Screen Shot 2013-07-16 at 6.13.41 PMElementary school teachers who were around at the dawn of the pocket chart fondly recall their first experiences with this little bit of ingenuity. Both simple and brilliant, the bright blue nylon and clear plastic pocket chart was an instant hit with teachers and quickly become standard equipment in elementary classrooms across the country.

From the very first week of school, pocket charts -- along with hefty piles of sentence strips and colored markers -- were put to use helping eager young learners identify words and shapes and colors and numbers, write stories, and solve math problems.

Soon, variations on the original pocket charts were popping up everywhere. Calendar charts, daily schedule charts, behavior modification charts, weather charts, counting charts, attendance charts, classroom jobs charts, lunch order charts, even charts to organize your charts, worked together to help the harried teacher manage her and her students' workload.

Trust me me when I tell you I am all for making life easier, and this proliferation of specialized pocket charts with their pre-cut, pre-printed inserts was a godsend.

But recently I saw an ad for some pocket chart materials that made me sad and angry: pre-printed kindergarten standards cards, complete with " 'I Can' statements", to "display… in your classroom everyday!"

If I weren't so bothered by them, I might find it humorous that these "I Can" standards cards come with a warning: "Choking hazard."

Some of the most ardent criticisms of the current ed reform movement are its emphasis on standardization at the expense of individualization; memorization at the expense of understanding; and government promotion of an assembly line mentality at a time when what we need most is curiosity and creativity. When I envision a pocket chart full of pre-fabricated " 'I Can' statements" replacing child-directed, child-dictated, child-created statements, I have to agree with the critics. Something is going terribly wrong.

Like so many other things throughout history that have produced unintended negative consequences, the pocket chart and the ed reform movement it symbolizes are no longer purely forces for good.

Not that I blame the company selling these products. They are simply filling in a void in a marketplace whose creation we've allowed. Nor can I blame the teachers who want to use them; if you are laboring under a district or state mandate to post standards and someone else's "I Can" statements in your classroom, you may as well use the commercially prepared ones.

But to do so without acknowledging and fighting for what's being forfeited along the way is a short-term fix for a long-term injustice.

Photo courtesy of amazon.com