09 June 2017

Graduation Day!

By Art Taylor

Today, our son graduates from school!

...pre-school, that is.

He's only five. 

Dash will be starting kindergarten in the fall, and someone mentioned recently that there might be a kindergarten graduation next year too. We'll see how that goes when we get to it.

I'll admit straight out that I myself once scoffed at the idea of a graduation ceremony for five-year-olds or six-year-olds—or heck, even at the idea of a graduation ceremony at elementary school or middle school or junior high, whatever they term those divisions these days (we're learning ourselves with each new year). While I have no doubt that each of these stages might mark significant milestones, the need for pageantry around every move seemed... unnecessary, excessive, maybe even a little ridiculous.

I can't say I feel that way anymore.

Maybe part of that change of perspective is grounded in simple bias—now it's our child briefly in the spotlight—but I do think it's more than that. It's not just having our child in the spotlight (to shift emphasis) but having our child go through the experiences of preschool that have opened my eyes a little more.

A couple of years ago here at George Mason University, a student in one of the advanced composition courses that I teach commented (ranted really) in the class's online discussion board about the silliness of preschool education at all—basically calling it glorified daycare and arguing that kids aren't doing any significant learning at that age, nothing that could really be taught at least. Sadly, one of the teachers at my son's school has noted echoes of the same sentiments from the parents themselves, some of whom have treated her as if she's simply some form of nanny or babysitter.

Needless to say, I disagree with those attitudes.

Kids at Dash's age are like sponges (isn't that the regularly accepted simile?) taking in information all the time, at rates and in quantities far superior to what us older folks might manage. As an example, look at language acquisition—not just how kids learn their native languages but how much more smoothly they can learn different languages in those early years than later in life. Dash can count not only in English but also in Spanish—and in Chinese too. He's picked up words in several languages, songs as well. And he's always coming home with a broadened vocabulary generally, new bits of knowledge, some greater understanding of geography or science or mechanics in the afternoon than he had in the morning.

I'm certainly not arguing that any of the kids in Dash's class could jump into my advanced composition course at Mason and follow our lessons—not at all. But that student who was in that class, who dismissed early childhood education as glorified daycare.... well, I fear that he learned little over the course of that semester himself, little more than he already came in with. The curve of his learning was ultimately low. (Part of that, however, may have been simple obstinacy rather than any inability to absorb additional knowledge.) Meanwhile, the children in Dash's class are just... whoosh!

But education is about more than knowledge, and pre-school is about more than prepping kids for elementary school—and this is where the approaching milestone may mean the most.

Over these last few years, Dash and his fellow students have become far more than friends; they are indeed like a little family—even in many cases playing family, husband and wife or sister and brother, and in the process learning how to be people, how to relate to one another with appreciation and respect, really how to live as good, responsible citizens of the world, and I'm grateful to his teachers for helping to guide those life lessons as much as the traditional lessons on reading, writing, arithmetic, etc. Watching those relationships develop and grow has been magical in so many ways—the stories Dash brings home, the joy he feels about his friends—and it kind of breaks our hearts, mine and my wife Tara's, that he can't take that whole classroom of kids with him to kindergarten next year. Instead, nearly all of these children will be going in different directions from one another—sorted out by zones and districts into the various schools that are part of the complex educational system here in Northern Virginia with its booming population. We'll do our best to schedule playdates and get-togethers with his pre-school friends, of course, and we know they'll all make plenty of new friends in their new classrooms. But at the same time, the move is clearly a significant one—a closing of one chapter, an opening of another, excitement and apprehension in equal parts, and that's not just for the children but for the parents too. The joke is that there are many tears on the first and last days of school, but most of them are from the moms and dads (and the punchline is that it's not a joke).

Somewhere in there is where my perspective shifted about the idea of graduations for five-year-olds.

