Shared with permission of the author… Alan Guttman taught Kindergarten in the classroom next door to me in the Housing Projects of Watts in 1985 (if my memory serves correct). Since then, Alan and I have intersected in multiple arenas in the ECE world. We have shared a disdain for the movement towards a standardization of childhood.
A MOD PROPOSAL ©2008 Alan Guttman
The uterus used to be such a wonderful place for fetuses to develop until “experts in the field” decided that mothers need to fill their wombs with the latest learning toys and activities so that when their children are born they will be better prepared for their first year of life. Some mothers asked whether it might be rushing things a little, not to mention making it a bit crowded and uncomfortable for both themselves and their fetuses during those last three months of pregnancy, by introducing musical mobiles and stuffed animals into their uteruses. Researchers reminded these mothers that what infants used to learn from twelve- to twenty-four months old is now being taught during the first twelve months of life. And that if they wanted their newborns to be ready to learn on day one it was essential that classic toys like the jiggling plastic keys be introduced into their bodies months prior to giving birth.
Absurd you say. Why, our society, especially advocates for young children, would never allow this to happen. And yet over the past twenty years we have seen the steady transformation of the kindergarten curriculum into a curriculum geared more towards first graders. What was once thought to be instruction and practice appropriate for six and seven-year olds is now being taught to five- and six-year olds in our public school kindergarten classrooms throughout the state. Play, once an integral component of every kindergarten program, has been all but eliminated from the daily schedule. The push to leave no child behind has saturated the kindergartener’s day with reading, math, and writing instruction, while relegating play to the status of a luxury that may only be indulged in if time permits. Alas, children who are not ready for such a rigorous and inappropriate course of study at age five have a remarkable way of responding. They play. And this has teachers, district administrators, school boards and state legislators up in arms because they all insist that children should not be playing in kindergarten. Fortunately, children and nature do not agree with them and so, to coin a phrase, “play happens.” A teacher cannot lesson-plan the removal of the need to play from a child. District administrators and school boards are only fooling themselves if they believe they can establish policies forbidding play in kindergarten. And state senate and assembly members are seriously mistaken if they think they can legislate play out of the five-year old’s school day.
Yet that has not stopped members of the state legislature from trying to remedy the disconnect between the natural development of five-and six-year olds and the first grade curriculum being foisted upon them in kindergarten. Last year Assembly Member Sharon Runner introduced legislation (AB 683) to change the date used by school districts to determine when a child is eligible to attend kindergarten. Currently a child must be five-years old by December 2nd to be eligible for admission to a public school kindergarten. Assembly Member Runner proposed moving this date back to September 1st in what I can only believe was an attempt to prevent younger children, those born between September 2nd and December 31st, from being exposed to an inappropriate curriculum. The problem is that many of the kindergarten eligible children, those who turn five-years old by September 1st, would still be subjected to what is essentially a first grade curriculum while in kindergarten. Most recently, Assembly Member Gene Mullin has proposed legislation (AB 1236), a bill that proposes to change the state’s Education Code by allowing school districts to offer two years of kindergarten. Children turning five-years old between September 1st and December 2nd would have priority to attend a kindergarten year 1 program, a program that I must assume would look more like the one I attended almost fifty years ago. You know: wooden blocks, legos, dolls, crayons, scissors, playdough, sand, Ring Around the Rosy, and Duck, Duck, Goose. I suppose that the kindergarten year 2 program would look very much like those currently offered in most of California’s public schools.
In case you don’t know, many of these programs use scripted instruction, curriculums that tell teachers exactly what to say, verbatim, to the children during instructional time. Many of these kindergarten programs send students home with as much homework as a first grader. And while you may find some blocks, dolls, and legos in these classrooms, you will not find many, and you will rarely see the children playing with them, as most of the time in kindergarten is taken up by direct instruction.
While I applaud the efforts of both Assembly Members, it is teachers and school administrators who must accept responsibility for returning sanity and an age-appropriate curriculum to all public school kindergarten classrooms. Until they do, what’s an expectant mother to do? Perhaps that third trimester may be the best time, after all, to introduce play and rubber ducky into your uterus. And it’s never too early to start teaching your fetus to walk, to be toilet trained. Oh, I forgot, they don’t do that until after they’re born.