Schooling in Capitalist America

The following letter was sent to the parents and guardians of kindergarteners at the Harley Avenue Primary School in Elwood, which is in Suffolk County, New York. The letter explains that the school’s annual kindergarten show has been canceled. It is signed by the interim principal and several other individuals, at least some of whom are teachers. According to the organization that posted it on Facebook and Twitter, the letter’s authenticity has been confirmed by a parent in the school district. I also googled the names of the signatories, and several of them appear to be legitimate. (UPDATE: The letter’s authenticity has been definitely confirmed by The Washington Post.)

The letter reads as follows:

Dear Kindergarten parents and guardians:

We hope this letter serves to help you better understand how the demands of the 21st century are changing schools and, more specifically, to clarify misconceptions about the Kindergarten show. It is most important to keep in mind that this issue is not unique to Elwood. Although the movement toward more rigorous learning standards has been in the national news for more than a decade, the changing face of education is beginning to feel unsettling for some people. What and how we teach is changing to meet the demands of a changing world.

The reason for eliminating the Kindergarten show is simple. We are responsible for preparing children for college and career with valuable lifelong skills and know that we can best do that by having them become strong readers, writers, coworkers, and problem solvers. Please do not fault us for making professional decisions that we know will never be able to please everyone. But know that we are making these decisions with the interests of all children in mind.


I have no idea what prompted this decision. I do know that thinking and talking about five-year-old boys and girls in this way—”We are responsible for preparing children for college and career with valuable lifelong skills and know that we can best do that by having them become strong readers, writers, coworkers, and problem solvers”—is the very definition of a sick society. This letter, as its signatories acknowledge, is just a symptom.

Update (1 am)

Just in case there’s any confusion, I want to be clear. I didn’t post this letter in order to attack the individuals who wrote or signed it. I have a tremendous amount of respect for teachers , as anyone who follows this blog knows. As I said above, I have no idea what prompted this decision or what particular constraints these teachers are facing. Knowing the kind of pressure the teachers of my own daughter, who’s also in kindergarten here in Brooklyn, are facing, I can well imagine these teachers not being able to reconcile the expectations of these new standards with the demands of organizing a kindergarten show. There are only so many hours in the day. As I said, this letter, and this decision, is just a symptom of a larger problem: school in capitalist America.

That said, the lead signatory on this letter is the school principal, who does have to accept some responsibility for this decision. Principals are supposed to lead, not merely follow. And rather than voice any discontent with the national developments, this letter affirms and owns those developments. That, it seems to me, is a problem.


  1. MeglyMc April 26, 2014 at 12:59 am | #

    Annnnnd then they teach them to tie a tie, before they teach them to tie their shoes. *yikes*

  2. Gaurav Khanna April 26, 2014 at 1:18 am | #

    This is just plain disturbing. Good to know that there are still some parents go out of their way to find art classes and drama camps for kids.

    • Molly April 26, 2014 at 5:30 pm | #

      Yeah, rich people who can afford extra classes.

  3. Hangaku Gozen April 26, 2014 at 1:52 am | #

    Although the No Child Left Behind program is supposedly dead, benchmark testing continues to be a core component of US public schools, to the point where even kindergartners are subjected to them. At the school where I work, teachers have been tense all week because it’s the first time they’re giving the tests under the new Common Core standards that were introduced this spring. If the kids fail, the teacher gets called on the carpet, and the school can be penalized by being placed on a list of ‘failing schools,’ meaning they can be closed if the students’ scores don’t go up within two years. (The state thinks this is a very generous amount of time to turn the school around, though usually the principal and most of the teachers quit or transfer out within this period. They know a sinking ship when they see one.)

    It is very sad when even kindergartners aren’t allowed to enjoy a spring play because they have to prepare for adulthood and being a good coworker.

  4. Jack Goodman April 26, 2014 at 7:44 am | #

    Hi Corey,

    This is one of your best posts. Keep up the good work. Will I see you at reunions?

    All the best,


  5. BillR April 26, 2014 at 7:52 am | #

    Anecdotal, but I heard of a place where 8 year olds are already writing their first resume.

