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Philip Kovacs Headshot

An Open Letter to My Son's Kindergarten Teacher

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KINDERGARTEN
Cathy Yeulet via Getty Images

Greetings and Salutations!

We haven't met yet, but we will soon. I need to apologize in advance because I am going to be one of "those" parents. You know, the ones who are constantly checking in, perhaps over protective to a fault.

In my defense I feel like I know a bit more about this whole school thing than most parents. Having taught kids and now teaching teachers, I have learned a good deal about what goes on in classrooms nowadays.

There is also the matter of me teaching university courses that deal with educational policy (yuk!) and educational psychology (wow!). Did you know that most of our current educational policy flies in the face of science?

Neuroscience, for example, tells us no two brains are alike, which makes me wonder why we are trying to make all of the children common.

That's really why I am writing you today. I realize you have to make sure that my son should be able to "Write numbers from 0 to 20. Represent a number of objects with a written numeral 0-20 (with 0 representing a count of no objects)," as required by the state and federal government.

He can count to ten when we are counting Angry Birds, but he has some trouble with transfer. Everything above 12 is a mystery to him, but he's eager to discover what goes on up there!

Based on what I've learned over the past 18 years in the field, I have to tell you, I don't care if he walks out of your room at the end of the year and he can't write numbers up to 20. He will pick that skill up as his life requires it.

He's only 5, and we considered holding him back a year because, as I am sure you are aware, Kindergarten is the new first grade, and he's a young 5, with a birthday in the summer.

It concerns me a bit that you are going to require him to "With guidance and support from adults, explore a variety of digital tools to produce and publish writing, including in collaboration with peers."

I appreciate the guidance and support from adults, in fact I expect it, but I'm confused about him publishing his writing. You see, he can't write.

Did you know there are countries that don't teach reading and writing until kids are 7?

Seven years old!

There are a lot of developmental changes going on in a 5-year-old's head. Maybe these countries that take a slower approach are onto something. I know Finland blows us out of the water on test scores. I also know there is a lot more to that fact than I can get to here.

I'd prefer that he skip high-stakes tests all together and let him hang out in one of your learning centers. In fact, I'm looking into the legality of me opting him out of high-stakes, standardized tests for the entire time he's in the system. I want to argue that the 4th Amendment protects us from unreasonable search and seizure. A testing schedule of 40 days is, arguably, unreasonable.

In preparation for those tests, I received a set of sight words this summer that we were supposed to teach him before he walked through your door. I need to apologize for leaving them untouched.

We did build a robot out of a giant box that he still plays with, and our living room has become Lego Land, defended by an army of square and rectangle soldiers that know exactly where to attack bare feet. We spent a good amount of time outside swimming and running and just generally goofing off, but we didn't get to the sight words.

There is research for and against having kids memorize random bits of information without some sort of context to house those bits in. I fall into the camp that believes kids should be engaged in authentic, challenging tasks that will, as age permits, require the use of numbers to, for example, build a fort (my son is an expert) and then determine which words best describe it. He's made up some funny words lately, but alas, none of them are on the sight words list.

You must be wondering what I expect him to learn while in your care. I've given it a lot of thought, and if you can get to half of it I will owe you a debt that I won't really ever be able to repay.

I'd like him to end the year a little kinder, a little more courageous, and a little more compassionate. He's doing great now, but I know what type of competitive environment he's headed into, and I know what that can do to people. There's no need for him to come home crying because he can't read as fast as the kid next to him.

It would also be incredible if, in the course of all that competition, he learns perseverance, impulse control, resiliency, and how to think about thinking. I believe these skills and capacities will get him far in life, regardless of how good he is at trigonometry later.

Most importantly, I need him to leave your classroom loving to learn. If that is all he walks away with, then you will have been successful, and I will sing your praises.

Right now he's a learning machine. He wants, terribly, to understand how things work and he's quite eager to learn to read. Preserving this drive in the face of what must be tremendous pressure on you, I fear, is going to be a challenge.

What I can offer is my help. If you don't have learning centers, I can muster up some resources to have them built for you. If you need bricks for counting, glitter for painting, or boxes for building, please don't hesitate to ask. I am in a position to be able to gather such things, and it is just as important that his classmates have the same opportunities as him, that they leave wanting to learn more and then some. Because if they don't, we risk a world full of people who aren't that imaginative or creative.

It turns out there is research arguing we are already there, and the finger points at our educational policy. Not your fault, I know... just a reality.

I think we can change the world's trajectory by raising inquisitive beings, and the place to start is in your classroom. Please let me know what I can do to support you this year. If I am around too much, am too eager to help, know that I am just making sure that my boy, and the boys and girls around him, are getting the best education they can... where education means love of learning, not memorizing disassociated facts.

One more thing... please, no worksheets.