"To be or not to be - that is the question…"
Actually, it should never be a question, or of question - it should just be.
Let me clarify before I lose you in the abyss of ambiguity. Tonight I saw a letter to parents that disappointed me. It disappointed me on a number of levels - firstly as an educator and secondly as a parent.
The letter came out of the States, from the Elwood Public Schools district. I've put a copy of the letter below, but for those who find the small print just a little too small, I have retyped below.
"Dear Kindergarten Parents and Guardians
We hope this letter serves to help you better understand how the demands of the 21st century are changing schools and, more specifically, to clarify misconceptions about the Kindergarten show. It is most important to keep in mind is that (sic) this issue is not unique to Elwood. Although the movement towards more rigorous learning standards has been in the national news for more than a decade, the changing face of education is beginning to feel unsettling for some people. What and how we teach is changing to meet the demands of a changing world.
The reason for eliminating the Kindergarden show is simple. We are responsible for preparing children for college and career (sic) with valuable life long skills and know that we can best do that by having them become strong readers, writers, coworkers, and problem solvers. Please do not fault us for making professional decisions that we know will never be able to please everyone. But know that we are making these decisions in the interests of all children in mind.
It is then signed by four of the Kindergarten teachers.
Well. Where do I begin. Initially I thought it was a hoax letter. Firstly, I did not think that it was the best written letter to parents in the world - and if it had come through my eyes first it would have had to have been seriously rewritten before it left the school - but that aside - I secondly found it just too gobsmacking that fellow educationalists did not see the value in the 'Kindergarten show'. I checked - to make sure the school was legit and that the people who had signed it were real. It seems so.
Lets have a closer look at some of the points raised in the letter.
"demands of the 21st century are changing schools"
Too right they are - and not in a positive, good for the community and any of our countries future, kind of way. Lets not blame the changing face of the world we live in here - it is not technology or the way families are made up in our modern world that are the issue - they are exciting things that given the opportunity, could allow schools to do amazing things to prepare our children for a world that has yet to be invented. Oh no, the demands are not our changing world so much but that of the neo liberal, dark suit, white shirt brigade , who are relentless in pushing their corporate G.E.R.M ridden agenda (and I have written about this before). Their systematic deconstruction of public education systems across the world are what what these demands really are - and the changes they are making are not good for our children.
"movement towards more rigourous learning standards"
That would have to be a bit of an understatement - polite - but a little misleading. Let me clarify - no educator is against high quality, high standards and a first rate, equitable education for all. But to say that what is happening around the world - particularly in the States is a move to 'rigourous learning standards' is to suggest that teachers didn't have them, and that teachers must be second rate. Lets just be honest shall we - the agenda is not about what is best for children - although I am sure initially the thought of those who were failing did come up in discussion - but really, it is about how to make money out of education. To privatise, to corporatise, to turn education into a profit making margin dictated factory is the real agenda. Where test makers, test sellers and test testers can all sit together rubbing their Scrooge McDuck hands together in monetary glee. Cynical? Yes. Accurate? I think so.
"The changing face of education is beginning to feel unsettling for some people. What and how we teach is changing to meet the demands of a changing world."
See point one above. It should feel unsettling - it should concern people, especially parents. We send our children to school to assist us in the shaping of our little people into decent human beings who will lead our world. As an educator, it is a position of such privilege and importance. Children are not fiscal numbers, to be spat out of the factory as a one size fits all. How on earth have we forgotten this? What is wrong with our world.
"The reason for eliminating the Kindergarden show is simple. We are responsible for preparing children for college and career (sic) with valuable life long skills and know that we can best do that by having them become strong readers, writers, coworkers, and problem solvers."
Hmmm. Actually, we are preparing our students for a heck of a lot more than that. We are preparing our students to inherit the world - to lead us into the future - to be humans, with values, skills and competencies that they will need to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow. I agree, we do need them to be literate and numerate problem solvers - but that is not the be all and end all. It is a small fraction of what they need to be healthy, caring, empathetic PEOPLE. No parent I talk to or that I have asked - and I have asked many over the years as part of our strategic planning - has ever just said to be literate and numerate. Todays parents want their kids to be good people. To be responsible, open, global citizens who are our future entrepreneurs. The world they inherit is yet to be defined and as such they will need to be able to navigate in a diverse and multi cultural and faceted world. That is where opportunities to explore the arts (Kindergarten show) are critical. I fear these teachers have missed the point. And worse still - because ill advised and ill informed administrators have made them this way.
"Please do not fault us for making professional decisions that we know will never be able to please everyone. But know that we are making these decisions in the interests of all children in mind. "
RUBBISH. If these teachers were making the decision in the best interests of the children, then they would know this was not right. Instead, they would have modified the show so that the learning that came from it ticked all those boxes and more. You see, where does the power of engagement come into this? Where does the love of learning and the excitement of exploring something new and fun come into it?
Students need more than just the 3 R's. They need opportunities to explore learning that leads to confidence, increased social and emotional competence (and therefore increased academic success), kinaesthetic development and creativity. In actual fact, the list of goodness that comes from learning in the Arts is long and outweighs any flimsy argument about needing to have more 'rigerous academic standards'.
Now before any kiwi teacher gets to smug about how this would never happen here - let me burst that little bubble right now by dinging the 'you are incorrect' buzzer. I have sat with colleagues who have informed the group that they have decided to do away with 'frivolous' interruptions to the days learning. Alas, they have forgotten one thing - it is in our beautiful curriculum. That, however, is a post for another day.
To sum up - I remain saddened by this letter. I know it is merely the tip of an overwhelmingly large 'deconstruction of education' iceberg. It is my wish that educators will remember and protect- despite the ill fated message to the contrary - all those wonderful opportunities (like the Kindergarten show) to explore creative pursuits like the Arts, because it is those kinds of opportunities that inspire students to greater heights, and helps them grow and develop into the best people they can be.