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October 19, 2006 | 14 Comments

Dear Mr. Keillor,
I am a preschool teacher in Laguna Beach, CA.

My question: Do you believe a child will be "left behind" if they are encouraged to have a "sense of wonder," to ask questions, to have empathy for others, or to build a fort from old sheets?

I know in this age of computers it is important for us to cram children with information. I take teaching seriously and don't want to leave anyone behind.

Sandra G.
San Clemente, CA

I worry about kids, too, Sandra, and stuffing them with facts so they will test well and also about electronic over-stimulation. I think there ought to be a dreamy aspect to life, especially when you're a kid, a pleasure in reflection, the ability to lie on the ground and look at the sky. Boredom is also good. I have an 8-year-old who is a bundle of restless energy and who needs to learn the pleasure of sitting and twiddling your thumbs. I don't seem to be succeeding.


I have two daughters, ages 10 & 7. The eldest child tests well and gets wonderfully high grades. The 7 year-old, who is just as intelligent, does not test well and is "struggling" in the eyes of the school. (But not her teacher, thank goodness!) We encourage her to be who she is and that grades do not make the person.

She will be tested in life and I have every confidence that she will kick-butt!

Why does your 8 year old have to twiddle your thumbs? Why can't the child twiddle his/her own thumbs?


I want to thank you for recommending Goodnight Nebraska. After I read your comment I bought the book and thoroughly enjoyed it.


And worry we should! The new idea seems to be to mold children into little robots- or rather, good little soldiers for the american way. Why else such a push to teach children how to programme a computer if not for the purpose of eventually operating america's own versions of weapons of mass destruction? Is the plan to make children so desensitised by the violence they see on TV that they will not even blink when it comes time to follow orders to stick a rifle in someone's face while raping that person's child- all to win a war against the world?

There was a day when a child could marvel at the fluttering of a butterfly, the shape of a cloud, the twinkling of stars & lightening bugs. The smallest tinkle of a stream offered endless possiblities for discovery & adventure. Today, if a child glances out the window, perchance to dream, imagine, or reflect, he/she is labeled, drugged & monitored. And television is the reward for "good" behaviour- read: "following orders & paying attention". Videos & tv programmes for six month old babies? What happened to gazing up at a mobile & delighting in the discovery that toes feel tickley?!

Woe to the child who strives to see the dwindling beauty of this wonderous planet that his elders seem determined to systematically destroy.

Parents, please, I emplore you all: try to remember the thrill of building a tree fort from salvaged scraps (children are naturals at recycling!), laying in an overgrown field exploring the mysterious world of insects, building for hours with a pile of wooden blocks that did not come with instructions, pick-up sport games that didn't involve parents hiring professional trainers (because playing games was for fun, not for the potential future imcome the parent hoped to share)... You experienced these things as a child & you turned out OK. Why not allow the same for your own children? Let them explore their own dreams & maybe you'll have the time to finish exploring your own.

The schools are under tremendous pressure to succeed on tests. But we, as a society have become obsessed with cramming our children with an ever-increasing level of mathematical knowledge at ever-decreasing ages. Writing formulaic essays to satisfy picture prompt rubrics have taken precedence over creating stories. Values and ideals are absorbed from screenwriters and advertisers. Children are experiencing fantasy worlds through video games instead of their own imaginations, and the world through the eyes of a computer screen. It is time to let children dream, play, and create and remember that they are people, not embodied test scores.

Well said everyone.

Wasn't it Yeats who said "Education is...not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire."

Also, remember its John Dewey's birthday today!

He was kind of the father of American education and would probably have some issues with the social efficiency concepts we are seeing today with NCLB, etc,.

One of his famous quotes was.

"I believe that education is the fundamental method of social progress and reform. All reforms which rest simply upon the law, or the threatening of certain penalties, or upon changes in mechanical or outward arrangements, are transitory and futile...But through education, society can formulate its own purposes, can organize its own means and resources, and thus shape itself with definiteness and economy in the direction in which it wishes to move...Education thus conceived marks the most perfect and intimate union of science and art conceivable in human experience."
John Dewey, My Pedagogic Creed, 1987

Garrison, I totally agree and with others need to preach to the choir but I'd like to add/suggest that it never hurts to expose kids to politics too. My daughter is a huge recycler (to Catharine's post) and on her own at 6 last year, devised a club to that affect, now is tutoring kids at 7 in reading. She's obviously doing plenty to make me proud and hopeful for the planet to have her on it. But politics is something that she does pay attention to also...she questions a lot and if there's anything I'd like to see more midwesterners do, is develop some critical thinking skills like this...maybe we can avoid a repeat of 2004. I'm STILL trying to explain to her why that happened, and sadly can't.

