Wednesday, August 25, 2010

15 Capabilities

I'm a critic of the Obama administration's "Race To The Top" education initiative, but one part of the plan I support is the call for universal public preschool. The devil, however, is in the details, and I fear that our political and business leaders will once again consult only amongst themselves and mandate early childhood education programs that yet again emphasize the "test, punish, and privatize approach" that has come to characterize the rest of their education proposals, without even considering the kind play-based models that are supported both through the research, as well as our own anecdotal experiences as teachers and parents.

And when they do "test" preschoolers, what will they be looking for? Probably, what could be called "academic kindergarten readiness," which is really only a very minor part of what children need to learn in preschool in order to be successful. In fact, most of the research indicates that non-cognitive skills like motivation, sociability, the ability to work with others are far more important indicators of future success than are the so-called "academic ones."

But the politicians and business people will ask, What about accountability? How will we assess these non-quantifiable things? 

Pamela over at Leaves & Branches, Trunk & Roots has just posted the full text of a document developed by North Seattle Community College instructor Tom Drummond (one of my own ECE teachers), as part of a National Association for Early Childhood Teacher Education work group.

I'm going to post it as well. What do you think?

15 Capabilities: Outcomes for Early Eduction

Here is a way to describe more important qualities in children than "academic readiness" or the ability to pass a knowledge test for entry into elementary school.
When children leave early childhood to enter common school they can . . .


  • Participate as a member of an interdependent community.




  • Care for themselves, the others and the community.




  • Treat other with love and compassion.




  • Cooperate with other children to accomplish group goals.




  • Celebrate group accomplishments.




  • Laugh and play with a tangible sense of joy.




  • Express many human emotions in language and art.




  • Be inquisitive.




  • Initiate new ideas and invent solutions to problems.




  • Stick at difficult tasks or come back to them later in order to succeed.




  • Run, hit, catch, throw, kick and tumble.




  • Sing and dance with exuberance.




  • Paint, draw, sculpt, and construct objects of beauty.




  • Maintain the community's spaces in cleanliness and order.




  • Greet guests with courtesy and charm.



  • These are all natural acquistions for children from all cultures when they are (1) treated as capable human beings, (2) listened to and (3) trusted. Provisions for young children that offer the opportunity to be with other children can create the kind of community in which all children achieve these 15 Capabilities. Imagine all children by age 6 being this way.

    Then imagine being a Kindergarten teacher and having children with these 15 capabilities enter the room at the beginning of the year. There would be no "behavior problems." These children would be responsive and eager to learn. The teacher could get right to work, listening to the children's interests and finding out what aspect of the world they wanted to explore. If that topic were spiders, for example, children would be eager to examine, write about, read about, draw, create poetry, music, scientific displays, research, count, mathematically represent spiders. Because they shared that love of learning with others, they would exceed all the academic standards by far. Experience in a culture of a learning community is true "readiness" for school, because all children come to view themselves as capable and competent, not just a few.

    The 15 Capabilities are durable. Next year the 1st grade teacher would inherit those same children, eager and happy to be at school, not like the browbeaten, destroyed children we often see in schools today.

    It is up to every one of us who considers himself or herself a contributor to the early experience of our children -- as an elementary or early childhood, teacher or principal or parent -- to examine what we really want for our children and advocate for it with politicians, leaders, and our friends. The 15 Capabilities are what we want for all children.

    Right now the dominant discourse is about remediation for some of our children, the poor ones, the underprivileged ones, the ones that are "at risk." When community leaders and politicians want children to be "ready" for school they are speaking about poor children. Rather than offering resources, they are offering tests and standards. The implication in the dominant discourse is that certain children are deficit and need remediation.

    Actually, these children and their families need good places to be and grow with adequate resources and staff who earn a family support wage, so all our children are not destroyed by the cultures of poverty and racism. All our children can achieve the 15 Capabilities that can transform our society, reduce poverty, and make our towns and cities better places to live.

    Two actions we can take right now can help.


    1. Never accept talk about the problems of education as residing in the children or their families. The children are who they are, capable and strong from the time of their birth. Every here and now offers possibilities for new ways of being. That's what we do in school. That's our job as early educators of children and families.

    1. Talk about the 15 Capabilities rather than academic readiness as the outcome we all desire for our children and childhood.

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    9 comments:

    Jackie said...

    My little guy has a June birthday and I decided to wait to send him to kindergarten. His preschool teacher has suggested that he was probably ready academically but maybe not socially. As I look thru this list, I think he is really good at about 9 of them. Hopefully I made the right decision by waiting for kindergarten and he can get the other 6 mastered this next year in preschool. It is very helpful to see this list of capabilities. Thank you.

    Saya said...

    Universal preschool... the state of Florida has state funded pre-kindergarten program. All 4 years old within the state of Florida has right to go to preK at state's cost, for 3 hours a day for whole school year, or, all day summer program.
    Catches are - the schools which provide such program must be "approved" by the state, which requires a lot of good stuff from schools, as well as something stupid.
    And one big catch I did not like at all, is the assessment of children and the school.
    Like you worry, Tom, they assess children for "school readiness skills" and score the schools for "school readiness rate" according to that assessment. If the children from your school fall behind, you are to make changes and report to the state, and/or lose "approval" to run that state funded preK program.

    They say if we were to teach like we supposed to (they do say that play-based schools are the best ones) then we don't have to worry about getting rated low, however looking at public schools and how it's run, I am afraid that this program would run its course to become just like them - teach for assessment. I am worried.

    Sarah Airhart said...

    This list of 15 is expanded from the list of 4 from the New Zealand National Early Childhood Curriculum which I know Tom is highly influenced by especially in relation to Leanring Stories-if you want to boil it down even more fight for these:
    1. The Early Childhood Curriculum empowers the child to learn and grow
    2. Children learn through reciprocal relationships with people, places and things
    3. The early childhood curriculum reflects the holistic way children learn and grow
    4. The wider world of family and community is an integral part of the early childhood curriculum

    Pam said...

    great post...so important to remember what is REALLY important.

    Michael and Wendy said...

    Thanks for this... a fellow teacher and I were just wondering this morning how to best argue for our concept of school readiness and this has provided some wonderful inspiration. Love your work every time I get disheartened I read your blog and remember why this is a career I love

    Anonymous said...

    I believe i will be printing this out to remind myself on those days when I worry our class might have had too much "fun" (according to those who think testing is the way to go") that I am doing right by the kids. I try to remind myself that if I get fired for being too good of a preschool teacher because I listen to my kids and teach by what THEY need, it will be worth it.....Erin

    Launa Hall said...

    Wow, I love this. Thank you for sharing this--I'm printing it out and taking it to my curriculum class this semester to share with others. Awesome.

    martha brown said...

    Bravo! I'm a JK/SK teacher in Canada (the jks have to be 4 by the end of December -- i.e. I have lots of 3 year olds!)This list is perfect to remind me of what I am doing and why. We keep fighting against standardized testing in Kindergarten in our school board -- so far, we're winning!

    Smitha Ramgopal said...

    It's amazing. I am a great fan of kindergarten and montessori method of schooling. It is really nice that you have shared, unlike others, that to be academically ready, a child first needs to be intellectually and socially ready...

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