Rainbow over Galileo Lane, Tucson

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Sweat shop kindergartens

August 26 2014

My first born great granddaughter, Ezrial, started first grade today. In June when I read about  some kindergarten curricula in Valeria Strauss ‘s Washington Post Blog I sent her an email describing Ezrial’s kindergarten in Klein School district m Houston. As a Sweat Shop Kindergarten. Apparently that phrase put a frame on what many parents and teachers were dismayed at what they were seeing in kindergartens near them.
Google Sweat Shop Kindergarten and you’ll be amazed at the response the term is getting. As they say in web talk it’s going viral.

One labor group is shocked that I would use a phrase from labor history to describe kindergartens. So I thought I’d take this space to explain my use.
It is no coincidence that the campaign in the United States for universal, free compulsory education coincided with the union movement’s campaign to end child labor, which was widespread and pulling down wages of adults. Kathryn Patterspn’s masterpiece Lydie, is the story of children working in the New England textile mills.

Kindergartens came late to America- the term borrowed from the progressive educators of the enlightenment in Germany of the mid-19th century was apt: Kinder garten, a garden for children. It became a bridge between home and school. A place in school for children to spend a few hours with other five year olds, learning to socialize and play. Piaget said "play is the work of children". Vygotsky said "In play a child is a head taller than himself."

 In Highland Park Michigan, where I started my research and where Henry Ford had his first factory, every kindergarten had a fire place and its own play yard. Often there was a piano and autoharps and rhythm instruments for the children to experiment with music. Early kindergartens had sets of hollow wooden blocks big enough so it took two children to lift and maneuver. There was a sand box and a water table. And there were easels and finger paints and plastic clay for playing with art. And of course there were trikes and wagons in the play area.

 But what has happened in the last decade and a half has turned kindergarten into something quite different. No longer is there time or even a place for play. The half day has turned into a full day- difficult for little children in need of a nap. Naps are gone, no more rug to gather and hear a story or sing a song. Children are sitting at desks- all day doing work sheets. Kindergarteners are bringing home more work sheets for homework. They are learning phonics rules before they have had a chance to find out what reading and writing are for. And they are being tested on their ability to name letters and sound out two and three letter nonsense syllables the first week of kindergarten.

They are counting by 2’s and 5’s- chanting them anyway- before they have a sense  of number or one to one correspondence - There is no sand box or water table, no play house to pretend in. And kids who are barely five are getting report cards saying they may be retained – in kindergarten. And the old  joke of flunking sand box is hauntingly true.

There is only work. What kind of work? School work. That’s why I call what is happening in Ezrial’s school a sweat shop kindergarten. We have taken the children out of the factories and put them now in factory like kindergartens.

Ezrial’s lucky. She can play school with the school work. She doesn’t mind being praised for doing something meaningless well. She was six in January; some of her classmates are almost a year younger than she is. But when she comes home from school she’ll run around the house with her sister and brother or jump on the trampoline in her back yard.

Let’s give the right to be little kids back to our littlest scholars.