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Brookline kindergartners should not be turned into frightened workers

Re “In Brookline, concerns that kindergarten is too hard” (Page A1, July 10): It is hard to say what is most disturbing about the Town of Brookline’s profound lack of understanding of the value of a true kindergarten, one in which the focus is on play for play’s sake. Yes, kindergartners also should be taught the basics, such as the letters of the alphabet, counting numbers, and the names of colors, if they do not already know them, and they should learn to follow the instructions of their teacher, perhaps their first authority figure other than their parents.

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They should learn that it is fine to make mistakes and that the trick is to learn from them and not repeat them. And yes, precocious children who already know how to read or to manipulate numbers should be given activities that correspond with and enhance their abilities.

What Brookline is doing instead is using kindergarten as a laboratory where parents’ needless anxieties about their children are catered to. It is unreasonable to expect children to read by the end of kindergarten; you cannot will children to read, no matter how much instruction you give them. By issuing progress reports that rate children’s ability or inability to read, Brookline is teaching its 5- and 6-year-olds a harsh — and false — lesson: that they are either smart or stupid.

Brookline should not turn its kindergartners into frightened workers. But if the town is determined to do so, it should call the classroom something other than kindergarten, which by definition will always be a garden for children to play in and explore.

Neil M. Kulick

Newton Centre

The writer is a public school English teacher.

Ease pressures of endless achievement, and cultivate curiosity

The front-page article about the academic challenges facing Brookline kindergartners epitomizes the downfall of so-called exemplary schools. As a longtime professional writing coach for students and adults, and an education writer and editor, I am guided, in the services I provide, by an obvious truth: To help students rise, with confidence, to their potential, one should nurture, support, and engage them.

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Overchallenging them is the exact opposite tack. It brings me students — including, yes, high achievers — with profound self-esteem issues, deeply in need of support.

There’s an obvious win-win here: If our schools swap the fear-stricken pressures of endless achievement (beginning, now, at the absurdly early age of 5) with the cultivation of curiosity, creativity, and grit, students will naturally and happily accelerate.

Jane Buchbinder

Brookline