Across the country, universal preschool has been one of the leading educational trends, following in the footsteps of formal universal schooling of ‘children.’Â Â People have always been ‘schooled’ in some way or another (if learning-in-general is equated with ‘schooling’).Â But theÂ content of whatÂ is learnedÂ has changed.Â Fagin taught the Artful Dodger how to pick pockets, but that kind of learning, even if it results inÂ a steadyÂ income (depending on the pickpocket’s skill), isn’t the kind of educationÂ valued byÂ the burghers of a prosperous middle class society.
The current form of universal schooling is accepted by most people as a common good, and theÂ universal schooling of children in a mass situation has been a leading method of raising the general educational level of the citizenry.Â Through the nationalization of materials and curriculae (for example, theÂ ’Texas-market’ and ‘California market’ for school textbooks), there have been corollary losses, in tandem with the growth of mass-communication, causing ‘homogenization’ acrossÂ increasingly larger swathes of the citizenry.Â MyÂ husband and I share 1950s-eraÂ childhoods, but, when we were children,Â he never heard of Captain Glen, and I never heard of a frog with a magic twanger.Â Most children today, fromÂ HonoluluÂ to Presque Isle,Â know who Elmo, Cookie Monster and Big Bird are.Â
TheÂ perceived goodÂ of universal mass-schooling has been pushedÂ to the point so that both young children and young(er) adults are also seen to need mass schooling.Â Â ”Pre-K” isÂ marketed as a need, and a college bachelor’s degree has almost replaced a high school diploma as the minimum credential for being hired into nearly-minimum-wage jobs.Â
TheÂ school careers of modern citizens continue to expand, and the significance for homeschoolingÂ is the effect ofÂ expansion on the amount of time parents have to be accountable for the requirements (if any) concerning compulsory schoolÂ attendance.
In Connecticut, at least one legislator is asking cost/benefit questions concerning universal preschool.
- New Haven Register, New Haven, Connecticut, 31 July 2006, Preschool program advocate having 2nd thoughtsÂ Â Â Â [Connecticut state Sen. Thomas P. Gaffey] “All weâ€™ve heard from day one is expanded preschool is a great investment; you get higher test scores, better retention, better outcomes.Â Â Â Â
“I recently looked over the fourth-grade mastery test results of the cohort of students that had the advantages of preschool and early reading intervention. Weâ€™ve had a decline in mastery test scores for the third year in a row. It begs the question: whatâ€™s going on here?” said Gaffey, D-Meriden.Â Â Â Â
…Â Â Â Â
“We know there is a cost associated but we are supporting universal access to preschool in economically challenged school districts. We want to get all these kids off to a great start,” said Lauren Kauffman, director of the education programs for the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, the stateâ€™s largest business lobby.
I (sort of) feel for the Experts in their quest to “get all these kids off to a great start,” because I, for myself, have yet to come up with ‘The Solution’ to the problem of all children not being given the necessary experiences that will develop their minds in the way that would be most beneficial to them.Â It’s something I thinkÂ about.
My heart goes out to the children in poverty whose parents can’t afford books, and who are too tired after working all day to even consider reading to them if they had them.Â I feel for the angry children who have had a life of hard knocks and shy from any friendly contact like a stray dog on the street, eternally suspicious because they know that — somehow — they’ll wind up with the dirty end of the stick.Â I am painedÂ even by seeingÂ The Trendies with theirÂ fashionably vacant stares if they’re seeing people other than those of …, I think the appropriateÂ words areÂ ’their posse.’Â Not even rich kids are spared trouble.Â But I can’t think of any way to get all of themÂ what they, in my opinion,Â need:Â the hands-on attention of their parents, or, at the least, a mentor of some sort.
MyÂ opinion about having parents raising children, rather than some form of bureaucratic construct is, that allowing parents to bring up children is the worst form of raising them, except for all the others that have been tried.Â (my apologies to Sir Winston)Â
Even despite my opinion that ‘parents are best,’ I can’t even get behind it 100%.Â God-fearing mothers who all stay home isn’t the answer, even if all the god-fearing mothers, and the ones too tired to even feel fear, could afford to stay home, or were suited to staying home.Â That’s assuming that the professionalization of child-rearing would allow for it.Â (did you ever wonder what all the legislators, three-letter agencies,Â judges, police officers, and social workers would do for a living if we weren’t all so badly behaved?)
Since, by bloggingÂ I seem to beÂ setting myself up as some kind of guru, which I’m not, I think there is no one magic formula that will guarantee that each and every person in the community lives a life that I feel is worth living.
Even if at my christening the fairies bestowed on me the ability toÂ Write Curriculum, this would still not produce an education meaningful to everyone.Â
My way would produce bookworm-writers who are alsoÂ cool-weather gardening enthusiasts who like to take pictures of cats, go for bike rides in the woods, make the acquaintance of horses, and are cooking and baking dilettantes.Â
My Way would not produce steelworkers, coal-miners, oil-fire wildcatters, jet pilots, martial artists, medical people of any sort, engineers, or even people who talk on the telephone for a living.Â Tested Users of My Curriculum would not be encouraged to be steeplejacks, lobstermen, tightrope artists, Czech linguists (Czech is hard!), or producers of asphalt.Â There would be no plumbers, butchers or bartenders.Â The place would go to hell in a handbasket from lack of infrastructure maintenance and no one would be able to speak Czech.
There is no one right way.Â There is no one right life.Â And that’s the beauty of it all.Â We’re all different, and we all have a variety of needs and gifts.Â The tapestry of community is what gives us vibrancy, life and energy.
If we were all of the One Right Sort Of People, the human sphere of thisÂ earth would be thoroughly, completely, and utterly boring.Â Â Plus, there would be no stories (no conflict = no story).
I believe the closest we can get to a key to ‘universal education’ is first by acceptance of diversity — within the common laws generally espoused by religions –Â by the diverse sub-populations of all the other diverse sub-populations (Trendies included); and secondly by a social belief that parents are the people most often best suited to raise children.Â I don’t think we have either one.
Questioning the usefulness of universal preschool on the basis of dollars and cents is a start.Â I hope the questioning continues.