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A Tyrannical Victory of the Common-Sense View

I was struck by the first sentence of Peggy Orenstein’s article, Kindergarten Cram, in this past week’s New York Times magazine. She claims, and I believe her, to have “made the circuit” of kindergartens in her town. And Berkeley’s no small town, mind you. I had to immediately put down the article to dodge the guilt wave that arose and threatened to soak me, Sunday bagel and all. For, you see, I have never made such a circuit. In my defense, my daughter’s not yet in kindergarten. She’ll be in pre-K next year. And I’ve visited, ahem, one pre-school, aside from the one she currently attends because, cough cough, that’s where my cousin sent his girls, it’s close to home, it’s the cheapest option we could find, and, of course it aligns with our philosophy of pedagogy and life. And, obviously, we’re NOT going to choose a kindergarten based on cost or location or convenience. Obviously we’re going to make the circuit and choose the absolute best school for our child, a school where they compost and play and don’t give homework and don’t confuse the shape of the Hebrew letter “samech” with an octagon.

Marion Milner, in her book On Not Being Able to Paint, cited in Avivah Gottleib Zornberg’s The Particulars of Rapture, describes the process of doodling, and how difficult it is, while doodling, to prevent oneself from creating a recognizable object. She writes:

It seemed almost as if at these moments one could not bear the chaos and uncertainty about what was emerging long enough, as if one had to turn the scribble into some recognizable whole when in fact the thought or mood seeking expression had not yet reached that stage. And the result was a sense of false certainty, a compulsive and deceptive sanity, a tyrannical victory of the common-sense view which always sees objects as objects, but at the cost of something else which was seeking recognition, something that was more to do with imaginative than with common-sense reality.

This is what Orenstein fears is at risk in our children’s schools – those rich moments of chaos, of uncertainty about what is emerging – moments of imagination and potential. Homework is part of the world in which sees objects as objects, but at the cost of something else.

Is it possible, though, that we too are caught in the clutches of homework’s tyrannical victory of the common-sense view? When we as parents research ad-infinitum the best possible schools and programs for our children, diligently doing our homework, aren’t we attempting to turn the scribble of parenting into some recognizable whole? Aren’t we prey to the compulsive and deceptive illusion that if we make the circuits, and at least spare them from homework until fourth grade, we will spare our children the chaos and uncertainty that we so fear?

–Maya Bernstein