Filler: In kindergarten showdown, parents and schools have it wrong

Copy of letter addressed to parents of Elwood

Copy of letter addressed to parents of Elwood kindergarten students. Elwood school officials April 27, 2014, stood behind the principal's decision to cancel a traditional Harley Avenue Primary School kindergarten event due to scheduling constraints.

Lane Filler

Portrait of Newsday editorial board member Lane Filler Lane Filler

Lane Filler is a member of the Newsday editorial board.

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I can't decide what's more amazing: On one side we have a school district canceling a kindergarten music program and arguing that the time can be better used to make the kids "college and career ready." On the other, we have parents complaining rather than sinking to their knees in thanks. They've been released from the obligation to leave work, speed over to school, and try to watch their child, through a gaggle of parents jockeying for camera position, mumble about half the words to a series of songs about ducks, lambs and irresponsible livestock workers.

I have never missed one of my daughter's athletic, dramatic, musical or academic events. Going is part of the parenting gig. But I have, when one of my daughter's kindergarten performances was suddenly canceled, dashed to the convenience store to buy lottery tickets or placed a quick bet on a longshot. That's what I do when I know it's my lucky day.

Here's what happened. Since early last month, Elwood school officials have been letting parents of Harley Avenue Primary School kindergartners know that the school's traditional musical performance and slideshow, scheduled for May 14 and 15, would not take place this year. One parent started an online petition to get it reinstated, and found some support.

Last Friday, a letter signed by the school's interim principal and four kindergarten teachers went out to parents explaining the decision. The letter was, there's no other way to put it . . . rude, arrogant, officious, poorly punctuated. One choice line: "We hope this letter serves to help you better understand how the demands of the 21st century are changing schools."

But the best was "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, co-workers 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."

If I got that letter, I'd turn to my wife and say, "I may not speak fluent Educatorese but I'm pretty sure they're telling us to 'Shut up and @#$% off.' Isn't that how you read it?"

It's not surprising then that parents became so enraged that the district had to hold a public meeting Monday night to calm things down. It doesn't appear to have done much good.

Considering that my daughter, a seventh-grader, is required to take either chorus, band or orchestra, educators clearly believe music has some educational value. Instructional time lost to snow days, the reason given for the cancellation, could easily be made up during the utterly useless final week of school, when the toughest question asked in class is traditionally "Whose mom is bringing cupcakes tomorrow?" I'd argue that the "Don't you dare question us" attitude conveyed in the letter was a slap in the face of these parents and taxpayers.

Still, parents made way too big a deal out of the cancellation of an event that (and yes, I know I'm a horrible person) would have been as enjoyable for the audience, and the performers, as watching paint dry in a really hot room while multiple car alarms go off outside.

But the two missteps aren't equal: Parents, filled with love and angst and pride and hope when it comes to their kids, are often at least a little cuckoo. Professional educators shouldn't be, nor should they be mean and dismissive.