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Universal Preschool

I recently received the following email:

I stumbled upon your website and read the article titled, “Why Californians Should Vote NO On Preschool-For-All in 2006.

I found the article interesting, however, I am very much for universal preschool. I know from my own kids. My son needed those years to get used to being separated from us. The kids in his kindegarten class that were the problems were the ones who had not attended preschool.

This fact was conveyed to me by the teacher herself. I personally got thrown out of kindegarten when I was a kid because I wanted my mommy! I had a terrible time till I was in second grade. My grandson blossomed in preschool and is now doing wonderful in his kindegarten. He needed the socialization and the time to adjust to being separated from his mother.

Then there is the cost of preschool. Especially in this area where both parents now have to work. It is a struggle for many middle class families. I don’t think universal preschool would put any private schools out of business. Those who can afford it will still want their children in a school of their choice. Of course, I wouldn’t vote yes on a universal preschool bill until I know more about it…but overall, I like the idea.
~ Ellen (not her real name)

I think this is one of the most heart-breaking pieces of correspondence I’ve received on this topic.

Ellen thinks it’s important for little kids to get used to being separated from their parents regardless of whether or not it is developmentally appropriate for the child. She mentions socialization as a “benefit” of preschool.

The fact is that children will separate from their parents naturally — it’s part of the growing up process. They don’t need to be torn from their mothers arms before they are ready. No other mammal on the planet forces premature separation on its young.

I don’t think Ellen paid attention to the research mentioned in the article — it doesn’t support her beliefs. In fact, a new study released November 1, 2005 by UC Berkeley and Stanford finds that preschool can hinder social development. The study, “How much is too much? The Influence of Preschool Centers on Children’s Development Nationwide, “shows that kids who attend preschool have poorer work habits, behavior problems, and they are unsocialized (as compared to those who don’t attend preschool). That’s because parents are the best role models for proper socialization of young children — not a classroom filled with other 4 years olds and a distracted teacher.

Premature Separation

Ellen denies her own pain at being separated from her mother — she thinks that her behavior was “wrong” or inappropriate. She was one of those kids who needed more time with her mom, but she was forced to separate before she was developmentally ready to do so. What a shame. Her son and grandson did not need to be separated from their mothers. They would have done so naturally, on their own, when they were developmentally ready. How sad that she thinks forced separation is a positive thing. All the research studies on child development show it is just the opposite — it is physically, psychologically, emotionally, socially, and intellectually harmful to young children (even though, in our society, we inflict this torture on little kids daily).

Working Parents

Ellen makes an assumption that both parents have to work to afford to live in California. Parents can and do make smarter choices. From telecommuting, to alternating work schedules, to exercising financial creativity, to moving to a more affordable area — there are practical ways to live within one’s means to avoid having to farm babies out to strangers while both parents work.

If a couple needs two jobs to survive it begs the question, “Why have kids if you simply intend to turn them over to an institution to raise?” There is no denying we have a social problem that needs to be addressed — but public preschool is not the solution. If you want the government to raise your children from preschool through high school — go live in a communist, fascist or socialist country. The point of cradle-to-coffin public education is to raise workers – human resources. Public preschool is really nothing more than a jobs training program — a feat of social engineering to control the population. It has nothing to do with what’s best for the child. And what’s best for young children is not public preschool.

Preschool Demand

As for middle class families not being able to afford private preschool — Ellen assumes that kids need to go to preschool. They don’t need preschool — in fact, a recent RAND study found that preschool attendance had no discernible benefit for kids from middle class and advantaged homes. It only really helps kids who are disadvantaged — and then, the benefits dissipate after two years of being enrolled in public elementary school!

It doesn’t matter that Ellen *thinks* preschool helped her grandson “blossom.” That’s subjective. Just because she thinks it worked for him, doesn’t mean it works for all children. She’s ignoring the research.

Ellen’s comment is also indicative of a deeper problem. Many parents do not feel capable of helping their little ones “blossom.” They are used to relying on “experts” to teach the simplest things — like how to wait in line, how to turn the pages of a book, how to count to 10 or say the letters of the alphabet.

