Final Paper for Ed 300
April 19th, 2012
With today’s economy, it’s rare to see the traditional stay at home mom. Parents today are forced to both have jobs so they can keep their home and take care of their children. To survive and be successful in today’s economy, education is necessary and the more education you have, the more successful you will be. While both parents are busy working, children are increasingly putting their children into preschool than ever before (Hatch and Freeman 1988). Since preschools are becoming more readily available, educators are questioning kindergarten and it’s purpose. If going to preschool is becoming so common, should kindergarten be the start of children’s academic education? Or, should kindergarten remain non-academic?
While educators, scholars, and researchers all have different viewpoints of what the purpose of kindergarten is, it nevertheless has changed since it’s founding in 1837. Friedrich Froebel, a German pedagogue, developed kindergarten for the purpose that children grow, like a garden, and “become unified with God and ultimately with each other” (Jeynes 2006, 1937). Froebel emphasized the importance of children of this age, through kindergarten, to develop their personality, disciple and social skills that would help them become successful in school and their society (Jeynes 2006, 1937-8). But, to develop in all of those ways, play was necessary to Froebel, and to other educational psychologists of today (Jeynes 2006, 1940). The purpose of kindergarten was for natural child development and for them to prepare for their academic futures, because “Froebel believed that 4- and 5-year-old children were still quite immature” (Jeynes 2006, 1940).
However, since this kindergarten model was adapted in the United States in the late 1800’s, the kindergarten of today has changed dramatically. From being very play focused, kindergarten has become more academic-focused. Although many think kindergarten has changed for many different reasons, I argue that kindergarten has changed because the state of our economy and the strong emphasis on education. Because of the state of our economy, both parents work and send their children to preschool where their children predominately play. Moreover, the state of our economy has created a strong emphasis of education. To keep up with the global economy and competition for colleges and jobs one day, states are using standardizing testing to assess whether schools are making progress and having success. With these tests comes pressure from parents, teachers and administrators for the kids to get ahead and do well; therefore, academia has been pushed into kindergarten. The earlier you start, the better you are, is the common belief.
Although I am comparing Froebel’s model to today’s kindergarten, I think it is important to touch upon three important time periods that sought for change in education through the government, which brought about standardizing testing and academic-focused kindergarten. In 1962-1963, the Supreme Court decided that prayer and reading the bible in school was unconstitutional, and demanded the removal. Because the bible is very moral based, this significant change hindered Froebel’s model of kindergarten and “created a significant hole in the kindergarten curriculum” (Jeynes 2006, 1949). A few decades later in 1981, the “back to basics” movement became popular. Since there was a decline in academics, especially SAT scores between 1963-1980, the importance of reading and mathematics were now more emphasized in the schools. By teaching more math and reading, it was thought that scores, such as SATs, would improve (Jeynes 2006, 1950). After this movement came what is still impacting us today. More and more Americans became increasingly concerned about the academic achievement gap between urban and suburban students. In response to this concern, President Clinton in 1993 “called for voluntary nationwide standardized reading tests for fourth graders and math tests in eighth grade” (Jeynes 2006, 1951). Once George W. Bush was in office, he continued Clinton’s work by creating No Child Left Behind “which warns schools that incessant failure to give adequate instruction will result in the loss of federal funding” (Jeynes 2006, 1951), i.e. if schools did not meet the state standards, then they would lose money.
Since No Child Left Behind has been enacted, schools have felt the pressure of losing their federal money. To keep up with the state standards, testing is starting earlier, and now being pushed into kindergarten. Although testing now begins in fourth grade in public schools, they do practice tests in third grade that don’t technically count. With starting a year younger, there’s more pressure in the younger grades for the students to be ready. In an article, Who’s Pushing Whom? Stress and Kindergarten, the authors Freeman and Hatch both were not surprised that with the overwhelming pressure to do well on these tests, the first grade skills are being pushed into kindergarten (Hatch and Freeman 1988, 145). Although this article was published in 1988, even in 2011, according to Jennifer Russell, media sees kindergarten as “the new first grade” (Russell 2011, 237). Kindergarten has transformed from learning how to write, paint, use scissors, glue, and play to being expected to be able to count to 100 and be able to read before first grade (Russell, 2011, 255-6). Kindergartners now even have nightly homework (Curwood 2007, 28). What is peculiar about this sudden fast-change of academics in kindergarten is that a decade ago, only “15 percent of kindergarteners were reading” while now in Maryland’s Montgomery County, which has full day kindergarten, “90 percent of kindergarteners passed an end-of-year reading test” (Curwood 2007, 30). In addition, before there was no set curriculum for kindergarten, it was based on more of the teacher’s discretion; in contrast, today, kindergarteners must pass certain standards to go onto first grade, such as being able to “match all consonant and short-vowel sounds to appropriate letters” and “use concrete objects to determine the answers to addition and subtraction problems” (Russell 2011, 253). In all, kindergarteners are expected to master 195 skills before first grade and although this example is in California, other states are following the same sort of standards (Russell 2011, 253). Ever since the pass of No Child Left Behind, children are pressured by the schools to learn at younger ages and move further away from the traditional model of kindergarten.
However, the schools are not the only ones pushing these children to be learning at younger ages; the parents are too. With the stance of our economy, parents want to do anything and everything for their children to be ahead and to be better than everyone else. There is competition to be the best because being successful in school will help getting into colleges and later with jobs. With the pressure to achieve, mother’s of kindergartners are “”demanding that their five-year-olds be taught to read”” (Russell 2011, 250). Other parents are delaying their children starting in kindergarten, keeping them in preschool a year longer because they do not feel that their children are ready for the academics and hope that by holding them back, it will increase “future scholastic competitiveness” (Russell 20011, 250). In addition to this, upper class parents believe that by starting their children at younger ages, their children will have more of an advantage ““in a race to Harvard,” a reference to starting early in preparation for elite university admissions” (Russell 2011, 250).