Kindergarten didn’t work out so well for me.
The classroom didn’t have enough room at the tables. Literally. The students rotated each week from the chairs to the floor and back again. Much later in life I learned this was true all over America when the Baby Boomers hit school. They weren’t ready for us. I longed for my time in a chair.
But I was skeptical about more than furniture. I’d decided this half-day approach was fluff. How could I learn foreign languages in three hours a day? There were no microscopes. The toys were cracked and bent. We had to take turns on the playground swings. It took weeks of waiting for five minutes of flight on a wooden seat.
Far too often, we were assigned to free drawing, probably because our overworked teacher needed time to breathe, alone in the cloakroom. I made an important PR discovery with my art. The teacher loved it when I drew a church. Sometimes the steeple with a cross was in the center. Sometimes it was on the end. I bordered it with tulips or autumn trees or snowy evergreens. As best I can remember, it’s the only attention I ever got from her. I’d carefully draw anything that came to mind—dolls or ducks or dresses. No response. Then I’d drop that church on her. “Oh, Karen! How lovely!” she’d marvel. I started wondering if she even remembered I’d already drawn dozens of churches. Probably not.
When I think back on her, she seemed frazzled and distracted. I now understand there could have been forty or more students in that public school room. Bless her heart.
But I was five years old and learning to coast in school. I was quiet. I ate my snack without spilling. I never lost my gloves. I raised my hand. As far as standards went back then, I was good to go. Classmates who consistently failed in these ways received her negative attention, harshly so. I wasn’t interested in the dark side.
I entered kindergarten with happy ambitions, but I never felt excited about anything that happened there. I didn’t learn about the world of big ideas that I believed existed if you paid attention in school. Instead, I learned how to be safely repetitive and cautious to a fault. I learned how to manipulate the adult in charge when I wanted a little praise, and I learned how to go unnoticed, too. Somehow even then I knew this wasn’t right. I could tell there was too much room in the system for mediocrity.
A teacher should have been pressing me forward, challenging me.
Instead, I just kept my eye on the chair I could have every other week.