Monday, May 12, 2014

The early days of K...

American education is commonly divided and described as follows... pre-K, K-12, and university. Pre-K refers to the time period in which education is optional, most often dependent on the needs of the mother. K-12 refers to the time starting with Kindergarten and proceeding through the grades 1-12, including elementary, middle and high school. One would get the impression that K-12 is intended to be a progression expressed as a lump sum.

So where did the magical K dividing line come into the picture? Now as educators are wondering whether Kindergarten is the new first grade, what's the big whoop? What was so special about Kindergarten? For that, it's worth looking back. Kindergarten's real purpose has been forgotten along with its origins, and before we turn K into the new first grade, we should fully understand what it was for in the first place. As Kindergarten fell into the hands of educational policy makers and administrators it was shifted off its original mission of transforming the whole of how we learn. And if we were to learn that, it could once again offer educational renewal at all levels, pre-K through university and beyond. Kindergartens began in the US as early as the 1850s, but the 1876 Philadelphia Exposition provided the opportunity for Kindergartners to show off their system of education to a nation hungry for reform. Nina C. Vandewalker described this in her book, The Kindergarten in American Education, 1908:
The Exposition kindergarten was conducted in an annex to the Woman's Pavilion, by Miss Ruth Burritt of Wisconsin, who had had several years of experience as a primary teacher before she became a kindergartner, and whose manner and insight were such as to gain adherents for the new cause. The enclosure for visitors was always crowded, many of the on-lookers being "hewers of wood and drawers of water, who were attracted by the sweet singing and were spellbound by the lovely spectacle." Thousands thronged to see the new educational departure, and many remained hours afterwards to ask questions.

The Exposition marked an epoch in the advancement of the kindergarten movement, as it marked an epoch in the history of elementary education. The ready acceptance of the kindergarten after the Philadelphia Exposition did not imply a recognition of its pedagogical value alone; in fact it is worthy of note that many of the kindergartens established at this period were philanthropic in their ultimate purpose. As the rapid growth of cities and the increasing immigration was fast developing the slum with its attendant evils, people were beginning to realize that some antidote must be found. The value of the kindergarten as a child-saving agency was at once recognized, and churches and philanthropic societies took up the movement.

The first charity kindergarten was opened in 1870 in the village of College Point, N.Y.; others were opened the same year in Cleveland, Ohio, and Florence, Mass. In speaking of this phase of kindergarten work in the Report of the Commissioner of Education, Miss Laura Fisher says : — "Centering among, and concerning itself with, the children of the poor, and having for its aim the elevation of the home, it was natural that the kindergarten as a philanthropic movement should win great and early favor. The mere fact that the children of the slums were kept off the streets, and that they were made clean and happy by kind and motherly young women; that the child thus being cared for enabled the mother to go about her work in or outside the home — all this appealed to the heart of America, and America gave freely to make these kindergartens possible. Churches established kindergartens, individuals endowed kindergartens, and associations were organized for the spread and support of kindergartens in nearly every large city."
Now as Kindergarten's name has grown meaningless, as Froebel is nearly forgotten and as K has become just a letter grade for what comes before first, and as educational policy makers attempt to impose new schemes for control of learning, the Kindergarten movement recognized the important role of mothers as the child's first teacher, and chose to empower them through music, through play, through exploratory devices that helped children to come to terms with their own creative capacities, and prepare them for lifelong learning.

Among the hewers of wood at the Exposition in 1876 was Frank Lloyd Wright's mother, Anna. As a teacher herself, she was captivated by the method and purchased Froebel blocks for her son. Here is what Frank Lloyd Wright remembered in his autobiography: "For several years I sat at the little Kindergarten table-top ... and played ... with the cube, the sphere and the triangle—these smooth wooden maple blocks ... All are in my fingers to this day ..."

Today we finished the Gaga court. You can see that kids of all ages can play in the same court at the same time, including both elementary and high school students. Double click on the video to see it on youtube in wide screen.

Make, fix and create...

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