Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Kindergarten Then and Now

I had an interesting experience yesterday. I went back to Kindergarten.

Well, not really. I offered to do "brown bag" projects for the teacher, which basically consisted of cutting and pasting class material in the school cafeteria for an hour or so and then getting the pleasure of dining in said establishment with my boy.

The biggest thing that came out of my elementary school jaunt? The understanding that things have really changed in Kindergarten from the time I was there. Some good changes, but some I'm actually not so sure about.

My son attends a very large school. In fact, the school is overcrowded right now because apparently the developers of our massive neighborhood chose to build houses over planning a big enough school for all the kids in those houses. So, now, the big whoo-ha in our neighborhood is that part of our community will have to be split off and go to, gasp, another elementary school!

I shouldn't be so smart-ass about this. If my son had to switch schools for a new one, when I'd moved into this neighborhood for its award-winning elementary, I'd be pretty hacked too. It just seems like there's always something people are worked up about here though.

So, in this massive place of higher learning, there are eleven(count 'em ELEVEN) sections of kindergarten, each with 22 students.

Now, I realize getting that many students to school each day, fed, to the bathroom before any accidents, to the playground, to music or PE or art, and then back on the bus each day, well that's just downright a miracle in itself. So, I am very impressed with the well-oiled machine that I saw in action today. Everything runs like clockwork.

But, also...EVERYTHING runs like clockwork. And, these are children who aren't made to run like a clock! So, that's the issue I see with his school.

30 years ago (I'm revealing my age entirely too closely with this fact), I attended kindergarten at my small town elementary school. I loved school from the moment I set foot there and never had to be pulled out of bed to go. I loved the social side of it. Unfortunately, I think my son does too and visiting while working is VERY frowned upon in his class.

A lot of things are frowned upon, I'm learning. For example, in their class, they sit at tables of about 6-8 kids. But, when they are working, they are required to pull out this cardboard box contraption that looks like a little three-sided cube that forms an ugly brown wall all around them, so there are no distractions. Our school has an open-concept floorplan. That means, my son's class shares one very large room with 3 other classes, only divided by 5-6 food wall dividers. And they worry that his NEIGHBOR will distract him? Try the other 66 kids and 3 teachers working right next to his class!

In the cafeteria, I noticed several classes with kids walking in to eat, two straight single filed lines, with arms folded across their chests. Apparently, many teachers make them walk like this everywhere so they keep their hands to themselves. It was a bizarre site.

So, my son goes through the cafeteria line and he has about 20 minutes to eat lunch before they go out to the playground for recess. Gone is the gray-haired frumpy cafeteria lady with the hairy mole, slopping your food on an ugly peach tray. Now, it's all self-serve. My son got a warm meal in a sealed container of pizza, cobbler, green beans, a huge slice of watermelon, milk and a roll. No complaints here actually, it was a HUGE meal and everything looked good to me. And all the meals are microwave-style sealed, so you don't have to think about frumpy mole's gray hair finding its way into your cobbler somewhere down the line!

Towards the end of my dining experience, I noticed most of the Kindergarteners had their heads down on folded arms, face to the table when they finished eating. I asked my son about it and he said, "Oh, it must be a silent day." Apparently, they're expected to do this when they are done eating so that those who are not finished eat in silence and finish up more quickly.

A silent day? I'm sorry, are we raising robots here, or minds that will be our future leaders? There were just some really militaristic things I saw going on that made me a little sad. My son's and his friends all used to play "Star Wars" on the playground, picking their favorite character and acting out the scenes. They are not allowed to do anything Star Wars now, for reasons he doesn't know. (One too many light saberings, I guess.) I asked him what he does now and he said, "I don't know mom. We just run around. there are SO many kids." When I was in grade school, we had a lot of rules too. But, recess was the one time, as long as you weren't fighting, you were allowed to run free and play whatever you wanted!

So, after this experience, I started thinking to myself I'd better really ease up on all the rules at home for my son. I mean, after all, he's bombarded at school and doesn't he deserve a little break? But, then I changed my mind, because that would just work against him in the end when he doesn't know how to function with an abundance of strict rules.

As I was leaving, I heard the music teacher escorting two lines of 3rd or 4th graders out of music to their class. I watched the kids. Every one of them walked with arms straight down looking forward, as if they were ant drones going to their next big build. Shoulders back, arms pointing now without swinging, legs walking in rhythm. She inspected them as they passed her and when she got about halfway through the line, she sighed loudly making the rest of the kids in line jump and take notice, "Well, I guess only HALF of this class is PERFECT today."

I recently blogged about this new generation, which magazines have deemed "
generation perfection." Is there any WONDER why this is happening? As someone who is a perfectionist, I am saddened that these tendencies are being forced on five- and six-year-olds. Will we have any adults who think outside of the box by the time they're in the working world, or will they all just know how to follow in line, arms crossed, never touching anyone else?


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