They’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught

You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear

You’ve got to be taught from year to year

It’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear

You’ve got to be carefully taught.

Oscar Hammerstein II, “You’ve Got to Be Taught” from the musical South Pacific, 1949
Photo by Todd Trapani on

One thing I’ve learned as a parent and as an educator: children mirror our own behavior. That makes sense, doesn’t it? Has anyone had their own child pick up some naughty language which was repeated at a most inopportune moment?

Besides being excellent observers, children look to adults – those who are their caregivers and those encountered through media as “celebrity” – for models of acceptable behaviors and interactions.

This, of course, causes me to wonder about the effect the racist and hyper-charged hate-filled “soundbites” that are blasting into our lives on a daily, and oftentimes hourly basis. What impact is this having on our children?

When adults use disparaging taunts and insulting nicknames to refer to others around them, particularly those with whom there is a disagreement, children intuit that this is an okay way to react and respond. When an adult feels compelled to tell someone to “go back where you came from” or targets people of color, the message is again condoning what I believe and know are unacceptably racist behaviors.

It won’t take much for this to spill over into diverse classrooms. School staff – all of us really – will need to be ready to counteract and replace the unacceptable with inclusiveness and kindness. While that is going to be challenging when each day brings a new low in personal interactions from some corners, it is important, essential work.

Because they’ve got to be carefully taught can run both ways.

Online Preschool? Surely you jest.

Photo by Skitterphoto on

I was once called an education technology pioneer, probably because there wasn’t anything I wouldn’t try at least once if it seemed like it might be a good fit for my students. Drawing on my experience in the private sector, and as an Instructional Technology Specialist in public schools, I embraced the idea that technology was a tool and there was a core of programming that should be in every student’s technology toolbox.

This article, An Online Preschool Closes a Gap But Exposes Another, published in the New York Times, however, indicates to me that educational technology has gone too far.

Briefly, the article tells of less-affluent communities who are embracing a Pre-School curriculum developed by Waterford. You can learn more about the mission of this non-profit here and read more about their partnerships.

While “preschool for all” should be must be a priority for US education, replacing a face-to-face preschool with screen time and 15 minutes of technology programming bothers me. I agree, every child should have access to preschool. As an early grade educator, I recognize that the fact that many communities that cannot and do not offer a quality preschool program puts some young children at a disadvantage which is difficult to overcome.

For some communities, offering universal preschool education through public schools is a matter of economics. There just isn’t adequate public funding for the public schools to offer preschool programs to every family wanting to send a child to preschool. Community budgets are strapped, and there are as many reasons for short funds as there are preschoolers, so community leaders do as the mayor in Fowler, California has done: offer a freebie program for online preschool access.

While I understand that this may seem like a good idea on the surface, it is not. In an effort to ensure every child can read by Grade 3, academics are being foisted onto 4 year olds. That is wrong.

The question is: Just what should a preschool program look like? Should a preschool be 15 minutes of drill and kill on a computer? Who is deciding which computer-aided skills are taught? I ask this because I was stunned to discover the Waterford program teaching silent letters as a phonics skills appropriate for preschoolers. When I actively taught Grade 2, “i+gh” for example was a second grade skill, not a preschool/pre-reading skill.

Preschool, in my opinion, should be heavily weighted toward teaching children to get along with each other, to share and take turns, and to learn appropriate group social behaviors. Preschoolers should also be allowed to learn by experiences; those experiences are important to everything that comes later in learning. Preschool children need to form a strong, compassionate, relationship with the adults teaching them. A positive preschool experience sets the stage for lifelong learning attitudes. These are the things a 15-minute daily online preschool program can never provide.

Our education leaders, in fact all of us, need to step up efforts to make an affordable universal preschool experience available to all who would like one, and stop relying on questionable “free” software to fill in the gap.