Kindergarten or College? An Easy Choice…

January 25, 2018

In Robert Fulghum’s bestselling work, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, he contends via a variety of often entertaining and consistently heartwarming vignettes that what we learn in kindergarten is ultimately what results in a life well lived. Think of a PG version of David Sedaris with a little late 80s after-school television special sentiment sprinkled in, and you have All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. I recommend the read.

Below is a summary of Fulghum’s message, found printed on the back of various editions of his work.

Most of what I really need to know about how to live and what to do and how to be I learned in kindergarten. Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate school mountain, but there in the sand pile at Sunday school. These are the things I learned:

Share everything.
Play fair.
Don’t hit people.
Put things back where you found them.
Clean up your own mess.
Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.
Wash your hands before you eat.
Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
Live a balanced life—learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some.
Take a nap every afternoon.
When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands and stick together.
Be aware of wonder.

Fulghum’s message is an endearing one (imagine a world where we all napped every afternoon!), but he did forget one crucial lesson learned in kindergarten that is perhaps the most important skill we learn while there: how to read.

In truth kindergarten is only one of a crucial four-year journey that we call the “literacy window,” the four years spanning from PK through grade 2 when most students learn to read. As the saying goes, during these four vital years, students “learn to read” and then for the remainder of their lives they “read to learn.”

Entertain a hypothetical with me.

You have four years’ worth of resources to invest into your son or daughter’s education and must choose between two very different four-year educational chapters of your child’s life: the “kindergarten” years (the PK-grade 2 “literacy window”) or the college years.

Which four-year chapter would you choose? Which four years will prove more important for your child’s development and future success? Which four years represent your best return on investment?

In our undergraduate-admissions-obsessed culture, many may be inclined to answer emphatically: college!

That would be a mistake.

First, because we would be wise to be increasingly suspicious of the social contract that so many of us have benefited from and bought into (good college = good job = good life), as such a linear path to “success” is no longer the case in the 21st century global economy.

Second, because to succeed in college (and beyond) a student must know how to read. The “kindergarten years” or PK-grade 2 “literacy window” are far more important than the college years because they establish a foundation upon which all student success is built—it is when we “learn to read” so that we may “read to learn” for the remainder of our lives.

Robert Fulghum is right. We do learn all we need to know in kindergarten. How to share, how to care, how to play fair, oh, and how to flush.

Most importantly, we learn how to read.