.
Where is the pursuit of happiness in any curriculum (or is that just the job of parents)?