This isn’t rocket science, folks. Little children will learn these things if parents are willing to give them their time and attention to help them learn. What is so hard about cuddling a toddler in your lap while reading “Hop On Pop” aloud? You can get the book from the library for free — the only thing you have to invest is your time. Is that too much to ask? You don’t need a teacher and you don’t need fancy curriculum. You simply explore the bounty of life with your child, talk to them, teach them simple life skills, play with them, and love and cuddle them to your heart’s content. It’s easy. A Neanderthal could do it (and did).

Ellen doesn’t think government preschools will put some private preschools out of business. They will. Faced with a choice to pay for preschool or get it for “free” — most parents (even wealthy ones) will take the freebie. Of course, some private preschools will remain open for business. But with fewer students seeking enrollment many will shut down. That will drive up the demand for private preschools, elevating the tuition — and that will make private preschools much more inaccessible to the middle class than they currently are — just as most private elementary and high schools are inaccessible to the middle class today. If this initiative passes, the middle class gets screwed! Make no mistake, there will be a reduction in options for childcare and education if public preschools are instituted.

No Free Lunch

Ellen, like many people, seems to like the idea of “free” public preschools. That’s an entitlement mentality — she wants welfare for daycare aka preschool. According to Reiner’s initiative, the wealthy will be taxed to support preschool programs for all. BUT analysts are already predicting the programs will be underfunded!!!

That means that public preschools will offer what we’ve come to expect from public schools. What parent or grandparent, in their right mind, would want to subject a little helpless tot to that? The promising rhetoric of “quality preschools for all” is a fleeting sound bite. It will be impossible for the state to deliver the dream.

I hope Ellen understands that “there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.” “Free” government preschools come with strings attached. There will be accountability in the form of standardized curriculum and testing. There isn’t a child psychologist alive that thinks this is in a young child’s best interests — and it’s hard to fathom that parents and grandparents care more about “free daycare” than what’s best for the children.

By the way, government preschools are already in existence for the disadvantaged on an income-need basis. Since that is the only population that benefits from preschool attendance — we should be concentrating our tax dollars on expanding and improving those programs for the poor — not trying to serve a population that will not benefit and, according to researchers, will be harmed by it.

1 comment to Universal Preschool

  • Anonymous

    Bringing Universal Preschool to Visalia

    This editorial by Jerrold H. Jensen was published in the Visalia Times Delta newspaper in California on December 20, 2005.

    Are we sending leaders or simply seat warmers to the Sacramento legislature? With political gridlock Californians are increasingly turning to the use of propositions and 30 second TV ads to enact laws without reasoned debate or expert testimony.

    The Universal Pre School proposition is a classic example. How can we possibly reject a proposal to send every 4 year old in California to preschool and stick only taxpayers who make over $400,000 with the bill?

    Unfortunately there will be no legislative debate about whether this is the best way to spend an extra $2.2 billion on education. An earlier study by the Rand Corporation claimed it will keep 10,010 students from dropping out of high school each year. Admirable, but that is $220,000 each, saves only 7% of the 140,000 kids we lose annually and it will be 15 years before we know the results.

    No expert witness will testify before the legislature that over the last 3 years elementary school enrollment has dropped by 54,000 in Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego Counties. That is equivalent to 2,700 teaching jobs. No assemblyman will then ask whether Universal Pre School is aimed at the dropout rate or simply intended to keep 25,000 teaching jobs at $80,000 each in salary and benefits?

    If legislators were debating fiscal issues, instead of mountain lions or high school mascots, perhaps they might consider a better use for $2.2 billion annually in new taxes. The high school dropout rate might be reduced immediately if instead we offered a $6,000 voucher to all of the 340,000 students who graduate each year. Thousands of kids might opt to stay in school knowing that reward could pay for college or vocational training leading to a better paying job.

    We applaud Assemblyman Maze for wanting to bring a four year college to Visalia but perhaps his first focus ought to be on providing tuition relief for COS. As the JC cost per credit has doubled from $12 to $26 in the last two years, enrollment has dropped more than 13%. A $6,000 tuition voucher would undoubtedly increase registration of cash strapped students.

    Unlike Congressman Nunes, neither State Senator Ashburn or Assemblyman Maze invested any of their political capital in taking a highly visible stand on the recent ballot initiatives. We shouldn’t allow them a similar pass on Universal Pre School. They have access to vast research staffs and they owe voters information and leadership. Otherwise, return to the opening question of this editorial.

    anonymous coward | 12/29/2005 10:57:43 PM

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