Dash and his friends have learned a new song that they'll sing together at graduation later this afternoon—a reflection on their time at school. He's very excited about it, and he's been previewing it for us in recent weeks—each time making my wife cry just a little. He gets to wear a graduation cap, get a diploma, eat some cake, and he's excited about all that too. Dash's school invited me to speak at the ceremony as well —just 2 to 3 minutes as part of the program—and I said, sure, glad to. How hard could it be? Tell a couple of anecdotes, thank a few key people, tell the graduating class to enjoy that cake—and then enjoy some myself! The morning after I drafted my comments, I started my stopwatch to read them aloud, make sure I landed loosely within my time limit, and I hope they'll indulge me a little since it clocks in around four minutes—though that timing is approximate at best. Every paragraph or so, I had to pause the stopwatch because I felt myself tearing up. We'll see how well I manage on stage. (I'll update in the comments below—and maybe even include the text of my speech once I've delivered it.)

In the meantime, congratulations to Dash and to all his classmates—and congratulations to all the folks graduating this month, wherever you're at in your education. Celebrate the milestone! Enjoy the moment! Have a piece of cake on me. 






17 comments:

Barb Goffman said...

Congratulations to Dash! And you and Tara too, Art. I remember when I graduated from high school being torn over how to feel because people were making a big deal about it, and I understood that somewhat because it's what people do. But on the other hand, I thought, is my graduation really that big a deal? Did anyone worry I *wasn't* going to graduate from high school? It might be a big accomplishment for some people, but for me, it was a given. (Passing chemistry might have been iffy but finishing high school never was.) So I was a bit nonplussed about all the graduation hoopla. But as you realized and articulated so nicely in regard to Dash, I see now that it's the milestone that people were celebrating, my moving on from being a child to an adult (sort of). From that approach, graduation celebrations make lots of sense. So thanks for the perspective. It's really quite helpful.

Paul D. Marks said...

Congratulations, Dash! Art and Tara too. I have to admit that I'm one of those people who sees pre-school or kindergarten graduation ceremonies as a little silly. But, Art, you've opened my eyes and I think I have a broader view of the idea of it now.

David Dean said...

Add my congrats for Dash! He's a wonderful boy and bright as they come. Pretty charming, too.

As you and Tara know, my wife, Robin, taught kindergarten for twenty-eight years and pre-school for four, and let me tell ya, those kids learned a lot. Not only the basics of grammar, math, language skills, etc...but, as you point out so rightly, also the ability to form responsible relationships with their contemporaries. In an age of such small family units, this last part grows ever more important. I was with Robin recently when a student of hers (now a graduate of the Naval Academy) sought her out to thank her for having provided the foundation to build her life upon. You mentioned how easily children can learn other languages--the young woman in question was first-generation from China; she helped her parents learn English! Robin's replacement upon her retirement was yet another of her former kindergarten students. So there you have it from the teacher's point of view (once-removed, of course).

Have a great time on this big day, and my best to young Dash and Tara!

Art Taylor said...

Thanks, Barb, Paul, and David — I so much appreciate the comments and the perspectives! And David, I love the stories about Robin's experiences. Exactly the kind of thing I was trying to gesture toward here, and glad that her own experiences support what I was thinking!

So much appreciate the good wishes!

Tara Laskowski said...

This was a great explanation of how I've been feeling about all of it as well. And yes, I cried while reading it. I think there's also something in there about teaching kids to be proud of what they've done and who they are and going through a ceremony of some kind emphasizes the importance of taking the time to recognize accomplishments and celebrate them. Whether that's for a move into formal schooling, or a book launch, or a birthday, or a wedding anniversary, why not celebrate? I love parties! (Especially when I'm not throwing them...)

Erica said...

My 37 year-old daughter still sees a friend from preschool, so those connections can last a lifetime. And " whoosh" is exactly the right word to describe the early acquisition of knowledge. My former high school students longed for the love of books and stories they remembered from their childhood, and railed against the educational system for drumming that wonder out of them. I hope Dash never loses his love of books and language. Happy graduation to all three of you!

Art Taylor said...

