Sunday reads.


Happy birthday Karen Jennings Lewis!

Charles Schwab — A core member of the ‘charter cabal’.

The Joe Berrios crime family. In case you forgot, Joe is Chairman of the Chicago Democratic Party.

Teacher disciplined because her students’ scores are too high.

Mom: My kindergartner was ‘work-sheeted to death’

Child migrants have been coming to America alone since Ellis Island.

Massacre in Gaza: At least 60 killed in Shuja’iyeh, over 60,000 in UN shelters.

An open letter to my son’s kindergarten teacher:

Greetings and Salutations!

We haven’t met yet, but we will meet 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 in the same city where I grew up and now teaching teachers (who, in many ways, are just bigger kids) in a city far away from home, 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 educational psychology, especially in light of recent advances in neuroscience?

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.

Truth be told, 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?

7 years old!

Turns out that 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 you skip 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 your 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 site 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 pretty much become Lego land, defended by an army of square and rectangle soldiers that know exactly where to attack your bare feet. We also spent a good amount of time outside swimming and running and just generally goofing off, but we didn’t get to the site words.

It turns out that 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 been making up some funny ones lately, but alas, none of them are on the site 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 our country’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.

Philip Kovacs

4 thoughts on “Sunday reads.

  1. What were the sight words? We never could find out. My wife couldn’t talk to the teachers. She would ask questions. This would invariably lead to trouble, so I had to talk to them.

    They used to tell me I was a bad father. I still don’t know what we were supposed to do with the sight words.

  2. Several comments to several people:
    HAPPY, HEALTHY Birthday, Karen!
    Philip Kovacs–I LOVE this letter! As a former Early Childhood SpEd Teacher (as well as an interim day care administrator & Developmental Kdgtn. developer & teacher {a funded summer program that–in this day & age–would NEVER get one, thin dime!}), my colleagues & I took a good amount of heat (& it wasn’t from the parents!) from “do-gooders” who would peer inside our small classes, seeing children involved in all types of play (parallel, engaged with others, chitter-chatter), gasp, & comment, “WHY are you letting these students PLAY? You’re a TEACHER–you’re SUPPOSED to be TEACHING them!!!” Because we had a half-day program (in at 8 AM, bussed out by 11:30), those-who-did-not-know-anything-at-all-about-child-development were fit to be tied that we allowed our students to “play” for–GASP!–an ENTIRE HALF HOUR out of the 3 1/2-hour class time! Now, this was in the late 1970’s-mid ’80’s (can anyone out there–ANYONE?–recall the time when principals trusted us to be thoroughly trained, certified PROFESSIONALS, thus permitting us–TRUSTING us– to go about the business of providing a FAPE (Free & Appropriate Education). So–the half-hour play/socialization time:
    many (TOO many) of these children didn’t know HOW to play, didn’t know HOW to socialize w/peers, etc. Therefore–they WERE LEARNING (“The Work of children is Play.”) Now, some might think that, while the kids were playing, I was sitting there smoking or the classroom aide was taking a coffee break. I guess we could have–the principal wasn’t skulking around the room or lurking outside the door (again, these were the days when teachers didn’t have to worry about VAMs or following the Common Core). Rather, we were doing thus: one of us was writing in a parent/teacher observation diary, so that each parent would know what was happening during the school day w/his/her own child; one of us was down on the floor w/the kids, facilitating play & proper socialization, such as promoting sharing & taking turns (this would be the adult who had more flexible joints!) So, sorry haters, we WERE WORKING–every minute. Next–what else might be going on with preschoolers? (Forget the sight words today–your kids BETTER be bathroom-ready!!!)
    That’s right–we worked on properly using the bathroom–wiping, washing the hands effectively (no such thing as hand-sanitizers then!) This being Illinois, well–kids learned how to dress in winter garb, how to tie shoes, how to button/zip up coats. As for academics, it began with environmental awareness (directly after “play” time)–time in seats, around a big calendar, so that kids were taught the days, the months, spatial relationships–everything that one needed to know (& was learned in Pre-K!). Activities were introduced by that merriest of musicians–Mr. Hap Palmer! (I STILL have his records, in case anyone needs to borrow them–probably pushed out of the education arena by Pear$on {because, at least as far as I know, these aren’t owned by Pear$on Publi$hing}. Last, but not least,
    our half-day students would eat a nutritious snack–sometimes it would be something we cooked with the kids! (Yes–a lesson involving counting, measuring, new vocab words, etc.)
    All-in-all, this was one of the most satisfying teaching experiences I have had the honor & privilege to be involved in. And I know what some of you are going to say–“Yes, but you’re talking about Pre-K, NOT Kindergarten!” Well, no–our program covered up to age 5–because, as Phillip Kovacs puts it so well, “He’s only 5…we’ve considered holding him back a year, because, as I’m sure you are aware, Kindergarten is the new first grade.”

    And, Walter, dare you ask about sight words?! Well, the definition of sight~something seen; the range of vision. So, you were supposed to put them in your range of vision and, well, LOOK at them. Sigh.

  3. It would also be incredible if, in the course of all that competition, he learns perseverance, compassion, impulse control, resiliency, and how to think about thinking.


    There have been two very troubling and serious crimes committed by Park Ridge adolescents/young adults this summer. First, a young man was the target of racial slurs (he is Asian) and stabbed in Park Ridge while walking on the street. A 48 year old father had a firecracker thrown at him when he went to find his kid at a Park Ridge park. After approaching the thrower, the man was assaulted by two 18 year olds and one 16 year old, all students at Maine South. The 18 year olds are being held at Cook County Jail on felony assault charges. Many teen onlookers laughed and filmed the incident on their cell phones.

    Park Ridge, you have a problem. And it’s not whether or not your kid qualifies for C of C or if his/her teacher is picking on them. Your children have no compassion or respect for others. They seem to think that they are better than anyone else. The schools really need to clamp down on the discipline and the parents need to stop making excuses for their kids’ behavior. Wake up!

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