EDUCATION: More than job-training

Cap and Gown Graduation for Kindergarten is Absurd

My six-year-old granddaughter just graduated from Kindergarten. The children wore blue mortar boards and academic gowns and received rolled diplomas. They marched to a syncopated song called “I love my ABCs.” Some of the children moved to the beat, dancing in their little flip-flops. It was all very cute and the parents were snapping pictures like crazy. But it was a totally inappropriate way for five and six year olds to end their first year of school.

Kindergarten graduation may be cute, but it is excessively premature. An end-of-year party with cookies and punch would surely be enough to please the little ones. If a program is desired, let them recite poems or demonstrate math skills. If dressing up is wanted, let them dress up as characters from the books they’ve read or had read to them. Mortar boards and gowns belong to the university. Using them for high school graduation is questionable, but at least students completing the twelfth grade have–one hopes–learned considerably more than the alphabet.

Graduation events for grades below the final year of high school should be seen for what they are: a commercial opportunity for manufacturers and photographers, and a manifestation of the grade inflation that infects the U.S. educational system at every level.

Americans complain regularly about the low academic standards in U.S. schools, yet U.S. parents and school personnel devalue the learning process out of a well-intentioned but misguided desire to “make children feel good about themselves.” The operative word here is “make.”

A sense of self-worth cannot be bestowed from without. Presenting every Little Leaguer with a trophy, regardless of achievement, serves only to devalue the trophy. Presenting every child with academic honors, regardless of achievement, devalues education.

Children are not stupid. It does not take them long to figure out that “trophies for everyone” means that no one has to try very hard at anything. The lucky ones have adults in their lives who counteract the effects of public education by setting standards that reward achievement and self-discipline. The unlucky ones grow up self-centered, partially educated, and angry at a world outside school that doesn’t reward them for simply being themselves.

21 Responses

  1. I agree wholeheartedly with this article. Formal graduation ceremonies for anything below high school is ridiculous. I started kindergarten in public school in 1956. There was no graduation ceremony. Likewise when I graduated elementary school in the sixth grade, there was no ceremony, just “enjoy your summer.” I attended 1 year of junior high in the seventh grade, then switched to Catholic school in the eighth grade. The only graduation thus far I had was from high school, and there was no cap and gown as the school’s tradition was to wear black tie formalwear for the boys and gowns for the girls. I wore a cap and gown at my college graduation from Georgetown and then from graduate school at Heidelberg in West Germany. All these superfluous “graduations” before high school are simply a money-making racket for school photographers, academic dress rental companies, restaurants and catering halls, etc.

  2. As a kindergarten teacher who feels ambivalent about kindergarten graduation , I am surprised to feel myself saddened by this article and the comments following it. I had looked up this article hoping to hear a strong argument for why kindergarten graduation could cause harm in order to have a more informed viewpoint as I consider myself ready to be swayed by either side of the argument. However, I found no truly robust evidence here of why k graduation is problematic. How can someone’s very vague approximation of a formalized graduation cheapen the graduation ceremonies of those who graduate from high school, college, or with advanced degrees? Does a child playing dress up as a doctor, teacher or police officer cheapen the work of those of us who hold those positions and passed the tests required to do so? (Well, if kindergarten graduation literally cheapened college and graduate school, I’d be all about that! But that’s another topic, right?!) I hope that kinder/preschool graduations, when they happen, are aspirational, teaching little people that they too can reach for the stars–and one day graduate from high school, college, or beyond, if that is what I decide is their path. Could k graduation truly help these little ones believe they belong in such a space, however? I don’t know. As folks pointed out there are no readily available studies of the long-term benefits of graduation ceremonies for ks. But an quick and dirty) Google search didn’t yield any studies about the importance of graduation ceremonies for HS or college degrees either. Do people who don’t attend graduation ceremonies do better or worse in life? The ceremony seems to mean so much less than the degree. And k graduation is definitely not celebrating a degree! It’s about celebrating a somewhat arbitrary rite of passage. Do people who celebrate birthdays do better or worse in life? There is not a ridiculously high bar for these celebrations, just as there is not a high bar for kindergartners to participate in a graduation ceremony. To get a birthday, you just need to have lived your life and been lucky enough to keep breathing past a particular date. And there are “big birthdays” (quinceneras, sweet sixteens, 18, 21, 30, 40, etc) and little ones–kind of like there are years of school that are considered bigger rites of passage than others–and these vary regionally and culturally, which makes sense because they are probably largely arbitrary. In some people’s hearts, K is a big transition year–from being a baby to being a big kid. Why did kindergarten get picked rather than 1st grade? Why is your 30th birthday a big deal and not 31? Etc, etc? No doubt there was some cultural reason for this initially, but now it’s primarily just a matter of tradition.

