What are we teaching our children?

I am working through my pile of exams to grade and have started writing student comments.  While the workload can be intimidating, I love to see the creative perspective my students have on the literature we’ve read this fall.  They brilliantly assessed Peter Shaffer’s main character Dr. Dysart from the play Equus.  They delved into the details of Dr. King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail.”  I want them to show me what they know, what they’ve gained, and where literature has inspired them.  I hope I haven’t created a test that asks them to jump through hoops or regurgitate simply what they’ve heard me say.  I want their synthesized information – their creative learning. 

When I opened up the paper this morning, I was appalled.  The New York Times front page article focused on test taking and preparing kids for their future… but this time the test taking was for three and four year olds being prepared for entrance into talented and gifted kindergarten programs.  WHAT!?  Is that what we’ve come to?  Test prep classes and special tutors to make sure our little tots get into the right kindergarten?

The article opens with the vivid image of a young student: “Kayla Rosenblum sat upright and poised as she breezed through the shapes and numbers, leopard-patterned finger puppet resting next to her for moral support.”  It goes on to explain that parents are worried that their children will be shut out of overcrowded schools, that the quality of some schools is in question, and that this trend is in line with the SAT tutoring movement of recent years.  What it does not mention is the subtext of such tutoring and parental concerns.  The article alludes to the fact that prepping your tot for entrance to gifted and talented programs is “unethical” and quickly passes over the question of equity or rather inequity that this prep creates (“it’s ridiculous”).  The subtext not mentioned is ‘do well on tests’, ‘go to the right school’, and ‘we value how you do, not who you are.’ 

My daughter Fiona turned four this past Thursday.  What a magical time! We’re hosting a party next weekend with a rainbow theme (hosted by her, “The Rainbow Rabbit”).  Why would I convolute this time with tutoring, special classes, and testing?  I support her growth as a learner by encouraging her curiosity and setting clear expectations.  I remind her to give her best effort (she helps out around the house), to be honest (did you bring your plate up?), and to ask any and all questions (she does!).  It makes me irate to think of tutoring my daughter (or any child) to perform better on pre-kindergarten tests.  While I sometimes wonder how she’ll perform as a student, I am deeply invested in the woman she will become.  I think it’s about time we send our kids the right message.   

Best, John

NOTE: Also check out Hyde’s Rose Mulligan and her article about sports genetic testing…a testament to parents who are overly focused on achievement…