This Bothers Me

(There will be no “Glee” lessons for a while. Last week’s isn’t free on hulu until tomorrow. I won’t post on this week’s until I’ve posted on last week’s because I’m anal like that. And tomorrow I have my usually insane Wednesday, and then we are leaving for San Francisco for a week! Wahoo! So I’ll do a three-lesson blitz when we get back.)

I know this article is advocating for better public funding for preschool and that’s all fine and good. But it bothers me to think that we’re just accepting the premise that kindergarten isn’t, in fact, “Day One.” Shouldn’t it be impossible to be behind before you’ve started?

The first paragraph mentions that these kids don’t know “basic preschool concepts” but “preschool” is not, despite the way parenting magazines put it, a stage of life, it’s a method of schooling. The real question is, can children learn the alphabet at five or six or have we missed some sort of window if we wait that long? If we have missed some sort of window, if it is, in fact, necessary cognitively to get kids knowing things like the alphabet before the age of five, then hell yeah, preschool should become a) publicly funded and b) mandatory, just like school. In fact, it shouldn’t be “preschool,” it should just be “school.”

If, on the other hand, by “behind” we mean “not keeping up with the Joneses” then I think the problem is with the system and not the kids/parents.

I struggle with this because I do want Zoe to learn the alphabet and shapes and colors and numbers, like, now. I mean, she can sing her ABCs; she recognizes all capital letters (I think) and a lot of lower-case letters and is getting to know what sounds they make, and she knows shapes and colors and we’re working on numbers. On a good day she can sort of add and subtract. And we do send her to three mornings a week of preschool at a temple and I do want them to be, you know, teaching her stuff (although I care more that she learns how to interact in a group setting and that they cover Jewish holidays and stuff, but that’s just content).

But when I started Zoe in preschool, I had goals like “learns to be with and mind adults who are not exclusively ‘hers'” and “learns to go along with group activities.” And I sent her to a preschool at a temple so that Jewish holidays and concepts would be part of her school life. Other parents in the class seemed to be upset about a lack of “kindergarten preparedness,” by which they meant early reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic. I thought simply being in a classroom at age 2 was enough. And look, we were in the Transitions class. I had initially put Zoe in the Me Alone class but it didn’t work out so we had to move her. For those in my audience who are not parents and therefore not accustomed to the ridiculously dorky naming strategies for child-things, a Transitions preschool class is where the parent or caregiver stays in the classroom, slowly backing away from his/her child, for a few months, until the child is comfortable. A Me Alone class is one where the parent or caregiver does not stay. So the people in my class did not feel their children were old enough to be in a classroom without a caregiver right away, but felt their children were ready for reading.

My thought was that, in fact, being in a classroom without a caregiver, learning to take direction from a teacher, to sit in circle time and wait for snack and wash hands and use the bathroom and line up and share with other kids who are not your siblings or even your friends but just happen to share a classroom with you, was all kindergarten preparedness. But apparently just getting that down is not enough to put you in the right place for Day One.

I also ran across this recently (which I ran across through this wonderful site which is helping keep me a sane mommy). It’s a list of things that advice books in 1979 thought you should be asking yourself to see if your child was ready to start first grade. (I guess in 1979, kindergarten was more of an optional thing?) They don’t demand that your child already know the alphabet. They do demand that your child can walk around the block him or herself, something we are now loathe to allow any elementary school-age child to do. It’s a really interesting difference.

The numbers in the article on contribute to my suspicions. Only six percent of kindergarten teachers feel the kids are well-prepared. That’s a really low number. That means that the level of preparedness cannot have much to do with socio-economic status, since (I hope) less than 6% of this country is in such dire straits that basic attention to the education of under-five children in the house is so drastically sub-par. Wait, that sentence makes no sense. How about this? If we are attributing the lack of normal “kindergarten readiness” to households in which parents are either so overworked that they cannot attend to the education needs of their children, or so undereducated themselves that they dot know how to properly educate their children, or so poor that they can’t afford a good enough private preschool for their children, or really so very out of the run of general society that they can’t even get their kids in front of a “Sesame Street” episode every once in a while, then we can’t be talking about 94% of all people in this country. I know we’re in a serious recession/why-aren’t-we-calling-it-a-depression, but that can’t be right. Because, socio-economically, my own family is doing fine, but I don’t think we’re in the top 6% of the country. And we’re doing the normal things you do to educated a three-year-old. And I have lots of friends and acquaintances who are also not in the top 6% and they’re doing those things, too. And I know that’s anecdotal, but think about it yourselves. As bad as the economy is right now, do you really think that 94% of the households in this country are so bad off that they are, in one way or another, unable to properly prepare their kids for kindergarten?

Or is it more likely that what kindergarten teachers expect a level of preparedness that’s unrealistic?

I’m not trying to make teachers the bad guys here. I know what pressure they’re under. Kids are not allowed to be kids; they must be test-passing automatons, and if they fail to be adequate test-passing automatons, teachers’ jobs are threatened.

This is also putting unfair expectations on mothers. (Yeah, mothers. Because we know “parenting” almost always means “mothering” in cultural rhetoric, no matter who’s actually doing what.) Because ideally, you shouldn’t work when your kid is young, meaning your husband’s salary better be able to support your family AND put your young kids in expensive preschools that will “prepare” them so that they aren’t “behind on Day One.”

Look, I’m all for publicly funded pre-school/day care. That’s a great idea. And generally, I really like But the “Eep! Behind on Day One!” tone of this article is annoying me. Because really, Day One should be Day One; there should be no behind.


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