Magazine | November 13, 2017, Issue

Letters

Teacher Elizabeth Moguel poses for a photograph with her seventh grade Latin class at Boston Latin School in Boston, Massachusetts September 17, 2015. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

Kindergarten Controversy

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

Chicago, Ill.

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.

NR Editors includes members of the editorial staff of the National Review magazine and website.

In This Issue

Articles

Features

Books, Arts & Manners

Sections

Poetry

Poetry

IN PLATO’S CAVE As lights in some cheap movie lit Reveal the filth in which we sit; And eyes around recoil in fright: In Plato’s cave we hate the light. But dream of being in ...
Letters

Letters

Kindergarten Controversy 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 ...
The Week

The Week

‐ So it took only 20 percent of the U.S. uranium supply to make Hillary radioactive. ‐ Former president George W. Bush gave an address in New York on “the Spirit ...

Most Popular

Culture

Jussie Smollett Jokes Declared Off-Limits

The Jussie Smollett story has been declared not fit for jokes. "It's a straight-up tragedy," declares the co-creator of a Comedy Central show, South Side, set in Chicago. Bashir Salahuddin, a former Jimmy Fallon writer, says “The whole situation is unfortunate. Particularly for the city, there’s bigger ... Read More
U.S.

What The 1619 Project Leaves Out

“The goal of The 1619 Project, a major initiative from The New York Times that this issue of the magazine inaugurates, is to reframe American history by considering what it would mean to regard 1619 as our nation’s birth year,” The New York Times Magazine editors declare. “Doing so requires us to place ... Read More
PC Culture

Courage Is the Cure for Political Correctness

This might come as some surprise to observers of our campus culture wars, but there was a time, not long ago, when the situation in American higher education was much worse. There a wave of vicious campus activism aimed at silencing heterodox speakers, and it was typically empowered by a comprehensive regime of ... Read More