All I Really Need To Know I Learned in Kindergarten was written in 1988 and through the years has developed sort of a cultish type of following. It is often quoted as being the basis for what we know. The rest of our education, both in school and out is just an addendum. Some use it against our schools and others in support. Just depending on what they are attempting to challenge. I thought I would take it from a different perspective, as I don’t work with kindergarten kids; I work with high school athletes and adults.
Most of the perspectives I have read about this book is in regard to how we really do learn all of our life skills in our early years. I certainly am not going to argue that point and that perhaps the rest of our learning experience is the learning of facts and figures. I would like to discuss however that not everything we learn at this time is useful to us as human beings. This is also not meant to be a critique of the school system, because many of the things we learn at this age are from parents, siblings, friends as well as teachers.
The reason I am looking in this direction is that so many of my clients can trace some of part of their negative behavior back to these early times. Many think that it is an experience they had much later, but let’s take a look at some common experiences in and out of sport.
One of my favorite storyteller, singer, and song writer’s is the late Harry Chapin. Most people know him for Taxi. He wrote another song called “Flowers are Red”.
It’s all about how a teacher that criticizes a young boy about his drawings and takes an energetic, young child with a vivid imagination and crushes his vitality. I suspect a lot of us have had that person in our lives. My kindergarten teacher was like that. I drew a lot of people using triangles for bodies. I was told I was stupid and would never be an artist. Funny the things we remember. Even some of our really good teachers didn’t always get it right.
My mother around that time told me I was an awful writer because I couldn’t spell. Still can’t spell. Still feel stupid trying. Spell check is great… I’ve heard Richard Bandler speak. He is the originator let’s call him of NLP or Neuro-Linguistic Programming. In one of his talks he brings up the subject of reading. Why is it that some many people read slowly? It is mostly because we read the words out loud in our head. Why? Because our teachers wanted to know that we knew the words and reciting them out loud was the only way for them to check. If someone handed you a note and said, “Give me your money or I will blow your head off”, would you recognize the sentence or would you read each word out loud in your own head.
Think of how a child is greeted when they come home with an A on their report card. Parents are proud and boast how smart the child is. When the child comes home with a B they are also told how great they are and then (insert here) how with a little extra effort they will get an A. The child learns that even though their parents were proud of them, it was different when they got a B. Now I am not saying that we want to tell children that any grade is acceptable, what I want to show is that even without saying anything the child learns that one grade and experience is better than another.
In soccer we jump for joy over a kid scoring a goal. Some of us will tell a player how great their assist was, and few will talk about the great defense their kid showed. So players learn what it takes to get the love they want, sometimes to the detriment of the team. They are unhappy even with a good game when they have not scored.
I know baseball players that sulk every time they strike out. It is not their competitive spirit. It is because they still hear their t-ball or parent, or team mate telling them that if they walk away happy they are not a competitor. I’ve known runners that have wanted to quit because of a bad race, because somewhere inside them is a voice that says, you did not perform to our expectations, you are a bad child. I spend a lot of time helping athletes that are still trying to please a parent, early coach or friend, instead of working towards a developmental or team goal.
This of course carries forward in our adult lives when sales people afraid of not making a sale; managers afraid to fire bad employees; accountants so anal that they slow a business down because one time when they were young they got a decimal place wrong. I’m not suggesting we leave out the decimal place, but we do need to move forward and we have computer programs to check those things now.
So while “All I Really Need To Know I Learned in Kindergarten” is likely true, it is also true that all of the other things that are not all that helpful in life, I also learned in those early school years. I am not even talking about bad teachers and bad parents. I’m talking about the good ones that inadvertently influenced out lives.
Now in truth as I tell many of the athletes and people I work with I do not care if you hate your mother or father. (You can see I am not a psychotherapist) I am concerned with the here and now. How can I help you with your performance today? So while it is useful to understand these memories, it is not really necessary. If you are looking to affect change in your life, you must abandon holding on to them. Acknowledge them and let them go.
It’s not always easy. It’s taken me 32 years to finish my book, The Athlete within You. I’ll have done in July. “All because I couldn’t spoll.” Err SPELL.
All I Really Need To Know I Learned in Kindergarten, Robert Fulghum. New York: Villard Books, 1988.