I voted for President Obama, but I disagree with him about universal preschool. President Obama is a strong supporter of universal preschool, or free government preschool for every 4-yr-old in the country. I am not.
Those who know me know that I am most certainly not anti-education. In fact, one of the reasons I have this blog is because I care deeply about boys and education. I just don't believe that children entering school at age 4 is the answer to anything.
Supporters of universal preschool argue that poor children are unecessarily disadvantaged by our current system. They argue that the children of parents with means already have access to preschool. They argue that universal preschool would even out the playing field.
They also point to brain research that shows the incredible amount of learning that goes on in the early years, and argue that we need to engage children during this time.
But children at age 4 (and any age, really) are wonderfully variable, and what one child is ready and interested in learning at age 4 is not the same as what another child may want to learn. At 4, they are busy figuring out the world. They know the world best through experience and trial and error -- all things that, frankly, tend to get lost in classrooms of 20 or more children.
The biggest reason I am opposed to universal preschool, though, is what I call "creep." It's the concept that once universal preschool exists, it will soon be almost unheard of for a 4-yr-old to be at home. People will equate universal preschool with achievement, and will come to believe (as many parents already do) that preschool is essential to their child's later success.
I'm worried too about the message it sends to parents, best expressed by a participant in a 20/20 interview about universal preschool, to be aired tonight at 10 PM EST: "Parents are being told that we’re not capable of facilitating our child’s learning.”
Far too many parents already believe that preschool is superior to their own parenting. I remember, years ago, overhearing a conversation between two involved mothers. The mother whose child was not in preschool told the other mother, whose child was enrolled in a local preschool, "I'm sure your son is getting so much more than mine is at home."
Her comment stopped me cold. This was from a Mom who read to her children. Took them to community events. Was involved in our playgroup. Facilitated her children's interests. Loved them deeply. And she really, truly believed that preschool was somehow better than her own mothering.
In my opinion, John Stossel sums it up best with his comment: “It’s a waste of money and a government conceit that they can parent better than we can."