  6. Mark April 26, 2014 at 10:17 am | #

    It’s as non-specific as can be when you think of it. “We are not doing the show because *I’ve listened to a lot of NPR lately and this and that and look over there, crisis!* so… apologies.” Why can’t they just do a kindergarten show about the miraculous turnaround life of Steve Jobs? At least then they’d be prepared to harden themselves in preparation for a highly competitive environment in the first grade.

  7. Leo April 26, 2014 at 10:25 am | #

    If you don’t eat yer meat, you can’t have any pudding! Well, actually, you can’t have any pudding no matter what, because that would be unserious, and this kindergarten is only about serious stuff. After all, we’ve got to prepare your kids for their future roles as biochemical engineers, and theoretical physicists.

    • Chuck Hultquist April 27, 2014 at 12:58 am | #

      I think you mean investment bankers and wall street execs.

      • Bart April 27, 2014 at 2:02 pm | #

        And service workers.

  8. Lewis Stein April 26, 2014 at 10:33 am | #

    Perhaps the children and the new system would be best served by producing a Kindergarten show embodying all of the lifelong skills so clearly set forth in the letter.

  9. Raphael Sperry April 26, 2014 at 11:37 am | #

    Even by its own blinkered standards this is ridiculous. Performance is important training for jobs that include public speaking or other ways of in-person interaction. The idea here seems to blend a thoughtless submission to a future of capitalist servitude but also a hostility to personal expression and the arts more generally that fits with a more authoritarian worldview.

  10. Christine Hamilton McCann April 26, 2014 at 11:52 am | #

    Are you sure this is real? The school’s site lists the kindergarten show as scheduled for May 14-15. I’d like something more than “the people who posted this said someone said it’s legit” and the presence of some names anyone can get through Google.

  11. Elly April 26, 2014 at 11:54 am | #

    The reason for eliminating the Kindergarten show is simple. We are responsible for preparing children for college and career with valuable lifelong skills and know that we can best do that by having them become strong readers, writers, coworkers, and problem solvers.

    Uhhhh… art is part of those valuable lifelong skills. Creativity is part of what it takes to be a “problem solver.”

    I grew up in California at a time when CA K-12 schools were among the best in the nation, and art was thoroughly integrated into my classroom experiences. I drew heavily on my artistic background during my first career as a university researcher in a molecular biology/virology lab. I drew on it as a parent, too… my (now adult) kids are both creatives and top students in their respective fields of study in college. And I’m still drawing on it now, as a web/e-book designer.

    Beyond the (inappropriate, IMHO) pressure being placed on the teachers and kids to perform well on standardized tests, the notion that art is irrelevant to elementary education strikes me as wrong-headed and counterproductive.

  12. Mark Corbett Wilson April 26, 2014 at 1:19 pm | #

    Don’t Keri Colmone, Martha DeMartini and Stefani Gallagher’s signatures look suspiciously alike?

    • Alexis April 27, 2014 at 2:02 pm | #

      Those three signatures ARE the same. Any idiot can see that. Doesn’t that constitute “forgery?” So, now I ask, “What’s wrong with this picture?”

      • Francesca April 27, 2014 at 4:57 pm | #

        Probably a school secretary signs all the names after he or she types it. A common practice since it’s not a legal document that would require real signatures.

  13. Alto Berto (@AltoBerto) April 26, 2014 at 2:34 pm | #

    The free market always leads to baby farms.

  14. Syril Kline April 26, 2014 at 3:41 pm | #

    Why can’t there be a Kindergarden show about the values the principal wants to promote, such as problem solving and teamwork? As an educational consultant, I can show the entire school system how to do it. It’s easy.

  15. vecinadeblog April 26, 2014 at 4:46 pm | #

    I don’t understand the logical causality between canceling the show and everything else they said. Is the show going to ruin the future career of these children?!

  16. mickey roberts April 26, 2014 at 9:59 pm | #

    Yeah, raise those kids with no joy in their lives. Having great memories of childhood is a waste of time. Who needs musicians, painters, actors, people with imagination. This country will never again lead the world in anything. We are doomed. And yes these twits in charge can do something about it. I call “bulls#)+.

  17. Phillip April 27, 2014 at 12:21 pm | #

    Does the United States really need more actors and actresses crashing cars, drinking, having loose sex and taking narcotics? A few less kindergardners following the path of Lynsey Lohan may put our nation back on to track compete with China and Korea.
    Create? Let’s create something useful.
    Something that bogles the minds the
    minds of the young in those countries.
    We have lost a generation to video games , cell phones and electronic do dads that poisoned the US brain pool.

