We at Catherine Cook School are shocked and disappointed that National Review would allow Frederick Hess and Grant Addison’s article, “Classes of Kindergarteners” (October 15), to be printed without contacting the school about why we teach an Equality Unit.
The emails and conversations referenced in the article are cited without context, attribution, or request for comment. The authors show no understanding of the widely accepted work of Jerome Bruner, an influential cognitive psychologist, who asserts that instruction must be concerned with authentic experiences. The article fails to acknowledge that these teachers present their work on teaching equality to five-year-olds in national and regional conferences. The authors suggest that the work is too complex for kindergarten teachers to deliver and for five-year-olds to comprehend. Here at Catherine Cook, we believe in teachers and their ability to present even the most complicated issues of the day in developmentally appropriate ways.
We teach an Equality Unit to kindergartners that is age-appropriate. National Review readers may refer to early-childhood research and practice from Kristin Shutts, Lynn Liben, Louise Derman-Sparks, and Patricia Ramsey that support this kind of work. Decades of research reveals that children are aware of racial and other differences at an early age and studies how children interpret adults’ silence about these issues. Notably, research also stresses the importance of honest discussions about these issues with young children to reduce prejudice. With these goals in mind, the article’s reference to implicit bias is irrelevant.
This curriculum aims to help young children truly see and value one another as equals. The Equality Unit does not promote a single perspective, but gives children multiple viewpoints on which to reflect and think critically (anyone who has negotiated bedtime with a five-year-old knows that they are capable of critical thinking). Another aim of this unit is to support young children in using their voices to stand up for fairness.
It is difficult for us to understand why Mr. Hess and Mr. Addison would choose to insult the intelligence not only of our bright and curious kindergartners, but also of our thoughtful and experienced teachers.
Michael B. Roberts
Head of School, Catherine Cook School
Frederick M. Hess & Grant Addison respond: We thank Mr. Roberts for his energetic response but fear it suggests he hasn’t learned anything from this controversy. Given that the description of goings-on at Catherine Cook was mostly assembled from documentary evidence (newsletters, emails, etc.), Mr. Roberts can’t make a case that the account is inaccurate. He might have responded, “It never occurred to us that our well-meaning efforts might come across as dogmatic or that some of our families might feel intimidated and brushed aside. While we didn’t like the article, we can use it as a reminder that we must do more to respect all of our families and tackle these sensitive issues with proper care.”
Instead, Mr. Roberts chooses to double down on high-handed dismissiveness. The assertion that Catherine Cook’s teachers deemed these lessons appropriate for kindergarteners is not a defense, but an illustration of the problem. The fact that Catherine Cook’s teachers may have presented this pedagogy at conferences is not a defense but, as we suggest in the article, an indictment of just how many activist educators have allowed agendas to warp their professional discernment.
Rather than ask why some of his families might be so fearful of repercussions that they have given up on internal conversation in order to contact us, Mr. Roberts finally suggests that our piece constitutes an attack on the school’s “bright and curious kindergartners.” If that weren’t such a textbook example of educators’ using innocents to advance personal agendas, it would be quietly funny. Instead, it’s just disquieting.