The other day my daughter and I were at the park. We were chatting while her brother was running around being the crazed superhero that he can be.
“Daddy”, she said, ” I don’t want to grow up.”
“Well, 4 and a half is a pretty good age.” I replied.
“Can I tell you something Daddy?”
“I’m a little scared about kindergarden.”
“That’s understandable. It can be a little scary.”
“I like pre-school. I don’t think I’ll like kindergarten.”
“I think you’ll end up liking it a whole lot. What’s daddy tell you when you are scared about something?”
“Stay calm and work through it.”
Even though our conversation ended there, my thoughts didn’t. In another 6 months my daughter was about to embark on a very exciting chapter of her life, she was about to become a public school student. In our family this is big cause for celebration. My wife, a public school teacher, and I are huge supporters of public schools. No offense to anyone, but I believe it plays an integral part in shaping who we become as adults. This is something we try our best to convey to our children.
I’m also not one of those people that think schools exist just to fill children with knowledge they can use to secure future employment. To me it goes much deeper. School is where we learn to navigate the corridors of society. We learn how to deal with people of different beliefs and agendas. A place to learn the rules of society and what it means to be a participatory citizen. Its a safe haven to potentially discover our passions, where we can risk failure and learn how to deal with its ramifications. School is a place to discover the joys of learning and the practices we can use to apply that curiosity to create a fuller existence as life long learners.
Its safe to say that I’m very excited for her to begin this adventure. However, I have some trepidation about where she is going to kick off this journey. We have become a nation obsessed with testing, measuring and ranking. Everything is a competition. Within two weeks of admission to kindergarten children are facing their first standardized tests. They are facing the pressure of measuring up to some arbitrary standards while trying to establish their touchstones. Measurements are being taken while they are still taking the measure of their new surroundings. We are applying pressure before trust is even earned. Is this really the foundation we want to be laying?
Any builder will tell you that in order to have a strong structure you have to have a strong foundation. So shouldn’t we be laying a foundation of joy, curiosity, amazement and anticipation? I’ll be honest, if had my druthers, my children would be greeted by marching bands, circus artists, and magicians everyday for the first couple of years. It would be impressed upon them that school is a place of everyday amazement and wonder inhabited by wonderful people that would guide you on amazing discoveries. You don’t want to miss a day because you might miss a miracle.
Now I know that’s not realistic. School is a place where you have to also learn the hard lessons. Lessons like hard work, diligence, attentiveness and sometimes doing things you don’t want to do, but do we have to jump right into the hard stuff? Can we not ease into those lessons after we’ve built a level of trust and buy in? Small children develop at such a rapid rate, do we really need to test them and risk categorizing them at an age when everything may change in a month? Do we really want to build a foundation on the impression that learning is a competition or something you do just so you can pass a test?
I watched as my daughter ran across the playground to join her brother. The joy she emanated was palpable. I want her to always embrace life with that joy. So as I watched them play I silently prayed. Hold on to that joy. Hold on to that courage. Hold on to that curiosity. Don’t ever let them tell you that you are not good enough or that you are just the sum of your data points. You are so much more then just the measurable. Fall in love with learning because it will serve you well for the rest of your life. I say that prayer not just for my children, but all children.