Judy Blume’s Fudge and Today's Kindergarten Expectations
Published in ChicagoNow, October 13, 2014
One of my granddaughters is reading Super Fudge by Judy Blume. Published in 1980, the book was beloved by her mother when she was young. But as I reflected back to the era in which the mischievous Fudge attended kindergarten, I wondered if my granddaughter was shocked by the school’s response to Fudge’s behavior. I also wondered how his antics would be handled given the expectations in the kindergarten classrooms of today, almost 35 years later.
The title character, Fudge, is a very bright, creative, active, and unconventional child. When he starts kindergarten, he kicks his teacher, Mrs. Hildebrand, because she insists on calling him Farley, his given name, rather than Fudge, the name his family always calls him. He also refuses to conform to her strict classroom rules and tells everyone in his kindergarten class that he wants to be a bird.
So, what happened to Fudge in 1980? The principal called in his sixth-grade brother, Peter, to help. He transferred Fudge into another kindergarten classroom with a much more compatible teacher. The principal understood that Fudge was different and needed a teacher who encouraged his creativity, appreciated his imagination, and valued the unique person he was. Happy school ending all around.
Fast forward to 2014. What would happen to Fudge in today’s educational climate? I suspect Fudge would receive an immediate ODR (office disciplinary referral, AKA sent to the principal’s office) for noncompliant behavior. The principal would call his parents to school for a meeting and maybe even suspend Fudge for kicking his teacher. Fudge would have stayed in Mrs. Hildebrand’s class and would have been called Farley.
Mrs. Hildebrand would have worked with the school staff to create a RTI (response to intervention) for Fudge. This means she would have had to try various types of “high quality, scientifically-based instruction and interventions.” There would be a yearlong series of behavioral plans designed to address all of Fudge’s actions that were outside the norm of kindergarten expectations. He would be required to sit, be quiet, and work to earn a star. Mrs. Hildebrand would have to document Fudge’s progress toward complying with these interventions, a time-consuming process that would serve to frustrate her even more.
While the RTI process played out over the year, Fudge’s parents would likely be advised by the school social worker to have him evaluated to see if he had ADHD, or a conduct disorder, or was on the autistic spectrum. Chances are he would be given a prescription for Ritalin to level him out. Even on medication, Fudge would simply be too active and inattentive to thrive in Mrs. Hildebrand’s class. This would qualify Fudge for an IEP (Individualized Education Plan for children with identified needs that require special services) or a 504 Plan (Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act for accommodations based on a medical diagnosis, including ADHD, hearing or visual impairment, etc.) by first grade.
In today’s public schools, the principal would never suggest assigning Fudge to a different teacher on his own accord. In fact, he probably wouldn’t do it if the parents begged him. He would argue that teachers are all following the same curriculum and holding children to the same learning and behavior standards. He would also not want to set a precedent. What if every family wanted to leave Mrs. Hildebrand’s class? She’s an award-winning teacher. Her students’ test scores are always the best.
Fudge would probably not do well on the kindergarten standardized tests used to determine his instructional level in reading. By first grade, he would be labeled as having both learning and behavioral challenges. Let’s also throw in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder since October is ADHD Month.
There is no doubt Fudge would be in huge trouble in the today’s educational climate. We don’t have much tolerance for our square pegs these days, do we?