Two weeks ago at the Network for Public Education‘s conference, Yong Zhao challenged the entire concept of “readiness.”  His speech was hilarious and moving and I encourage you to check it out.  But I want to focus on one specific phrase that Yong presented us with:

“Children do not need to be ready for kindergarten.  Kindergarten needs to be ready for children.”

Cute. Warm. Kind of makes you feel good inside doesn’t it? But think deeply.  This is revolutionary!

This is a deep philosophical belief that can and should be the foundation of how we look at all public schools and all grades. In other words let’s stop blaming children, their parents and their communities for not being “ready” for school.  Let’s make sure that schools are ready for all children.

My question: Are we “ready” to flip the idea of readiness?

  • Are schools ready to educate hungry children?
  • Are schools ready to educate sick children?
  • Are schools ready to provide books for children that have none at home?
  • Are schools ready to provide blankets for homeless children in the winter?
  • Are schools ready to provide safe spaces for children to talk about the trauma in their lives?
  • Are schools ready to provide small class sizes?
  • Are schools ready to work with children of color?
  • Are schools ready to work with English language learners?
  • Are schools ready to provide all children with recess and physical activities?
  • Are schools ready to provide children with the supplies they need to complete assignments?
  • Are schools ready to provide toilet paper and facial tissues for the year?
  • Are schools ready to provide children with teachers and mentors that look like them?
  • Are schools ready to dig deep into anti-racist curricula?
  • Are schools ready to promote the study of human cooperation?
  • Are schools ready to educate children in essential knowledge about the world and the scientific realities to combat environmental ignorance?
  • Are schools of education preparing teachers ready for multicultural, multilingual, and cognitively diverse students?

Are schools ready for children?

I’m sorry but the answer is NO! And the reason is simple.  We have been tied up and consumed with imagining that the function of schooling was to confirm or deny readiness—test and punish Accountability.

Test and punish accountability has deluded our vision and twisted our goals for our public education system.  It takes the essential questions above and buries them in fictional stories of bad teachers and bad schools. Test and punish accountability allows those in power—politicians and the 1%—to duck responsibility for the general welfare of communities. It robs millions of children the OPPORTUNITY of receiving a rich and powerful public education that prepares them for critical roles as citizens in a democracy.

Testa and punish accountability denies readiness—a public school that is ready for the child.