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Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Kindergarten, I Rebuke Thee

You would not know this by visiting my nondescript suburban neighborhood, but a war is raging here.  And the rebel-in-command resides under my roof.  

Kingpin heads kindergarten rebellion

And this is not just any war, but THE war.  You know--the one against the forces of darkness.  Yep. Five -year-old Benjamin is waging jihad against the unreasonable demands of his kindergarten curriculum.   

You see, in January, Benjamin decided that he detested kindergarten.  

This came as a surprise to me as the first semester seemed to go quite well. He had quickly acquired the trappings of kindergarten success, that is, wrestling buddies he could beat and an adoring first-grader  whom he dubbed "wife." 

And he finally had access to real junk food via the school cafeteria.  This part I know because he often staggered home in an unmistakable chocolate milk haze.  (It was much harder to keep my silence when he started to come home with forbidden Dorito smears on his collar.)

So, when Benjamin suddenly announced that he hated school, I was genuinely taken by surprise.

As posted earlier, I tried everything from allowing him to take a few days, er, weeks, off from kindergarten, shortening his daily schedule, skipping homework, bribing him with computer time, toys, candy, and money, and, of course, awarding those  spine-tingling"You're Great!' stickers.  

Finally, I threatened him with the dreaded ice cream prohibition laws (as stated in the Education Code); Meanwhile, Ben's school threatened me with the equally dreaded compulsory attendance laws (also stated in the Education Code). 

As a result, I exercised my option of last resort:  
I attended kindergarten with him.  

So there I sit in class, every morning, hunched over in a tiny little desk pretending I really enjoy kindergarten.  I model rapt attention while my son and ten other pipsqueaks cast furtive glances in my direction wondering how many levels a grown-up has to flunk to get to this point in life. 

Apparently, many.

So, the war rages on between Kingpin Benjamin and kindergarten.  And I am sort of on the front lines now.

From my perspective, I think he is winning.
I think this because every afternoon, Benjamin proudly brings home the spoils of war:  tortured, and mutilated classroom worksheets of the day.  
Piles of them. 

These worksheets are mostly incomplete and are generously endowed with large blue circles from his exasperated teacher.  Obviously, "O" is a mark of surrender in Ben's eyes.

Most of these worksheets have been unceremoniously defaced by my son with some extraordinary high-pressure pencil gouges, as if to show his unmistakable contempt for the besieged kindergarten forces.  

Or perhaps pencil-gouging just might be Ben's mark of victory, sort of like Zorro's schtick with the "Z."

When I ask Benjamin why he despises kindergarten, his answers vary but are consistently intriguing.  They include the following:

Exhibit A
  1. "Too many girlfriends.  It's embarrassing."  [See, Exhibit A.]  Really, who would want to be called "Sassy Boy" by a first-grader?"
  2. "My legs hurt."  Often.
  3. "I didn't do my homework."  "No, I do not want to do it.  Are you kidding me?"  
  4. "School is too long."
  5. "Mom, I need a break."
  6. "It's not fun."
  7. "My shirt is not buttoned. No, I want to go home and button it."
  8. "I'm not comfortable without you."
  9. "Germs.  I don't want to make someone sick."
  10. "I'm too tired."  [See, Exhibit B.]

Exhibit B

So, really, how can a five-year-old hate kindergarten???  How can anyone hate kindergarten?

Maybe that answer can be found by looking into how kindergarten has changed over the years.  Let's start with a realistic analysis of what we really learned in kindergarten.  Or what we think we learned in kindergarten. Here are some examples of how in the "olden days," our curriculum ensured that those blissful half days were chock full of learning disguised as big fun:
  • Fond memories of applying glue to paper,  glue to desk tops, glue to nasal cavities, glue to scissors, glue to gum, glue to spit, and glue to spit and gum?  You guessed it:  chemistry and physics.  And really,  how better to learn those Newtonian theories than by the failures of glue against the forces of gravity? 
  • And those action-packed games of "Duck, Duck, Goose!" Biology. A highly effective way to teach the scientific classification of waterfowl, I might add.    
  • Remember sitting in a circle to play "Ring Around the Rosy"? Epidemiology. And World History.  They were teaching us how to identify the Bubonic Plague by that red ring-like rash and how it impacted those unfortunate civilians who lived in 16th Century England, right? 
  • Recall belting out rounds of the 'B-I-N-G-O' song at the top of your little lungs?  Well, that was a spelling test.  If you have any doubt as to the effectiveness of this particular teaching strategy, I challenge you to find any human being on this continent that cannot spell that stupid dog's name. 
  • And remember all those silly sounds we learned to sing in "Old MacDonald"?  That was really a foray into theoretical issues in language learning such as child, second, and foreign language acquisition, bilingualism, language representation in culture, cognition, and intergroup relations.  (If you don't believe me, just read the fine print on the course description in your kindergarten transcript.)  
  • And last, but not least, the buddy system, team-picking, and games of two-square or hop-scotch?  Well....  We were undoubtedly learning those pesky math fundamentals.  Plus, how better to learn about sociology than by live re-enactment of the caste system of other civilizations and by discovering firsthand that one is indeed an untouchable when it comes to team-picking or the buddy system?
Contrasting all this zany learning-fun with the work of today's kindergartener is outright depressing.  Benjamin's class schedule means full days loaded with math worksheets, spelling worksheets, phonics worksheets, Spanish worksheets, and then...homework worksheets.  It means sitting from 8 to 3 in a room full of kids who already know how to write and read at the start of the school year.  In fact, Benjamin's pint-sized classmates are also mature enough to compare and boast of their academic prowess, and... they already have learned the merits of cheating.  Yep.  As I sit there trying to "blend" each morning, I watch their half-lidded eyes intently wander over to each other's worksheets while their stubby fingers exercise death-pinches on their gnawed pencils--pencils with symbolically exhausted erasers.

