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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  1. I agree with the main sentiment expressed here, but for all I know the problem gets worse as you move away from free-enterprise capitalism and more towards socialist capitalism (aka double-plus capitalism). Maybe somebody has done a study.

  2. Actually, in expensive private pre-schools and kindergarten’s, it’s the exact opposite of what’s going on here. The elites have tons of enrichment for their kids (music, art, robotics, project-based learning etc.) with not much stress on reading and math until second grade when kids who are widely different in kindergarten in terms of skills and abilities finally start to converge.

  3. I note the use of “feel” here — “beginning to feel unsettling.” It simply sweeps away all objections to what is, by implication, a purely rational process of change. That some of us believe, based on principle, experience, and a great deal of empirical evidence, that rearing children so narrowly is deeply damaging to them psychologically and socially is inconceivable. I could ask, instead, why broad-based and open-ended education and childrearing makes progressives feel so unsettled (or why they are afraid of it).

    As to the comment about capitalism… I would call the thinking behind this sort of “education” not capitalist per se but rather industrial. Children are inputs; college- and career-ready graduates are outputs; teachers are workers implementing standards based on quantifiable data; the idea that any individual person, place, or classroom might be unique is anathema. Whoever owns the means of production, the process of production is the same. It originated from capitalist thought, but the USSR copied it from the West (and to some degree perfected it), and today’s progressives have absorbed it pretty thoroughly.

  4. These changes in schools are definitely not being driven by progressives (although they have sometimes enabled them) but by the “accountability” movement — which is rooted in conservative educational reform circles.

  5. David Walbert,

    I would call the thinking behind this sort of “education” not capitalist per se but rather industrial.

    Yes, that’s exactly correct–a particular kind of accomplish-obsessed, meritocratic ethos (which obviously has both its good points and its bad) on a mass scale, demanding accountability and measurements, which in turn demands uniformity and reliability in outputs. I happen to think it’s very hard to prevent modern capitalism from moving in that direction, but your comment clarifies what I think both Corey and I were referring to very well.

  6. Don’t blame the Soviets! At the same time when Sputnik motivated American schools toward more crazy theory, more drab memorization and more “accountability”, Russian schools were teaching math and science in what we’d call Montessori style, with lots of experiments, discussion and teamwork.

    “Sovietized” education is mainly an American development.

  7. “At the same time when Sputnik motivated American schools toward more crazy theory, more drab memorization and more “accountability”, Russian schools were teaching math and science in what we’d call Montessori style, with lots of experiments, discussion and teamwork. ”

    I take it the commenter is not old enough to have remembered this period.

  8. I’m sorry, but I have to call BS on this. This feels to me like the school district deliberately trying to stoke anti-Common Core sentiment among the parents. I live in a small town Central New York and can say conclusively that those who claim that CC is NOT entirely a mandated top-down takeover of school curriculum don’t know what they’re talking about, but I will say that I’ve never heard or seen anything like the things expressed in this letter. There is a huge political battle going on in New York state right now and this clearly looks like an effort to force parents to take one side by punishing their kids. The question is how things can wind up so that both the state bureaucrats and the teacher’s unions lose, and the local communities and parents win. Unfortunately, I don’t think there’s any hope for such an outcome at all.

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