Bullying has been in the news lately, so I’ve decided to share my family’s experience with bullying in 2007. Here’s a little background on the situation:
Our son M is highly gifted. He had been attending Kindercare since he was two-and-a-half. During the 2006-2007 school year, he began the year in the PreK classroom. After Winter break, the school decided to eliminate the PreK class, and place those students together with the three and four-year-olds. The director decided to place M (who had been reading and doing basic arithmetic since before he was three) in the Kindergarten class instead. M had turned four just a few months before he was accelerated to Kindergarten.
M seemed to be doing fine in the Kindergarten class which he attended every morning for three hours. Keep in mind that Kindergarten is not required in California, and there were no “graduation requirements” to be met in this class. Even if there had been, M would have met them. We paid for him to be in that class, and he did the work he was given in that class. He participated with the rest of the kindergarteners learning a song for their end-of-year party and graduation. The teacher ordered cute little caps and gowns for the kids to wear for their ceremony, and M was excited to wear his.
About a week before the party, I found this note in M’s cubby (names have been changed to protect the kids.)
Dear “M’s Parents”,
My name is Jack Hill. I’m Greg Hill’s father. I’m not sure if you know Greg. I know I’ve never met M.
Greg and Karl have been attending Kindercare since 2001, starting as babies just after the school opened. They’ve been here longer than any Kindercare employee. Brian and Nate started just a year or so later.
This Friday marks a completion for them—for Greg and Karl more so than the others. Greg and Karl will be the first children to complete a full course at this school. As tradition dictates, we mark that completion with a ceremony, including ceremonial garb and a certificate.
We do that to indicate and savor the accomplishment. We give the children a sense of achievement to carry with them in their new beginning as First Graders. We in turn are rewarded with a pride different from all the other feelings of pride we’ve felt for our child. This completion marks the beginning of our pride in watching our child become an adult.
My son tells me M will participate in the ceremony, but will not really graduate because he’s really just visiting Kindergarten. He wonders if that is right—and so do I.
Several of the kindergarten parents have asked themselves and each other the same question.
The children know that M is not really in their class. They know he won’t really be in kindergarten until next year. They know he hasn’t accomplished everything that they have. They know that when he participates in their graduation it will be pretend.
I would like you to know that your charade trivializes not only my child’s accomplishment or the other kindergartener’s, but yours as well—next year, when the accomplishment will be real. I began this letter with the intent to threaten and coerce you into doing what I think is right, but now I realize that perhaps you just didn’t know there’s really more to this ceremony than just dressing up. Perhaps you didn’t know that it had meaning for all of us.
I respectfully ask you to consider what this moment really means to you and your son. I ask you to weigh that value against tainting our children’s graduation.
I ask you simply to understand that you will be demonstrating reward for cheating to the entire 2007 kindergarten class by having your child participate in this graduation ceremony without basis.
I am asking you not to do that.
Now you might say that the author of this letter is obviously crazy, and should simply be ignored. However, I was concerned by the “threaten and coerce” line. The idea that another parent (whom I had never met!) could harbor so much hostility toward my family was frightening. My husband and I brought the letter to the director of the school who said she would talk to this parent. Unfortunately, after talking to him she was so intimidated that she asked us not to attend the party! We were frightened enough that we decided it wasn’t worth it to insist. Four years later, I still feel a twinge of fear when I encounter the families named in the letter in the community.
School administrators need to be aware of hostility toward gifted students, and stand up to parents who bully other families.