I am not against learning, but what has happened to the concept of making kindergarten fun?

Today, we have kindergarteners pushed to do the academic work that first and second graders were once called upon to do.  No more days full of coloring, cutting, singing, painting, napping, playing, and beloved story times.

And no chance to explore the wonders of a good bottle of Elmer's glue.

So maybe, my view from the front lines has enlightened me.  Maybe I will join Benjamin's forces after all.

The good news is that Benjamin most certainly will be given a second chance to beat the nefarious forces behind the kindergarten problem.  You see, his recent report card indicates that he has flunked and must repeat the school year.

Fortunately, the Head of School applauds Benjamin's efforts to flunk out of kindergarten.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Spring Break: The Aftermath

Enjoying a chipper morning at the breakfast table on the day the boys returned to school after vacation

Sunday, February 27, 2011

They Say it Takes A Village...

Unless the child in question is Benjamin.  

In that case, the villagers had better call for reinforcement.  Maybe even a S.W.A.T. Team.  

Yes, that is a big stick that he is brandishing in this photo.

It all started one balmy morning,  right after winter break.

When we arrived at school and queued up in the interminable car line, Benjamin simply announced that he was done with kindergarten.  He explained that he already knew everything he needed to know.  

I corrected him and said he would not know everything he needed to know until after he completed kindergarten.  And certainly not before he turned six.

He refused to get out of the car.  He would not budge even though he was by this time blocking an entire car-line full of irate parents.  (And you know they were irate after the long, long, winter vacation with no break in sight.) 

Anyway, the spectacle attracted a number of well-meaning bystanders. They all tried, one way or another,  to convince Benjamin to get out of the car and into his classroom.

He refused to budge-- notwithstanding the valiant efforts of :
  • two kindergarten classmates
  • one chapped big brother
  • one random AV tech 
  • one annoyed school receptionist
  • one determined school librarian
  • one sympathetic bystander mom
  • one primary school principal
  • one PTO president (quite skilled in the finer arts of bribery, I might add); and
  • one pleading, threatening, and sweating biological mom--who was wearing ugly house slippers.
Finally, on advice of Benjamin's teacher, I resorted to brute force.  Yes, I am ashamed to say that I wrestled my son out of the car and dragged him into the classroom. He kicked, flailed and writhed while the other students gawked in horror as if they were watching the march to death row in the film Dead Boy Walking.

Or was that Dead Man Walking?  Whatever.

After school that day, both of us were utterly exhausted from the morning spectacle.  We took a long nap together on the couch, and while he softly snored on my chest, I marveled at the amazing determination of my little boy.  I wondered whether he was just too young for the rigors of kindergarten.  Was he trying to tell me that something awful was happening at school?  Was he getting bullied?  Was his teacher mean?  Or worse, were they serving crunchy peanut butter in the cafeteria?

The bottom line was, should I keep him home if his resistance continues? 

Sure enough, the morning-departure trauma did continue.  In fact, it became a regular part of our routine. Although Benjamin had no problem getting up, showered, dressed and fed in the morning, he would not leave the car once we arrived at school.

Over time, I stopped using the car line altogether to avoid the dismay and/or amusement of the other families.  Meanwhile, I watched the other kindergarteners bounce out of their cars and bolt into their classrooms.  My Benjamin was just not interested in following suit.

So I kept him home.

Initially, I had hoped he would be bored to tears with just his mommy and the strict electronics ban.  I made sure that he had plenty of homework to do. And I waited, day after day, for a sign that he was ready to return to school.

No luck. He did not seem to miss school one bit.  Worse, his big brother was now begging to be placed under house arrest with Benjamin.

So, back to school we all headed this morning.

And today...the drop off took on an entirely new twist. Although Benjamin had promised me he was definitely going to go to school that morning, he changed his mind once we reached the promised land at the apex of the car-line.  He scooted out of my reach as I tried to pull him out the car door.  I walked to the other side of the car and watched helplessly while he scooted away from me and back to the other side.

I engaged a new crew of  villagers to help extricate my child from the car.  No amount of persuasion was working.

Growing frantic, I quickly hailed two of Benjamin's favorite kindergarten buddies.  They assessed the gravity of the situation and were more than happy to help.  I watched as they raced over to my car, jumped into the back seat and buckled themselves in right next to Benjamin.  

Now I had three truant kindergarteners to deal with instead of one.

So you see, my kid is one determined five-year-old.  No matter what the village has in mind, Benjamin has his own agenda.

Someday, this might just be a good thing--if either of us survive his kindergarten year, that is.