Everyone is overlooking one fact -- as parents you are in charge of your kids and what they have
access to. If YOU buy them computers, and ipods, and video game systems and cell phones, don't complain that it is someone else's fault that they suffer from electronic over-stimulation. If you are so busy that you put infants in child care, when they could be at home experiencing all these lovely times with you just look in the mirror to see where the real responsibility lies. One of the biggest problems in America today is that people, especially parents, have had the common sense
educated right out of them.

My kids are now 14 & 16. When a kid is younger, 5-10ish, we can get away with lots of stuff as parents. We snow our kids into believing that everything we are doing for them is really, really good for them, especially trying to make them smarter. When they become teenagers, they decide its time to get back at us for all that cramming we did. Now my kids are, like, rejecting everything that I started them toward and they are saying, "It's all about what's important to me now." What is important to them is not what's important to me. What's important to them seems to all be about friends and self-gratification. My son cares about staying up all night for the chance to see Aurora Borealis, rebuilding mini bikes, and freedom. My daughter is devestated when she runs out of eyeliner. This could not be farther from the electronic world, though that 14 year old types like nothing I've ever seen before. Ain't IM wunnerful? LOL.

Will a child be "left behind" if he develops a sense of wonder at school? Well, if that's all he does, then yes, he will. As great as all this highfaluting rhetoric about dreaming is, at the end of the day if the child can't read or do math, it's hard to see how capturing the wonder of childhood is going to help him support his family as an adult.

Teach the basics AND a sense of wonder. And forget about all the technology. We are continually giving more money for the public schools (in which I am a big believer) and we are told that class sizes will be reduced and teachers will be paid more with this money, but every year we see new computers, more administrators, spanking new math curricula to replace the "outdated" two-year-old curricula (like math changes that fast), and a repeated plea for more money to raise teachers' salaries and reduce class sizes.

My mother's solution for bored children was always the suggestion of a chore. It always inspired us to seek some entertainment (reading was a good one) or at least get out of her hair.

I read in the news this week where a scientist used cable subscription and population statistics to determine that tv is linked with autism. There were immediately many rebuttals from other scientists. Personally, I think he is a fool. But, I am beginning to worry that the world is going so fast that many people are losing their ability to connect with each other, focus on family values and spend meaningful time with their children. I am also worried that the school system is not doing enough to instill good work ethics, responsibility, honesty and a curiosity and interest in learning. When I was in high shool twenty some years ago, drugs, dishonesty, and manipulation of the system were common. Little has changed in that respect, but the added factors of things like gangster rap music, school shootings, a faltering political system, and a wide open internet are not helping things. We do need to get back to basics-enjoying learning, common decency and respect, etc. We also need to teach our children to help each other improve themselves and use their imaginations, and not to foster apathy and arrogance. Many people might think that Bugs Bunny cartoons are too violent for chidren, but I grew up watching and loving Bugs Bunny, and it did not make me a violent or direspectful person. I encourage those same people to look at the current selection of cartoons, and tell me that 1)taking Bugs Bunny off of tv has helped anything, and that 2) the current selection is in any way better. I can count on one hand the number of cartoons I will let my three year old watch on tv. The rest I buy on DVD. This is just an example of the fractured sensibility that we are currently following. I do agree that we do tend to overload our children with information too much and not to foster their imaginations enough, but that is first and foremost the problem of the parents. They should be at the forefront of the solutions, communicating with their children, helping them learn and encouraging creativity in thinking and practice. Too many parents go to work every day and chase higher salaries, give their children free reign over their own development by ignoring what is going on in their lives and allowing them to do whatever they want whenever they want. If the parents took control back over their households and the school system, that would be a very good start to correcting the problems we face as a society. We need to stop and smell and appreciate the roses every now and then. Then we need to teach our children how to grow them.

Copious amounts of art supplies and limited amounts of televison work well to encourage creativity and reflective inner space at our home! And an abundance of books (even of the SpongeBob variety...)

As a former Kdg, nursery school, daycare teacher and finally prof of Child Development, I too am concerned about "no child left behind". It is causing many children to dislike school and feel like failures, in addition to having no recess, music, or art in school. As a former kdg teacher I am horrified when I see current kdg curriculum looking more like 2nd grade and preschool looking like kindergarten. Administrator and politicians need to be exposed to a good course in child development to know what can be reasonably expected of children. As to your daughter, she may just not be made to "twiddle". I'm not and at 66 unless I have a good book in my hand I I'm usually flitting or busy with something. Kathy, OKC, Ok

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