“… que, are, ess, tee, you, vee …”

August 30, 2009

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:



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