November-December 2005 Selected Content
Universal Preschool - Diane Flynn Keith
A Weapon of Mass Instruction in The War On Toddlers
Multi-media advertisements are bombarding California's residents in a steady campaign to convince parents to send their little ones to preschool. The rounds of rhetoric fired at California's citizens insist that kids who go to preschool will do better in kindergarten and elementary school, graduate from high school, attend college, get better jobs with higher salaries and become happy consumers who will be less likely to do drugs and commit crimes than those who don't go to preschool. The propaganda is spreading in a crusade to capture all of the nation's youngsters in "universal preschool."
The person leading the charge in California is the actor-director, self-proclaimed child advocate and all-around "meathead," Rob Reiner, who recently introduced the Preschool-For-All Initiative slated for the June, 2006 ballot. By taxing the top 1.7% of income earners in California, Reiner seeks to establish voluntary, government preschools for all 4-year-olds regardless of want or need. His celebrity is garnishing national attention. Sharing the limelight is Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano, who recently unveiled a plan for education reform that includes full-day kindergarten and universal preschool for children across the country.
Why is there a drive to institutionalize preschoolers in government schools? Here are some of the reasons for this "war on toddlers" and some of the problems inherent with it.
• Many working parents would like to have "free" daycare in the form of government preschools.
There is an "entitlement" mentality among a portion of the population that would like to rely on a government nanny. Most states and the federal government already fund preschool/daycare programs for the neediest citizens - about 20% of the population. Critically poor families and "at risk" children can access preschool programs in the form of "Head Start" and other similar state-funded programs that are available on an income-need basis. There is no compelling reason to provide daycare/preschool for the other 80% of the population. While institutionalizing little kids may be helpful to working adults, no one is asking, "What is best for the children?"
• What is best for the children is not state or federally funded preschools that require accountability in the form of standardized curriculum and testing.
Reiner's Preschool-For-All initiative dovetails with CA Assembly Bill 1246 that implements "preschool learning standards" including English Language Arts, Math, Science, History and Social Sciences. Accountability will be required in the form of testing. Current research studies show that young children learn best through interest-initiated learning, lots of imaginative play, and the opportunity to explore their environment in the natural rhythm and routine that takes place at home, under the guidance of parents and caring adults. The artificial environment of a classroom, the supervision by transient, impassive strangers (certified teachers), and indoctrination with standardized curriculum has been shown to be harmful to the intellectual, social, emotional, psychological and physical development of young children by researchers and educational psychologists including David Elkind, Mary Eberstadt, and Jane Healy. Voters should refuse to support any legislation that could harm little kids.
• Preschool-For-All is being introduced to manage 39% of the preschool population that does not speak English.
When these children enter school, where classes are taught in English, they are at a disadvantage and are soon identified as having "special needs." They are tracked in Special Ed programs. As a result, they are often disenfranchised, bored and frustrated. They may drop out of school. Without a diploma they may be unemployable, wind up on welfare, resort to crime, or drown their despair in drugs and alcohol. All of these things - welfare, drug abuse, and crime - cost society money. Theoretically, public preschools used as English language immersion centers might reverse this expenditure. Since language is easily assimilated at a very young age, would teaching children to speak English when they are 2-5 years old solve the problem? The answer is unknown, but it's a risk social engineers are willing to take. One of the challenges is that among non-English speakers there is a cultural disposition to raise children at home until they are of elementary school age. How do you get them to send their kids to preschool? In a democratic society you can't target a portion of the population and say, "You have to go to preschool to learn English." You'd be accused of discrimination. The solution? Start slowly by making voluntary preschool available to everyone, with the intent to eventually make it mandatory to assure an English-speaking population. Because taxpayers might not support a program that only "benefits" a few, universal preschool guarantees equal access for all. What parent, if convinced through propaganda that their child will do better in life by attending preschool, wouldn't sign them up? That's one of the reasons why we are seeing the push-to-preschool in the media. It's laying the groundwork to convince the population that universal preschool is a necessity and a fundamental right.
• Never underestimate the agenda of special interest groups that will profit from public preschool programs.
Universal preschool will provide job security for teachers and education administrators and provide lucrative contracts for specialty interest groups such as curriculum providers, transportation providers, food service providers, construction companies that build schools, maintenance and custodial services, school psychologists, and drug companies. Drug companies? Yes! Preschoolers will be tested, and funding of preschools will be based on test results. What happens when a kid doesn't test well? A small child's inability to focus could be diagnosed as ADD. What will be the solution - Ritalin for 3-year-olds? At a recent "Preschool Advocacy Day" held in Sacramento and sponsored by the Packard Foundation to raise support for Reiner's initiative, one speaker said that an advantage of Preschool-For-All is that children will be identified sooner as having "special needs" and get intervention (whatever that means).