    The main work of kindergarten, if it is a pivotal year, I would say, is to really get some practice “learning how to learn” (ie how to be curious and find out more about something, how to get along with peers, how to negotiate the requirements placed on us by those in power–just keeping it real, here!– and how to get as big of a jump start on academic subjects as possible, especially those, like reading, that will make future learning easier). Will kids who don’t get very far on this path or don’t attend much school be excluded from kindergarten graduation? Nope, they won’t be excluded in most cases. And does this tarnish graduation for the students who by luck or by hard work were able to excel beyond other peers? Well, you know, I think that really depends on what these 5 and 6 year olds decide is important. And you know who is teaching them about that; it’s us. So maybe we want to teach them to compare themselves with others and to allow others to diminish them or make them feel higher and mightier? Or maybe we want to teach themselves to compare themselves with who they were previously so they can focus on their own progress towards their goals? Or maybe (again being real here) it’s a bit of both?

  3. Kindly mortars and gowns. Who are they really for.
    For a lot of children now they have seen preceding years using them so they will now expect to wear them. Yet is it really what the child wants. I have read several articles indicating (no research evidence) that rewarding children is important. However it should be in a way that is important to the child/children.
    I have just seen pictures of a kindy graduation and it looked more like a wedding with balloons (many) , ribbons round chairs, chairs organised in rows. Surely ask the children what they want. Let them be who they are in the moment, not some opportunity for parents to show off.
    Also consider the cost of all this. Many parents cannot afford to go over the top. Then the environmental effects. Helium is a problem in that it cannot be created, rubber balloons are not recyclable.
    And now some parents are booking limos for their kindy graduation. What will you reward them with at the next step?
    Celebrate their hard work, achievements to etc but do it for the child, not you.

  4. Marie,
    High school graduation is a long American tradition. In the days before the current nonsense that “every child must go to college,” a high school education was comprehensive enough to prepare young people for adult life and economic security. A university education was for specialized professions. I’d like to see a return to a high school curriculum that does not assume that everyone is destined for university. I don’t object to cap and gown ceremonies for high school graduates. Unfortunately, many of these ceremonies no longer proceed with dignity.

    As for cap and gown ceremonies for kindergarten and middle school, schools that hold them might do a little re-evaluating.

  5. Wtf kindergarten graduations? I was just trying to find out why Americans feel the need to put high schoolers in graduation caps etc – I find that somewhat silly. Leave it for uni. You gotta earn that hat!

  6. I may be late commenting on this, but to this day I still believe this blog rings true. In my personal opinion, I think there should only be a graduation for high school and any/all secondary education and above that has been achieved. When I was a child, I was content celebrating the passing of each year and just being acknowledged for having gotten through with maybe a small party and snacks. From elementary to middle school, I grew up with teachers that constantly advocated the importance of what was being taught for the purpose of reaching high school. When I was in high school, my teachers stressed the importance of what we were learning to achieve success in the adult world (which the amount taught in this respect is not enough) and getting through secondary and post secondary if willing and able.

    I’m also in total agreement with Jordan. I searched where I could for articles trying to show if there was any effect of graduation ceremonies at a young age and was unable to find anything. I know this is a practice that has grown more common over the years, but has not been researched enough to be put into action. If studies show that graduating from Pre-K to 12 has a positive effect then I’m all for celebrating and will be the first to throw down for a party. The problem is, without adequate research into this, we may be doing future generations a great disservice and creating even bigger problems down the road. Now to clarify, I’m not hating on kids ‘graduations’. I’m just of the opinion that its harmful to their view of themselves and the world. Kids deserve a lot better than to be set up for failure.

  7. Christian,

    I just wanted to point out the hypocrisy in your comment. Within one paragraph, you both state that we should be ashamed of ourselves and that, in accordance with the age-old tradition of shaming those who express dissent, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything at all.” By doing this, you are not respecting another person’s legitimate and reasonable opinion because you much prefer to sit in the comfortable bubble you seem to have grown accustomed to.

    Though I agree with Maeve’s blog wholeheartedly, I would change my opinion and support graduations for young children if it were proved by scientific study that it actually helped them develop into functional adults. However, in the absence of said study, I suggest we do question the ultimate goal of these ceremonies and determine what they actually contribute to a child’s development. What does less harm: graduation, or a lack thereof? I’m inclined to believe the latter does less damage since it falls out of line with the general culture we’ve cultivated in recent years that holds more value to accomplishments than is appropriate. If I was trained to expect an award after every personal achievement, I would quickly become disgruntled and unmotivated in all my other endeavors. Luckily, I developed an internal drive to succeed and will not stop, regardless of how often I am acknowledged for it. This has absolutely nothing to do with bullying or criticizing children themselves. This has to do with child development and what recipe of childhood experiences will create functioning adults who positively contribute to our society. Let’s not take away a child’s opportunity for happiness or greatness simply because we think it’s “mean” to offer constructive criticism of one of their fabricated milestones.

