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Meet Me Back in Kindergarten: Why Kindergarten Shouldn't Be About Tests

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KINDERGARTEN
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Some people have always clung steadfastly to the belief that the simple lessons in life are the ones that tend to matter most. (I am one of those people.) They believe the tried-and-true basics are not just true, but so fundamental to the nature of human beings that you can't imagine them being anything else. The stuff like "treat others how you want to be treated," "say thank you and please," "don't hit people": It isn't just the advice our mothers gave us, it is an unspoken creed that (at least some of us) live by. It's the stuff that matters.

It also happens to be, according to New York Times bestselling author, Robert Fulghum, everything we learned in kindergarten.

His book, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, was full of universal truths: Covering everything from "hide-and-seek, grown-up style" to taking naps, living a balanced life, and saying sorry when you hurt someone, he illustrated the lessons so powerful, we teach them to tiny people who have only begun to walk steadily a few years earlier. They are truly the most essential life lessons, the core of something, right up there with eating your vegetables and being able to spell your name.

Some days, I think the whole world needs to go back to kindergarten. A time when not only life was simple, but the lessons were simple too. Simple, but so powerful and astoundingly significant that we remind ourselves of them even now, when we're old enough to be sitting here, reading this. We remind ourselves of them when "grown-up" life seems to be a bit too much, when someone hurt our feelings or forgot their manners. Even as time passes, as children arguably grow up faster than ever before, in a world where 3-year-olds can operate iPads as seamlessly as they clutch their blankets, the fundamentals haven't changed. And so it would seem, that everything we needed to know, the life lessons that get us from one point to the next, we really did learn in kindergarten.

Not anymore.

CNBC.com reported that a new test, the Admission Assessment for Beginning Learners (AABL), will be used by some of New York's most prestigious kindergartens. The test, essentially an IQ test, will measure a student's "ability and achievement."

Gone are the days of snack time and learning to share toys with your neighbor, or learning through trial and error how to be kind. Kindergartners are no longer little humans on the cusp of their Big Adventure -- life -- and learning how life works.

What matters now isn't whether they develop the basics that will help them in every circumstance, from playing in their backyard to graduating college. What matters now is their achievement, their ability. For clarity's sake, we're talking about the ability and achievement of a newly-graduated preschooler, someone who has only been alive four or five years.

The arguments come marching in: "It's about measuring readiness!" "It's about identifying gifted young people!"

Ah, and therein lies the fatal flaw, the fact that "gifted" does not, and never will, have a solitary definition. Nor does "smart." Unfortunately for testing culture, there will always be outstandingly gifted children who test poorly. Unfortunately for this sorry state of learning, there will always be children whose version of "smart" is not so simply quantified and qualified in the confines of their grades and scores.

But really, that's beside the point. What's next, sending our preschoolers to school with briefcases in tow? Mailing first-graders rejection letters? What is this doing for our culture of learning? How is this helping our kids learn?

There are roots to academics: Reading, writing, basic math, critical thinking. So who are we to assume there aren't roots to life as well? Personally, within the course of my young adult life, the ability to solve problems with my words, treating people how I'd like to be treated, and sharing have come in handy much more often than any of the practice test questions on the AABL.

But you can't grade a good life. You can't grade good manners and getting along. Are we so determined to grade students that we've forgotten there are OTHER things they need to learn -- things that can't be graded and tallied and shoved into test categories?

It used to be a running half-joke (half-wisdom?) to tell children to "never grow up" and "stay little as long as you can." They aren't little now. They are the tested and the testing. We're charting their achievement before we've taught them to spell the word. These tests set the tone for their lives and their learning before they're old enough to realize that's something they have the power to define themselves.

So stop for a moment. Forget their grades, their achievement. Think of yourself... yes, yourself. Think of playing outside. Think of made-up games with rules only you knew. Think of snack time, think of naps. Think about learning to wash your hands and share your craft supplies. Think of the time when you were filled with wonder -- when the world wasn't a test, but a lesson.

I'll meet you back in kindergarten.