Erica -- Thanks for sharing that story, and yes, sadly that phrase about drumming wonder out of kids.... I hope it never happens. They're so full of curiousity about everything right now, it's exhilarating!

And Tara, glad I captured something about what you've been feeling too. (I often let Tara read drafts of my posts before they go up but not this time. Glad I was on target!)

B.K. Stevens said...

Congratulations, Art--to you, to Tara, and especially (of course!)to Dash. I think it's wonderful to have lots of celebrations to mark educational milestones, especially when students are young. I've known college students who refer to graduation as "walking," as if it's a meaningless business of walking across the stage and accepting a piece of paper, something they do only to placate their parents--the students themselves are so cool they'd rather skip all the fuss and sleep in late. But I bet there isn't one child in Dash's class who isn't excited about this day. Why not take every opportunity to show children we value education and honor their efforts and accomplishments?

Art Taylor said...

Thanks, Bonnie--and what's funny is, I'd heard that phrase "walking" before but never thought about the weight of it (or, rather, lack of weight). It's certainly more than a walk across a stage, and I'm glad that the school is celebrating--even at this early age--what these kids have accomplished. They're grown so much these last few years!

Elizabeth said...

Congratulations to all the Taylors! Dash sounds like a wonderful boy. My daughter went to preschool & kindergarten where there wasn't a graduation ceremony but plenty of pageantry. They put on a Xmas pageant & a spring pageant every year. She played a tomato in the spring pageant. When we all agreed she was ready, I enrolled her in first grade in Catholic school. Her birthday is late December so she missed the age cutoff for public school anyway.

Cynthia Kuhn said...

Aw, I love this. Wonderful, Art.

And congratulations, Dash!!

Steve Liskow said...

Delightful post, Art.

Congratulations to the whole family.

O'Neil De Noux said...

Nice post. Here's a different look at graduations - from the college level. I hate them. Then again, I was a university police officer and had to work them. Worse than football games. At games we dealt with drunks. Cops know how to deal with drunks. At graduations we dealt with angry drivers and people in wheelchairs. Nothing's worse than a driver who comes late to a graduation and it's the cop's fault the lots are full and they HAVE TO WALK. We had wheelchair duels inside. People angry because they didn't get a good spot and trying to pull others in wheelchairs out of their way. Never failed - we had to call ambulances to take people to the hospital because their oxygen tank run out. We don't keep extra oxygen tanks in our police cars. We almost lost a couple people. I got my foot run over once and my lieutenant almost drew down on someone who was about to run him over. And then there's graduation in December - cold, rain, miserable. The students rarely gave us trouble, except for the ones who cursed us out because there was traffic. Funniest was the one who called me a stupid fucker because of the traffic and drove off. He only went five feet and got stuck in traffic again. I walked over to his car, tapped on the window and he reluctantly rolled it down. His mother was about to cry and I laughed, said, "You didn't get far, did you?" He didn't apologize, but then again, he was a millennial. I walked away.

Art Taylor said...

Thanks, Elizabeth, Cynthia, Steve, and O'Neil--and fortunately, O'Neil, our five-year-olds and their parents were indeed better behaved.

Leigh Lundin said...

I found myself thinking maybe this is more for the parents than the kids, but perhaps that attagirl/attaboy congratulations for achievement is good for them. How many children never feel they accomplish anything worthwhile?

Congratulations to Dashiell and parents!

Robert Lopresti said...

Congrats to all. Tell that kid to pick up his crayon and start a novel. Gotta start earning his Cheerios.

Art Taylor said...

Thanks, Rob--and Dash loves his crayons, but seems to be more of an artist than a writer these days. He's always drawing something!

And Leigh, you may well be right on that point--at least as much for the parents as for the kids, if not actually more. But the children were giggly throughout some of the anecdotes I included in my remarks, and then calling out each other's names during the video/slideshow of images from recent years, and Dash rushed around to get pictures with several of his classmates ("Wait, wait, I want one with Kylie!"), so there was great joy from the kids as well throughout the celebration.