Last August, before Jack, began kindergarten, we went to the library. We checked out the story books about kindergarten. They told happy, hopeful tales of adorable little animals going off to play in classrooms filled with toys and free time. They talked about naptime, snack, kindly teachers, helpful friends, and recess.
We registered Jack for kindergarten at a private school because we needed full day school with after care. Our work schedules couldn’t accomodate half day kindergarten. We thought it would be a nice transition from his progressive pre-school/daycare where he had been since infancy.
Armed with positive attitudes, we purchased crisp uniforms, healthy snacks, and a little mat for rest time.
Fast forward six months: It is a Herculean feat to get Jack up in the morning and ready for school.
Jack trudges out of the school building at the end of the day, the weight of the world in his backpack. He barely talks in the car on the way home. Once home, he curls up on the couch with his blankie, stating he’s tired. He doesn’t want to play, or have snack. He prickles if I ask him about his day.
Jack trotted off happily in September. He came home his first day stating he couldn’t wait to get homework.
Wait, homework? In kindergarten? Um, don’t children’s brains pretty much shut off for the day at like 3 p.m.? (I’m just a lowly child and family therapist, but I thought I read that somewhere.) How were we expected to do homework with our child after getting home from work around 6 p.m.? Maybe it would just be coloring pages or family reading time, I thought optomistically.
Nope. Jack gets math and literacy homework, plus reading. Every night. To his credit, he puts time and effort into it, sometimes to the point of being up past bedtime, his overtired brain short-circuiting because he can not find the exact shade of blue-green with which to color, which in turn leads to a tantrum, which prolongs bedtime, which exacerbates his exhaustion, which. . . you get the picture.
One night I cuddled with him at bedtime. He mentioned an abrasion he had on his arm from falling on the playground. “Ben tripped me,” he said.
“Wow buddy,” I sighed. “Kindergarten is pretty stressful, huh?”
“Yeah,” he replied, and thought a moment before adding, “We don’t even get nap time anymore, because we are ‘sposed to be getting ready for first grade, so I’m always tired. And we hardly ever get to play at centers either. It’s just all work.”
I stayed with him, rubbed his back and ruffled his hair until he fell asleep. It will all be okay, I whispered, before leaving his room.
The exchange left me depressed, questioning if we should have waited a year for him to start institutionalized education. It also left me guilty that we work and can’t be with him more during the week, that we can’t afford to home school or send him to an alternative setting where his sensitive, creative soul would be nurtured.
I hate kindergarten.
I hate seeing my kid stressed and miserable. I hate doing homework with him at 6:30 at night, or worse, rushing him through it in the morning.
I hate seeing the world of education trying to pulverize his heart and soul to fit into some stupid box.
I hate that Jack has lost some of his innocence since starting kindergarten. One morning, before the bell I witnessed a “big boy” on the playground shouting rap lyrics at my son and his five year old cohorts, while gyrating his hips and gesticulating at his crotch. I hate that Jack is exposed to so many “unknowns” in terms of his classmates and family cultures that may not be as conservative as ours. I hate that he thinks this “big boy” behavior is cool, and then gets “behavior needs improvement” checked on his progress report.
I hate that I feel like “That Mom,” when I advocate for my child, you know, the one who always complains and never believes her kid does anything wrong.
I hate that Jack is graded and judged.
Don’t get me wrong, my husband and I have valued Jack’s education since day one. We read to him and encourage exploration and experimentation. We made big sacrifices to have Jack attend a daycare/pre-school that nurtured intelligence. We put a positive face forward about kindergarten for our little guy.
Jack has a good teacher who he likes. I have nothing but respect and fondness for her, but this education system, in my humble opinion, has it all wrong. There is such a rush to grow our children with so little respect for the process involved.
In my professional practice, I see many kids drop out of school. They are square pegs that the system has been trying to cram into round holes, and sick of it, they give up. At the other end of the spectrum, I see kids Jack’s age who are sick with anxiety by what the world expects of them and develop school refusal and psychosomatic issues. I encourage these kids to develop good self care and strategies to deal with their worries, or to find alternative paths to education.
All too often the bad taste they have for learning sticks. Further, if a kid doesn’t grow in the “traditional” path of school, college etc. to adulthood, it legitimizes other paths to adulthood, such as through teen pregnancy, drugs, and gangs. While not every kid who drops out is going to join a gang to fit into a system, it is a concern.
Jack will pull through. In this fact I have every confidence. We will hug him, encourage him, and give him hope. In the meantime, I would like to tell kindergarten that I think it is poopy and stupid, and it stinks like broccoli farts.
I will keep this thought to myself.
Please read my follow up post to this piece here.