• Social Security solvency and the development of human resources for corporations is an underlying factor in the "war on toddlers."
It sounds calculated and cold-hearted to intern little kids in public preschools in the interest of money. But the old adage "follow the money" is alive and well in the push for universal preschool. Early in 2005 a report was issued by the Economic Policy Institute titled, "Exceptional Returns: Economic, Fiscal, and Social Benefits of Investment in Early Childhood Development (ECD)" by Robert G. Lynch. In it, the author makes a fiscal case for U.S. government funded preschool programs. The book's introduction says, "...this study illustrates the potential benefit to the solvency of the U.S. Social Security system from ECD investment." That's right, the solution to the government's Social Security woes is to send kids to preschool! This report makes a financial case that supporting universal preschool will allow children to be properly managed through the school system, so that they will grow up to become human resources that contribute to (and thus save) Social Security. In a democratic society the easiest way to implement programs that will guarantee a future workforce is through public schooling - and in this case, through public preschools.
• Will universal preschool be voluntary or mandatory?
While universal preschool is being introduced as voluntary, there is plenty of inferred evidence (for example, the CA Master Plan for Education) that within 10-20 years preschools will be mandatory and will be extended to all children ages 2-5. If voluntary programs are seeded and people use them, enacting legislation to make them mandatory won't be perceived as a "big deal." Voluntary programs are the first in a series of events that could usurp parental authority to determine the educational course of their children. Here's something else to consider. Currently in California, students can opt out of public schools by attending private schools. However, private preschools come under a different set of health and safety codes that could effectively eliminate the home environment as an alternative to government preschools. Additionally, the Reiner initiative calls for all preschool teachers to be state certified. That regulation would disqualify most parents from teaching their little ones at home, should preschool become mandatory.
You can see that there are many factors spurring government action to establish universal preschool. Even if the intentions of the proponents is to do good by helping the unfortunate or giving working parents a break, why is there a push to draft every preschooler - especially when you consider this: A RAND research study used by Reiner to support his initiative showed that poor kids made some gains by attending preschool. However, that same report concurred with Ed Zigler (co-founder of Head Start) that there isn't any evidence that young children from middle class or advantaged homes receive any discernible benefit from typical preschool programs!
The only way to sell universal preschool to voters is to make them think that they will benefit from it. That is accomplished by indoctrinating the masses to believe preschool is beneficial for every child while at the same time scaring parents into thinking that if a child doesn't go to preschool, he or she will fall behind and never succeed. That's what we're seeing today in the "shocking and awful" media bombardment to institutionalize our tiniest citizens.
The promise of "universal preschool" is to give every child the same and equal start in life. That is the utopian ideal. But human beings are not all the same, and the same standardized start in life will not address the unique needs and abilities of each individual child. All that you have to do is visit a classroom in a wealthy neighborhood and a classroom in the ghetto to see the disparity in educational opportunity that government schools provide. There is no equal opportunity in public education, no matter how much proponents insist that there is. The situation won't be any different in public preschools.
Throughout the country a battle has ensued to usurp parental rights to teach our preschoolers at home. John Taylor Gatto, author of The Underground History of American Education, coined the term "weapon of mass instruction" in reference to government schools. It couldn't be a more apt phrase to define "universal preschool" in what seems to be an unprecedented "war on toddlers." Government preschools are artificial environments, where children's time is managed for the purpose of crowd control. Actions and behavior are continuously monitored and judged. Individual needs are diminished or neglected for the sake of group management. A child's curiosity and questions can only be dealt with when it is convenient for the instructor, and interest in anything has a time limit because, "we have to move on to the next group activity." Natural body rhythms are ignored and artificial ones imposed in the form of circle time, free time, nap time, snack time, and potty time. A little kid learns quickly that to trust and follow his or her own instincts and impulses is wrong and should be ignored. A tiny child must submit and surrender the self, so that self-identity, self-interest, self-direction, and self-confidence may not be discovered or explored. Children are forced through persuasion, rewards, and coercion to passively comply with an authority that does not have their individual best interests at heart.
Little kids deserve a secure place to spend their days where they are encouraged to learn - especially in the first 5 years of life, when their brains are growing rapidly. Somehow we, as a society, are forgetting that home is a child's best "preschool." Since the beginning of humanity, parents have provided a safe home, a natural routine, a stimulating environment, nutritious food, and loving interaction. Children become smart, happy, self-confident, self-sufficient, curious and capable learners, fully prepared to successfully tackle academics and life skills when they are developmentally ready and motivated to do so. Learning at home with loving parents (who may also thoughtfully use private and co-op preschool programs in their community) is a better model for the healthy intellectual, physical, social and emotional development of young children than any government preschool could ever be.
If you oppose the "war on toddlers" and would like to join the resistance to government preschool-for-all, please visit my website: www.UniversalPreschool.com.
© 2005, Diane Flynn Keith