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The Way It Was: A Reflection on a Public School Education

[Editor’s note: The author is a retired New York City public school teacher. She wrote the following letter on Oct. 10 to the New York Teacher in response to an article on picture books, and a subsequent illustration, published in the New York Times.]

Dear Editor,

I am writing to you as I certainly hope that my fellow colleagues are openly responding to the article on picture books, and the overall condition of early childhood classrooms. I can’t imagine how children will not be affected down the road by the stressful expectations placed upon them in today’s “learning” climate.

I had a wonderful childhood growing up on the Lower East Side, living in a community of caring neighborly people. My mother sent me on errands to the grocery store with a note pinned to my coat. She never worried about me, and I was proud and confident to be given responsibility at age five.

I attended kindergarten when I was four and happily spent countless hours playing games, singing, dancing, creating artistic expression, and listening to stories during story hour. I spent two wondrous years in kindergarten. I clearly remember each and every teacher with great reverence. Well-dressed, perfumed, wearing fascinating broaches and always ready to teach, to share, to listen, and to expect the very best from us. I marveled at the artifacts they brought back from their summer vacations and I know their presentations of travels with maps, photos and objects some to touch, some to observe, greatly inspired by interests in studying anthropology and art history.

Books were a sacred part of my growing up years. Gorgeous picture books, Golden Books, tiny books to treasure, poetry read by my mother visit to the library, attending story hour, joining with a card, and later becoming a member of the Junior Deluxe Club where I selected books that were mailed monthly. To this very day I treasure books, holding them, learning, remembering all the years that I read and reflected on stories illustrations and beautiful thought’s expressed on each page.

My dear parents provided a loving home life, and my school was a haven of learning, creating, friendships, playtime, exploring as a child as childhood should be.

There are no toys in kindergarten today, and picture books are now being considered questionable over chapter books — at age six!! Children are losing the most glorious years of their lives over some newly concocted fad, some money over feelings? What in the world is happening to education as it should be? John Dewey must be spinning in his grave…

Adele P. Unterberg