Remedial Kindergarten?

Latest news from the Kentucky Department of Education is that 51% of kindergarteners are unprepared for first grade, not surprising since graduates of Head Start read no better by the fourth grade than children who did not participate in Head Start, the government program launched decades ago to prepare the most disadvantaged youngsters (always known as those on “free-lunch”) to perform as well as all other children. This latest announcement admits that Kentucky kindergarten joins Head Start in being a failure, with its only good feature being that the Head Start gang is well-fed.

Those even mildly long-in-the-tooth remember that public-school kindergarten did not exist back in the day. Children simply started first grade when they satisfied the age requirement. It was assumed that they had had no education up to that point and that they would be taught the basics at age six by a teacher trained to handle them. Largely depending upon the age cutoff-date for entrance (six by maybe June 30, September 30 or December 31), they just “went to school.” Public-school graduates in those years managed the best schools in the world, created the greatest economy and directly saved the world in 1941-45, as well as later during the “Cold War,” when communists tried to enslave everyone else.

I could have sent my children to kindergarten but opted against that, figuring they would be better off at home, profiting from the efforts of my wife and me (especially her) to prepare them for first grade and avoiding the regimentation that would from then on set their schedules. Admittedly, many children didn't get much preparation in the time-period of my childhood (the 1930s, when many parents just finished eight or fewer grades) but they “caught up” in public schools in which education was far more serious than it seems to be now. Discipline was a huge part of the process, with learning about the only concern and fun-and-games left to youngsters to design at recess themselves, whether indoors or outdoors.

In those days, school personnel had to do with learning—teaching, not social engineering. Childcare was virtually unheard of since most mothers were homemakers and kindergarten held little importance. Now, government—especially relating to schools—is also considered the primary babysitter and a childcare agency, politically correct but educationally a disaster area. Children are under governmental care from early morning until the end of “after-school experiences,” in very late afternoon, with virtually no time to give structure to their own existences.

Schools have become a huge and grossly expensive part of the welfare system...drop-off spots for the kids while their parents do their thing – make money. A school “snow-day” is a disaster for parents since it sticks them with the inconvenience of making arrangements for oversight of their children. Two-earner households are the rule now, not the exception.

Old folks like me are told that “times have changed” and I need to understand that. The institutions of school and family have substantially changed. Whereas once people were satisfied to adjust lifestyle to resources, they now adjust everything to lifestyle, including finances and the educating of their children. This nation lags behind even some poor countries in education as a result. The cream will always rise to the top educationally, but the masses of students suffer because their parents like it this way.

In my student-days, desks were bolted to the floor in rows. For male teachers, it was coat-and-tie. I taught for some five years in the 1950s and that's how I dressed to teach math. Women teachers dressed modestly in nice clothes, both dress-codes remarking the respect given to education...something then endemic to churchgoing. Now—at least in the classroom-shots on TV—both male and female teachers look sloppy...just like most of the students. For story-telling, I might have sat occasionally on the floor in first grade, but never after that. Teachers are not supposed to be “one of the gang.”

Accompanying the failure of kindergarten is this latest educational nonsense—squandering money to finance education for four-year-olds – pre-kindergarteners, providing an opportunity to let students fail twice before they start first grade. This endeavor is priority on both the state and national levels. The president and the governors never let an opportunity to mention education pass in the speeches third parties write for them. They can't even pass speech-writing 101 and they whine about the failure of kindergarten. Egad!

And so it goes.
Jim Clark