A lighthearted look at news, events, culture and everyday life in New York. The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.

By Nina Pajak

Kids today are under a lot of pressure. College tuition and selectivity is at an all-time high. The job market is crap. The Masters degree is the new Bachelors degree, unless you’re a computer genius in which case you can and should gain employment as such directly out of high school (the catch is that you have to be a computer genius).

Naturally, this means that our children need to start putting their sweet little noses to the grindstone earlier and earlier to distinguish themselves as young adults. They need to hit those extracurriculars hard in high school. They need to study up, test well, volunteer, learn to express themselves creatively, be bilingual in C++, Java and Chinese, and maybe also launch a start-up business that is both profitable and charitable.

If this sounds intense, get used to it. Our children are our future as a nation, so we need the next batch to come up strong. It’s never too soon to start pushing—four, five years old. Nap time is over, kiddos. We need our kindergarteners on a rigorous curriculum if we want to stay globally competitive. Math, science, language, fun, ulcers, neurotic tics, anxiety-related mood disorders: we must win! Forget counting, if you can’t run your multiplications tables by first grade you might as well drop out and begin taking correspondence courses. Well hello, future useless underachiever, you probably had a blast in kindergarten doing ridiculous nonsense junk like “playing” and “imagining.” Let me guess: you liked play-doh, finger painting, freeze-tag, and making up stories.


That’s clearly why Harley Avenue Primary school in Elwood, N.Y. made the responsible decision to cancel their traditional end-of-year kindergarten play so that they might focus on academics in order to prepare the kids “for college and career with valuable lifelong skills,” according to a letter sent home to parents. While those parents may be upset and worried about their children being forced to buckle down and hate school at too early an age, school administrators know better. Oh, sure, school plays teach kids to learn lines, throw themselves into a collaborative project, take responsibility as a part of a whole, speak in front of a group, channel creative energy, and get excited about learning in a non-traditional way. But is it math?

That’s what I thought.

The Harley Avenue educators know that their primary responsibility is to produce students who are ready “for college and career,” and what better way than to teach them about dampening spirits, kowtowing to soul-crushing bureaucracy despite knowing better, and dutifully falling in with the pack regardless of its direction? Because it’s important to remember that this is not a unique strategy. As the administrators are hasty to point out, this is the way education is moving in this country. As a parent, though my child is only just turning one—today!—I’m glad to know that the priorities are straightening out. I was nowhere near college or career ready when I graduated from kindergarten. As a result, I spent the next five years of elementary school floundering, mired in a directionless love of reading, writing, learning, and socializing. It went downhill from there. As I aged, I fell down a dangerous spiral of intellectual curiosity and creative passion, which parlayed itself into academic ambition and a desire to achieve and gain acceptance into the university of my choice.


No wait, it gets worse. I double majored in French. The worst part is, I loved it.

QUEL HORREUR! If only I’d have been more stringently trained at the age of five to eschew joy, embrace disappointment, and perform better on standardized tests, who knows what great heights I might have reached?

I won’t perpetuate the vicious cycle. My daughter will learn to appreciate these hard truths as she grows up. Which begins right now. Alphabet: go. Count to twenty in Mandarin: Xiànzài! Year one was fun, but the party’s over. If all the other normals are going to be career and college ready at age five, we’ve got to do what we can to stay ahead of the curve.

Nina Pajak is a writer living with her husband, daughter and dog in Queens. Connect with Nina on Twitter!

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