  8. Christina and Christian:
    To interpret this post as an attack on the concept of celebrating the completion of kindergarten is to misunderstand it. The completion of kindergarten—a child’s introduction to formal education—is a tremendous milestone and deserving of a jubilant celebration. It is an important rite of passage. I’m just saying that the celebration should be age-appropriate. Academic gown and mortar board symbolize a rite of passage that will take place much later in their lives.

  9. Wow. There’s nothing better than seeing so many “well-educated” people trashing little kids and belittling 5 year olds for accomplishing something more than “just graduating” kindergarten. You people should be ashamed of yourselves for being apart of the very institution that not only accepts but encourages bullying in our society. This article and all those who agree with this despicable grandparent who wrote it, should not be allowed anywhere near kids with this type of negativity. You should all listen to what your mothers, grandmothers or great-grandmothers have always said. If you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything at all. Give these kids a break and keep your opinions and hate to yourself.

  10. CJ,
    I had reason to recall this post recently when social media and even “genuine” news sources featured a story about a boy “graduating” from middle school. Dressed in cap and gown, backed by a row of seated faculty, he gave impersonations of three presidential candidates. His performance was well done and amusing, but it would have been far more appropriate as an act in an end-of-school talent show. Small wonder that by the time students get to high school graduation they talk throughout the ceremony.

  11. I can’t agree more. First of all kindergarten is not a graduation. We all expect our kids to FINISH kindergarten. Otherwise then your kids needs help beyond the norm.
    As an employer, I can’t even imagine in the real world someone telling me I graduated kindergarten, here is my ABC diploma. Oh my.
    It is utterly ridiculous that cap and gowns are used in any grade level besides the one that counts and actually give you a degree to present to your future employers or colleges.
    Parties okay, end of the year celebration okay but cap and gown for kindergarten, how absurd.

  12. Lori,
    I’m sorry that your comment was lost.

    I get a lot of comment spam and go through carefully, looking for genuine comments that are related to the articles they’re attached to. I may have deleted yours accidentally. Please forgive me. I really value readers’ comments.

  13. Wow. Such hate. In a world where there’s so much unhappiness & sadness, what does a little celebration matter? If you think a cap & gown are symbolic, what a waste. Seriously. It’s a rite of passage. Your cap & gown are lovely parting gifts of your last few years of academia, not to mention symbols of the debt that most students find themselves in. Your arrogance is laughable. The emotional attachment that you seem to have to some cheap fabric & cardboard is equally pathetic. I am that parent that will shell out $50 so my son can play dress up for his kinder graduation. Not for commercialism, not because I’m a lemming but because it is an important milestone for him & I honor this transition in his life. No, I don’t buy into the philosophy that everyone should get a trophy for showing up, but I know all to well that tomorrow is not guaranteed and I will unapologetically find any & EVERY reason to celebrate with my children. If for no other reason than to make memories. You guys rain on someone else’s parade, my little whippersnapper & I will not only be enjoying his kinder grad, but we’ll be hanging a superhero from the tassel. (PS: I skipped all my grad ceremonies. I didn’t need the validation & no, I didn’t hang my degrees either.)

  14. Thank goodness…I though I was the only person in the world who thinks that this “tradition” is ridiculous!As a mature-age student who graduated from two universities and wore my mortar board and gown with pride, it offends me that some tiny whippersnapper can cheapen the whole tradition at a kindergarten, or even high school, graduation. These kids simply have not yet put in the hard yards. They have done what we all did – progressed through the school system. Graduating from university means you have gone the extra mile in terms of effort and output. Moreover, the kids have no idea about the centuries-old history behind the graduation dress and, probably, couldn’t care less. Wish we could put a stop to it, but too many parents seem to think their kids deserve it!

  15. I’m curious. I left a comment here a couple of days ago, and now it is gone. Was it not worthy of publication? I read your column; I acutally subscribe to it. My comment was a memory of my own children’s kindergarten grauation ceremony, in which no caps and gowns were worn. Did I not follow some necessary protocol for commenting? If so, I’d like to know what I did wrong, and I will correct it when leaving any future comment.

  16. In a world where conformity has become a ‘chosen-must’, it is conducive to propagation of further conformity that those being conformed must be made to feel good about themselves. In the former ages, when the world’s pop. was a fraction of what it is now, there was, relatively, more genius than we have now. Giving accolades for nothing special will help continue this trend. But at least they will be happy, and thus, will not upset the status quo; which is important,if we are to keep the public at peace. … Don’t you think?

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