Kindergarten: Beneficial or Dumb Down…?

UPDATE: Since this post, I’ve visited a local elementary school that’s almost perfect, so let’s see how this pans out! 🙂

Last week, my little one and I visited a few local stores to buy items in anticipation of a “cold snap”, which is a nice way of saying “It’s about to snow in the South!” As we were proceeding to check out at a local Bed, Bath & Beyond, an African-American cashier in her late-20s, early-30s gave my son a “He’s a cutie!” compliment before abruptly starting to question me. As only people in the Southern US can do, she proceeds to ask rather prying questions, which ultimately were none of her business but I tried my best to be polite until she made an off-collar remark that pushed me over the edge (internally).

Cashier: “How old is he?”
Me: “He’ll turn 5 later this week.”
Cashier: “Is he in school?”
Me: “He’s in [a private] preschool.”
Cashier: “Where do you live?”
Me: I tried to tell her a specific street, then a general region but it was obviously either she wasn’t getting it or she didn’t like my answer. (I’d later learn that we don’t even live in the same parish/county which explains to me a lot about her understanding of early childhood educational opportunities.)
Cashier: “Well, why haven’t you put him in Head Start?”
Me: 😒

Initially, I wasn’t bothered until she implied we were trying to walk away: “You probably hadn’t done the proper research to know where to put him”. (That’s when I was ready to say “Oh no the hell you didn’t…” 🙄 but instead said Goodbye and we left. What she had no way of knowing is that I began exploring schooling options when I was pregnant. Back then, I was leaning toward a private Christian school then onto magnet schools. This time last year, I began exploring homeschooling and went to some open houses for a local virtual school. A few months ago, I visited a local homeschool coop. So for anyone to imply, I hadn’t done the research was uncivilized. Through all of my “(im-)proper research”, 😠 I can say now that just because something is available (or not) doesn’t automatically mean its the best or right choice. In other words, convenience isn’t always so convenient when you truly examine the circumstances and compare the realized versus anticipated results. Unfortunately, our society is so conditioned to the “fact” that children should be turned over to the government no later than the age of 5 for enrollment into an outdated schooling model similar referred to as a K-12 education. (In the state where I live,  a child can enroll in school as early as 5 but no later than age 7.)

The History of Kindergarten Documentary

From a historical perspective, the first organized kindergarten was established in Blankenburg, Germany in 1837 by Friedrich Froebel, a German educator. Froebel’s idea was based on a play-based model allowing a child to be socially free, enabling them to learn and grow through play time, music, nature, building blocks, etc. To my dismay even back then, “The common  belief…[is] that children were little creatures who needed stern handling to become good adults. Play was seen as a waste of time and proof that children should be tamed so they could be more productive.” (pdf) In the end, this original concept of “kindergarten for middle-class children”  spread like wildfire throughout the world. But 100 years later, this concept was radically altered by John Dewey at the University of Chicago and the leadership of the Columbia Teachers College. Today, the remnants of Froebel’s work can be seen in offshoots like Montessori and Waldorf schools. (source)

What She Didn’t Know That I Knew…

I need to point out that on this day, all schools – public, private, and the majority of even daycares and preschools close for the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday. Therefore, I wasn’t sure where she was drawing her initial conclusions about his schooling from. What I could have asked her was “Where are your kids right now?” 🤔 Funny though, just the week before, I had once again started reconsidering my options since my son would be “aging out of preschool” soon. Why preschools are limited to certain ages is another set of “rules” that I will touch on in this article. Last week’s research left me even more disheartened because there were far too many “rules” just in the process of trying to get your child enrolled in any kindergarten – public or private. But let me backtrack, so you can see the full picture.

When my son was around 2 or 3, his pediatrician referred us to an early childhood speech program. We had the initial meeting with the interviewer than a follow-up a couple of weeks later with the interviewer, a speech pathologist, my son, myself and a family friend. Guess what was uncovered?!? My son scored just a little too high. Whatever issues he had with speech, the pathologist felt like he could work them out on his own. Even if they tried to “fudge” his test scores, the next roadblock was my income. According to them, he couldn’t qualify because of my salary range. (In other words, I made too much money! 💰)  The interviewer clearly said that I would qualify if I had – how shall I say this – “more mouths” to feed. 😲 (Ahh hell no! I’m not about to go there!) 😆

The same went for Head Start, which is a federally-funded program with a different set of governmental “rules” to abide by. Based on the enrollment criteria alone, my son would be rejected – once again – because I made too much. Even if I insisted, he’d be put on a waiting list so more qualified candidates could have a chance to enroll. Okay then, let’s look at free preschools, which are also federally-funded and have their own set of governmental “rules” – you get the point by now, right?!? 😯  Where I live, there is only one prestigious public school that offers a Pre-K program. (By the way, it’s not common for a magnet school here to even offer Pre-K!) Well at that particular school, Pre-K students had to live within the school’s district (or “service area”). (That rule only applied to  Pre-K though.)  Just like this school and others in my area, potential Pre-K + Kindergarten students must be tested as apart of the application process. As I was informed by both a public elementary school principal and a public middle-school librarian, my son would not qualified for even a public Pre-K program here because he was already ahead of the kids in his paid preschool program. Again, they both independently confirmed – once again – he’s too smart. Stop and think: Pre-K programs are designed to prepare a child for Kindergarten, whereas Kindergarten is more or less a “watered down version of first grade” (pdf). 🤔

