Drawing by Mark Hicks

Drawing by Mark Hicks

Garrison Keillor mused in one of his monologues about the days when life wasn’t so complicated — for instance, when there was no entrance exam for kindergarten.

Things are almost that bad, according to Patti Hartigan, writing in the Boston Globe. Experienced educators are troubled, Hartigan writes, by the atmosphere once dominated by wooden blocks and graham crackers: “(I)ncreasingly in schools across Massachusetts and the United States, little children are being asked to perform academic tasks, including test taking, that early childhood researchers agree are developmentally inappropriate, even potentially damaging. If children don’t meet certain requirements, they are deemed ‘not proficient.’ Frequently, children are screened for ‘kindergarten readiness’ even before school begins, and some are labeled inadequate before they walk through the door.”

building-girl-colorI remember all of my elementary school teachers, but the class I recall most vividly is kindergarten. Our teacher was Miss Botbyl, who had been at the school for decades. In a corner of the room she had an upright piano that had been painted lime green with a high-gloss enamel. I don’t know if that’s normally good for a piano, but the way Miss Botbyl attacked those keys, the piano would have responded out of pure fright. That’s not to say that Miss Botbyl was mean to us kids; she was in command at every moment of the day — she admonished us collectively as “people” — but she was likeable. It was the kind of relationship many kids of my era had with their grandparents.

EDITcontent_kindergartencenter_clip_image002_0000I can visualize the interior of that room, including a series of cartoons that were posted above the blackboards illustrating unacceptable types of behavior. My favorite, which was labelled “Me First,” recommended against pushing ahead in line. I’m 66 years old, and I still don’t push ahead in line.

Maybe Jenna Bush Hager, in her new role as an education reporter on “Today,” will examine the question of academics in kindergarten. My uninformed opinion is that the Botbyl model should be restored, but the overall academic experience should be expanded, whether that means one or two more years of school before college or career, or the same number of years with more hours or days of instruction. Considering how the body of human knowledge has expanded since Miss Botbyl banged on that piano, why do we think we can teach it — learn it — in the same framework that served us 60 years ago? Forcing academics on five-year-old kids who are not ready doesn’t seem like the answer.

You can read Patti Hartigan’s report at this link:



scales of justice(1)This Phillip Garrido case stirs up such a complex of judgements and emotions that it’s hard to think about it dispassionately. The account from University of California police officers Lisa Campbell and Ally Jacobs suggests that Garrido himself is far more than a calculating rapist; he’s a human being spinning out of control.

Unlike the outfall that often follows a case like this, in which the neighbors tell how the suspect was a quiet man who always waved hello when he went out to pick up his mail, the folks on Garrido’s block perceived that there was something way out of whack with this man, and they said so more than once — they said so to law enforcement authorities.

CrimePunishmentWith unerring hindsight, we can see that those authorities should have discovered the facts at Garrido’s home long before they did. I have heard the rationalizations about the amount of territory the sheriff’s department has to cover and the descriptions of visits to the house in which investigators could detect no crime — perhaps code violations, but no crime. However culpable the authorities are for the fact that Jaycee Dugard was not found sooner, this case challenges again the wisdom of registering convicted sex offenders and allowing them to live unsupervised in society. And while Garrido was supposedly under the supervision of a parole officer, anyone can now judge how effective that arrangement was.

women 1I am among those who think there are far too many people in prison in the United States. But it is a matter of common sense that a person who has been convicted of a serious sex offense should either be incarcerated for life or kept under constant surveillance, and in either case provided with intense and consistent treatment — and we have to be willing to seriously invest in that treatment. The rate of recidivism and the impact of such crimes on their victims demands this.

I sat on a criminal jury a few years ago in a case that involved a corrections officer who had committed sexual offenses against two female inmates. One of the inmates was participating in a release program at the time of that offense. The corrections officer was accused of seeking her out at the home where she was staying, ostensibly under strict supervision. An officer who was supposedly keeping track of the inmate, testified that the inmate was not permitted to have any social contact with men while in the release program. But the officer also testified that she paid an unannounced visit to the house on one occasion, found the defendant there with the inmate, and accepted the explanation that he was the inmate’s billiards coach. I’m not making that up. Apparently the supervision of Phillip Garrido wasn’t much better.

I am too much of an optimist to give up even on a Phillip Garrido, but while we’re trying to take care of him, citizens deserve much better protection against a person who is likely to repeat such a crime.