How American Kindergarten is Failing Children

SYLVIA MCCRORY      November 2020

Before I upset many parents and teachers, just let me state, there are many, many dedicated wonderful kindergarten teachers in the United States. I know many of them and know how hard they work and the amount of time they devote to teaching their students. 


My issue is not with teachers.  Please know I support and love teachers and appreciate the work they do every day. In my opinion, the job of a kindergarten teacher is one of the hardest in education.  They spend countless hours preparing for a lesson that may take only 10 minutes to complete. The attention span of their students is very limited. To be honest, five year-olds are quite wiggly and squirmy. 


My issue is with the education system in American, beginning with kindergarten.

For those of you who may not know, teachers are given a curriculum for their grade levels, including kindergarten. This curriculum is very extensive and includes everything children should know, what is considered mastery, how technology should be used, and a time frame for accomplishing these feats.


For example in North Carolina, my state, the Quick Reference Guide for the State Standard Course of Study for Kindergarten is 56 pages long. In Language Arts Standard L.K.4 Determine and/or clarify the meaning of unknown words and phrases based on kindergarten reading and content: context clues, word parts, and word relationships is only one of many standards children are expected to master in Language Arts. Below are two more standards, for quick examples, one in math and the other in technology.


In Math under Number and Operations in Base Ten: NC.KBT.1 Compose and decompose numbers from 11 to 19 into ten ones and some further ones by: understanding that these numbers are composed of ten ones and one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, or nine ones.


In Technology K.TT.1 Use technology tools and skills to reinforce classroom concepts and activities. K.TT.1.2 Use a variety of technology tools to organize data and information (e.g., word processor, graphic organizer, audio and visual recording, online collaboration tools, etc.). 


Surprisingly, many people probably may not know, these goals, for children were not created by educators. In fact, in an article by Valerie Strauss for the Washington Post titled Everything you need to know about Common Core — Ravitch, she presents a speech by “Diane Ravitch, the education historian who has become the leader of the movement against corporate – influenced school reform.” The Common Core Standards we use today were the product of Barack Obama’s Race to the Top. They were “written in 2009 under the aegis of several D.C.-based organizations: the National Governors Association, the Council of Chief State School Officers, and Achieve. The development process was led behind closed doors by a small organization called Student Achievement Partners, headed by David Coleman. The writing group of 27 contained few educators, but a significant number of representatives of the testing industry. From the outset, the Common Core standards were marked by the absence of public participation, transparency, or educator participation.”


Ravitch goes on, “Integral to the Common Core was the expectation that they (students)  would be tested on computers using online standardized exams. As Secretary Duncan’s chief of staff wrote at the time, the Common Core was intended to create a national market for book publishers, technology companies, testing corporations, and other vendors.” 


The point I am making is the constant testing and stress placed on children is not the product of educators, nor is it the result of programs used by other countries. The United States tests children more than any other country in the world. And, we parents, and citizens rarely delve into the way this system was devised or into the corporations who profit from children. 


Four and five year-olds should not be concerned with being tested. This is the time they are developing their social skills, their creativity, their fine motor skills and their understanding of rules and belonging. Children learn everyday about the world in which they live. They are developing their interests, and learning how to handle their emotions, and disappointments. We need to afford them the opportunity to be sad, angry, happy, excited, or scared. Every day is not a great day, but everyday is not a bad day. Children need adults and teachers to let them know it is ok to feel the way they feel. 


Mister Rogers spent his adult life and career studying ways to make children comfortable being who they were meant to be, and growing into secure, happy people. He recognized the importance of play as a way for children to solve problems, to learn what works and what doesn’t work, and a way to gain confidence in their own ability to figure things out.


 Almost forty years ago Mister Rogers realized the use of technology and  young children was not a healthy combination. In his book, Mister Rogers Talks With Parents, he states, “often these games are touted as introductions to ‘computer literacy,’ but there is no way that I myself could include computer literacy on a list of priorities for early childhood development. The work through play that children need to do in their early years is work about self, feelings, and relationships to others. It is the kind of play that will help determine whether the grown up child programs a computer for bridge building or for body counts. . . I have no doubt that millions of children of all ages are getting an overdose of mechanical entertainment and suffering a deficiency in healthier forms of play. Although I don’t know what the consequences will be, I feel sure they will be measurable and specific and will affect the quality of human relationships and an individual’s capacity for self-development.” 


Mister Rogers is not the only one to recognize the potential harm of technology on children. Richard Freed, Ph.D., in his book Wired Child Reclaiming Childhood in a Digital Age, states, “Our children’s early and heavy exposure to screens may be altering their brains and denying them the ability to develop self-control skills. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or its characteristic symptoms can result.” 


With Covid-19 and many children learning online, I understand the use of technology. Yet, I have seen teachers using technology to dance with their students and sing with them. Technology is important in the world in which we live. I am suggesting it is not the way to instruct children. It becomes a mindless machine, unable to adapt or sense difficulties with children.


Instead, I encourage parents to allow children to play, to make mistakes and to try again. Parents should spend time each day reading to their children using real books, not devices. There is something personal and intimate in holding the book and feeling the pages. There is a personal connection of parents and children when snuggling, sharing,  and reading together. Most importantly it gives children the sense of importance, belonging and being loved.


These words that I am giving you today are to be in your heart. Repeat them to your children. Talk about them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.

Deuteronomy 6:6-7 (CSB)

Copyright 2020 Christian Parenting Today. All Rights Reserved.

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