According to educational standards, by kindergarten, students need to know the alphabet, basic shapes, colors, sight words, along with writing and counting – to at least to 20. Well, my son taught himself (and a few of his peers) and sometimes felt the need to help the teacher keep the other kids in line. (That, of course, wasn’t always appreciated by his teacher or the school administration. 😂) He’s smart not because I pushed him to be but I let him be. I provide the tools, answer his questions, and play along with his curiosities. But ultimately, I let him learn on his own with excessive force and structure. For example: At 10 months, I provided him with his first kiddie tablet along with a subscription to ABCmouse. At 2, he already knew his alphabets. By 3, he’s started teaching himself to spell followed by learning to read sight words. By 4 (in preschool), he had advanced from counting to 20, then 50 and finally 100. He started learning to count by the 1000s too. He also started writing letters and numbers along with his name. (Oh I forgot to mention counting to 100 is now a Common Core Standard for kindergarten math.)

As far as a public Pre-K program was concerned, he would have passed their admissions test with flying colors but the way the “rules” are set up – once again – his passing their tests would instead disqualify him. That’s right folks! He would need to fail to qualify! (Remember the “No Child Left Behind” Act?!?) Just like with Head Start, if even considered, he would have been put on yet another waiting list so more qualified candidates could enroll. Now I’m not upset by this at all. It is what it is and I’m calling it for what it is but let me ask a simple question: Would any of these programs have been in his best interest? The answer is No. He started getting bored at daycare around 1-1/2. By 2-1/2, he was bored with preschool. Even now, there were times when he asked to either stay home, go to a family friend’s house, or wants to go to work with me. As of last week, I can firmly admit, he likes occasionally fraternizing with other kids but not in an 8+ hour a day, five days a week, structured classroom setting. And no that doesn’t make him a problem child or even a charity diagnosis case (ADD, ADHD, autism, or any other “this or that disorder” one might want to stamp on a child of his nature.)

My Memories of Kindergarten

My guardian was an educator so she was quite familiar with the enrollment process for both elementary and high school. Initially, she used the low-income of my mother as the means through which I was enrolled in Head Start in the early 80s. For two consecutive years, I attended Head Start. Just like my son, when I was in school – in my case Head Start, I didn’t like it either. They didn’t serve food that I liked. It was too loud and noisy. Lunchtime was a daily battle to figure out a way to make my food like I had eaten it and figure out a way to discard of my milk carton before the teacher noticed. (As an adult, I learned I was lactose intolerant. Well duh!!!!) Of course, as an only child, I wanted to be around kids too but NOT ALL DAY!!! (That reminds me – my cashier “friend” made it clear she sends her kids to school as soon as they are old enough to walk, which would be at the ripe age of 3.) Unless I was taught something outside of Head Start, it only served as a “free” glorified version of babysitting/daycare. What little I did know I forgot while in Kindergarten under the tutelage of Ms. Barbara – not sure if that was her first or last name. My daily prayer back then was that no one did anything to make her punish all of us.

Since historically, Mississippi was the last state to adopt kindergarten in the United States, my kindergarten classroom was in a double-wide trailer at the back of the elementary school campus. On one side, it was an actual classroom and on the other side, it was used as storage with a restroom separating the two sections. (The other trailers nearby had teachers and classes on both ends but not ours.)

Now if Ms. Barbara had an assistant, it wasn’t someone who stuck around all day. With the exception of lunch and playground time, we were stuck sitting in the same desks staring at each other and listening to a woman who obviously hated children. If I recall correctly, there were less than five days during my kindergarten school year, when the entire class was spared from being spanked (as a whole). Although she was physically attractive, underneath the surface, she was loud and abrasive. It was almost like she got a kick out tearing away our self-esteems day in and day out. I remember trying to tell my guardian about her but of course, I’m a kid so what did I know. It was a good 30 years later – probably after Hurricane Katrina – that the school system finally got wind of her behavior and fired her. Afterward, when they searched her classroom, they finally realized that she hadn’t been teaching her students anything. They found years upon years of unopened curriculum sets and other teaching material. 😲

In recent years, I’ve had a many of conversations with people who are disheartened by the school system but not enough to do something about it. Then there are those who do something but because many parents find it safer to conform then rebel, nothing ever changes and everything remains the same. I personally don’t want that for my son and I’m allowing him to be my guide as I explore what will be best for indigo children like him. 💜<drj>💜

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