The Meritocracy Reaches Kindergarten

By Russell Arben Fox for FRONT PORCH REPUBLIC

My title isn’t saying anything new, unfortunately; highly competitive private kindergartens and pre-k programs have long since dotted the wealthier (and more paranoid) corners of the United States, as well as many other locales throughout the wealthy, post-indutrial, late capitalist world. But being aware of just how relentless the regulatory privileging–if not outright forcing–of the fiercely utilitarian, meritocratic mentality has become doesn’t take away from the hair-pulling shock of seeing yet one more instance of it, such as what Corey Robin reports here:

The following letter was sent to the parents and guardians of kindergarteners at the Harley Avenue Primary School in Elwood, which is in Suffolk County, New York. The letter explains that the school’s annual kindergarten show has been canceled….[A letter of explanation from the current principal of the school explains:] “Although the movement toward 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….The reason for eliminating the Kindergarten show is simple. We are responsible for preparing children for college and career with valuable lifelong skills and know that we can best do that by having them become strong readers, writers, coworkers, and problem solvers. Please…know that we are making these decisions with the interests of all children in mind.”

A long-standing and locally appreciated rite of passage for five and six-year-olds in Elwood, NY, intereres with the most effective pursuit of maximizing instruction time–and, of course, the maximization of opportunities to prepare children for the many qualifying tests which our winner-take-all social structure will legitimately demand of them? Well, the answer is a no-brainer! Away with the annual Kindergarten show! And while you’re at it, why don’t you get rid of recess too!

Personally, I think Robin puts the blame in the correct place: “I have no idea what prompted this decision or what particular constraints these teachers are facing…[though] I can well imagine these teachers not being able to reconcile the expectations of these new standards with the demands of organizing a kindergarten show. There are only so many hours in the day…[T]his decision is just a symptom of a larger problem: school in capitalist America.” Most of those I know–amongst my friends and family, and amongst many here in Wichita, KS–who have given up on public schooling for their children are of a political orientation that would probably dissent from Robin’s (and my) willingness to ultimately point our fingers at a rapacious, individualistic economic ethos which puts meritocratic accomplishment above all and undermines our civic obligations to our families and neighbors. But even whether you blame parents or school systems or state governments or federal regulations or the global economy or all of the above, we can be united, I think, in at least saying: whatever your defense of public schooling may be, the results should not be this. Leave our kindergarteners (and their end-of-year show and recesses) alone!

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