  18. Scott April 27, 2014 at 7:37 pm | #

    Not sure how you equate cancelling a kindergarden show with capitalism, seeing that capitalism is based on the creativity and ingenuity of people. A strict social “you must learn this as we want you to learn it” curriculum is socialist. Capitalism is the free exchange of ideas to benefit those with the best ideas. Socialism is everyone being force fed the same ideas whether they like it or not. In your twisted world, the show would have gone on, using pop culture songs to promote the capitalism you seem to think cancelling it did. You are either unable to understand what capitalism is, or just don’t care what you say If it promotes your agenda.

    • Harold April 28, 2014 at 2:44 am | #

      I’m going to have to call shenanigans with your assertion that “A strict ‘you must learn this as we want you to learn it’ curriculum is, in fact, socialist. I’m going to say it’s quite the opposite.

      Art and creativity help in learning how to think outside the box, which is a vital tool for solving problems. But the movers and shakers in the “free market” world don’t want people who know how to do that – they want people to be given standardized tests and curricula so that they can be good worker bees. After all, that’s how they see everyone who isn’t on their social level.

      • Artfan April 28, 2014 at 7:46 am | #

        Soooo tired of the “thinking out side of the box” crap. Been shoveled that old line since before I left 6th grade (in a non-capitalist educational system that taught us that everyone wins, even if only some participate).

        New for newness’ sake is simply chaos. And that’s not ART, it’s simply a bunch of people trying to force kids to do something different because they themselves are bored or unable to master the material and medium that others have worked hard to achieve. And, the kids quickly learn that they have little actual talent and huge inflated egos once they go outside of the intellectual bubble they’ve been encouraged to create.

        Sometimes thinking INSIDE the box is vital and needed. Shocker, I know! You have to think outside of the box to grasp this concept.

        What’s important is knowing when it’s appropriate to follow what’s tried and true and when it’s time to break out some new moves. And (surprise) I learned more about this when out in the working world than when I was spoon fed a load of gov’t-sponsored garbage about how I can make a difference in the world just by showing everyone I can act differently from everyone else.

        …and re: the EVIL CAPITALISM … let’s ask our artist friends who make hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants and donations by PRIVATE INDIVIDUALS and COMPANIES who have become wealthy enough to share the love. I personally have given (a LOT) of my own private stash of evil capitalist money to promote the arts. Oh and there are the artists who make a killing out in the free market, promoting their wares and in general promoting artistic concepts.

        I agree the school is incorrect in canceling the programme. Art is indeed vital to a person’s (and a culture’s) psyche. It does open a different set of thoughts and exercises a different part of one’s mind, body and soul.

        But love of art does not automatically assume that a hatred of free-market wealth is needed. That’s a simplistic viewpoint that can be overcome if one chooses to (sometimes) think inside the box and choose the mental tools that already work, and (sometimes) think outside the box and broaden our horizons.

  19. Roquentin April 29, 2014 at 11:17 am | #

    I’ve been thinking about how this relates to Althusser’s ideas about Ideological State Apparatuses. I know Althusser has fallen out of favor in more recent times, but for him the school was definitive ideological state apparatus and had far more influence on the creation of political subjects than any other institution (surpassing even the church/synagogue or family). Few things have more influence on your understanding of who you are, what is expected of you ethically, and how the world around you works than schools. If you separate it from the actual content of these common core tests, the subtext is clearly “perform or else you will be punished.” that’s the real message being sent to kids. Maybe it’s worse than that, something more like “do exactly as we say or we will destroy your future and bar you from all the good jobs.”

    Also, to turn things on their head and go to the complete opposite end of the political spectrum, you could bring in Heidegger and all his talk of “das man.” In a lot of ways he was correct in identifying how standardization of everything will basically obliterate anything that could be called “you” as an individual subject. Existentialism still has things to say about the condition of modern humanity….

  20. Claude Horvath April 29, 2014 at 7:08 pm | #

    Somebody here has more with-it factor than I. So that school’s administration expresses itself in an over-wrought manner; so what?

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