Monday, November 5, 2007

Universal Preschool - Institutionalizing 3,4 and 5 Year Olds

Home Education Magazine recently published a great article by Larry and Susan Kaseman entitled "Let's Not Institutionalize 3, 4, and 5 Year Olds".

It is an enlightening read.

With state legislatures across the country already, or soon to be, in session, I am sure we'll see the universal preschool lobby out in full force. There is big money and lots of pressure to make preschool more widely available, and perhaps even mandatory.

For homeschoolers in some states, this might mean that there would be an increase in the number of years that homeschooled children are accountable to the state, for testing, review and approval of curriculum, and even preschool health screenings.

The push for universal preschool is one that is more about money than it is about benefiting children. $chool$ can grow their budget$, teacher$ have to be credentialed by universitie$ and other program$, curriculum is $old, teacher member$hip roll$ are increa$ed... etc. It'$ a huge moneymaker for those involved in the early childhood field, and let'$ not forget the health professional$ that will be involved in early childhood $creening. Ye$, it'$ big money, and all on the taxpayer'$ dime.

There was a recent presentation at our state capitol "Summit on the Early Years" which was pitched to the legislators about the necessity of preschool as a means to close the "education gap". One of the presenters claimed that children who lag behind in the early years never make up that difference. She was full of charts and studies on brains, and basically came out saying that children in poor families where parents do not have books are tremendously at risk. I was waiting for her to say that they should be taken away from those nasty negligent underprivileged parents and just given to the state to educate alongside all those nice rich and caring white suburban parents. To me, the whole presentation sounded like veiled stereotypical racism. I mean really, we have already proven that inner city kids can catch up and learn just as well as anyone else. What they really need is the time and good educators who help motivate them and give them purpose. Of course the pitch to the legislature is basically these researchers telling them that they need to cough up some more taxpayer dough to bankroll this effort to put 3, 4, and 5 year olds into institutionalized schooling and to increase the need for "credentialed preschool educators".

Kaseman's say this:
Young children learning at home strengthen their families. In general, the more time families spend together and the more experiences they share, the stronger the bonds between parents and children and among siblings. Observers realize that learning is natural, parents are essential to the process, and experts are not needed.
For those families who cannot afford daycare or preschool - there are already so many social programs to help them out - HeadStart, and voucher money for pre-schools and various co-ops. But better yet, shouldn't we ought to be figuring out how to strengthen families and allow parents to be home with their young children, because the fact remains that an institutional setting just isn't optimal for young children's development. There will be plenty of time to be in a classroom with their peers, and plenty of time to learn how to follow directions and socialize and engage in "schooly" things.

Preschoolers need a relaxed, flexible schedule without the pressure of meeting arbitrary or artificially devised timetables and schedules. They should be able to nap when they want to, not when someone else tells them it is naptime or snacktime or playtime for a huge group of kids.

I agree with the Kasemans that preschool weakens families because it separates parents and children, and it reduces their time together as well as their shared experiences. It drains family time and energy in preparing children for school and dealing with the stress and conflicts created by the school/institutional environment along with its values and demands. This is true for any color family in any socio-economic strata and of any ethnicity.

Supporters of Universal Preschool apparently seem to believe that parents, especially poor minority urban parents, are incapable of raising their own kids without the government's help.

They keep talking about closing the achievement gap - but in reality preschool has been found to have little impact in doing that. Kids normalize by 3rd grade and any gains made early on pretty much disappear. That's been proven by some studies. All kids will eventually learn their colors and numbers, shapes and letters and how to hold a scissor. Making them learn it sooner doesn't make them any smarter. If anything, the forced memorization or structured learning will make them hate "learning" and quash their natural interest in exploration. Young kids need to learn in their own way - on their own terms - in their own time. It just makes you wonder what it is they really want to instill in these kids in such a young age.

My state representative, Andrew Fleischmann, said this at a program promoting Early Childhood Education:
"You are not serving your child properly if you are waiting until age 5 to formally educate your child".
I believe that to be a slap in the face to parents everywhere, as it reinforces the absurd idea that parents are somehow inadequate to teach their children to speak, to read, to socialize, to do just about everything parents have been teaching their children to do since the beginning of time. Why are we now incapable of doing that? Because big money is involved now - that is why.

More on universal preschool in past posts.
Here and here