Friday, March 13, 2009

Universal Preschool

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.

How sad.

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."


  1. Scary stuff. I have come to think that what we need is less classroom time for all kids under 8. Really. Keep their busy bodies busy, keep them away from worksheets and cute little tables and chairs. This enforced structure works for some kids, but what happens to the ones it doesn't work for? In my experience, those kids are the ones the later resources are all spent on. Individual reading and math help, counseling, trips to the M.D. to get meds, frustration and anxiety issues, self-esteem issues. How many boys does the current system damage? The staggering loss of our young boys cannot be solved by increasing time spent in an already broken system.

  2. Hi Jen
    Its Courtney. I'm the newbie to homefires. I couldn't agree with your more. I'm not sure if you read my post with regards to my reasoning for taking my daughter out of public school to homeschool her. The thing of it is, instead of sending my daughter to preschool at the age of four when living in Portland, I opted to teach my daughter myself to see how we might work together as a team for future attempts at "real" homeschooling via a virtual school. Apparently, I did so well that my daughter was reading on a third grade level by the time of her first kindergarten evaluation. As a first grader, she now reads at 3rd and 4th grade levels. She also consumes any written word on every level around the house as she reads over books that belong to me, my husband. She can read anything but medical lingo just about. I agree with you, though. I can and HAVE done a better job at raising and educating my child than any school system ever could or would. I enjoyed the post. Thanks so much for the job that you do!!

    Courtney Williams
    Homefires Newbie

  3. Welcome, Courtney! It sounds as if you and your daughter are doing marvelously well together. :)

    And Andrea -- you bring up an interesting point. School is not a good fit for so many young kids (particularly boys), and many of these kids are the ones who later need special intervention, which costs more money. Crazy! For more on a slightly related topic, check out the My Turn essay in the current issue of Newsweek. that I think about it, let's blog and chat about that next week!

  4. I just discovered your blog! After 3 years of public school for my daughter and one for my son I pulled them out and started homeschooling. I will never look back! I was at the school every day of the last year and there is no way that school could even come close to doing a better job than I. And they knew it! I really appreciate these conversations! Universal preschool is not the answer. I agree with John Stossel!

  5. The biggest argument for universal preschool is that most parents want it. And why not, (#1) as it cuts down on their cost for child care services.

    And the perception that preschool is better is simply argued: preschool teachers receive training; parents do not.

    Also, I don't think: "Parents are being told that we’re not capable of facilitating our child’s learning.” I think the fact that many parents DON'T facilitate their child's learning is simply being pointed out as a problem (huge), and universal preschool might help address that problem.

    If the schools can take some of the pressures and responsibility of parenting off of me, (#2) then I'm happier. Parents love to use the excuse that the schools are failing, when in fact, they are.

  6. as a mother and a teacher, i'm torn...but only for a moment. because of the pressures put on students at a young age, many school districts in the US (and certainly here in wisconsin) have K4 programs to start training the kids even younger, and so they have a jumpstart. some schools even offer K3 programs! in my district and my classroom, i know a lot of parents treat school like daycare. i've had parents drop their child off at school at 1:15...when school lets out an hour later. "did you have something better to do, or did she just get on your nerves?" that's what i wanted to ask, but i kept my mouth shut so i could keep my job. will universal preschool cut down on daycare costs? sure! but more than it telling parents we're not capable of facilitating learning...i'm afraid it will be more used an excuse why we can't. parents that aren't afraid to parent will continue teaching their children everything they can. those who already feel that the only learning that happens is in school will just have one more reason not to try to teach anything of value at home. it seems like fewer parents realize that they are their children's first teachers, and that the teachers in school can't just fix the first 4 or 5 years of bad parenting.

    i also supported obama, but i don't like this idea!

  7. Thanks for your note, Missy! I think you bring up some really good points, and your perspective as both Mom and teacher is invaluable.

  8. the best solution for a 4-year old is, definitely, a kindergarten. I precisely do not know how it goes in the US, but in Ukraine we still have this institution where children are not kept steady on their chairs but rather have a balanced day with games, some teaching, of cource, some dozing, meals etc. I still remember this time (I am only 20), and have beautiful memories of everything there. Being all the time with parents may be difficult for both parents (job) and children (lack of outer communication). I think children still need freedom. But if parents have enough time to sit with their children on weekdays, I think this is not that bad.

  9. Daonuta,
    Thanks for visiting my blog! I wish I could read yours.

    Here in the US, things have become much more academic at much younger ages. We used to play and rest in kindergarten too, but now kindergarten is when kids begin to learn to read and write and do worksheets. There's much more sitting and listening than doing and playing.

    What you describe, though, sounds wonderful.

  10. But if we want to compete with other industrialized countries such as: Britain, France, Germany, FINLAND (NUMBER 1 IN EDUCATION), Japan, and Canada just to name a few, we should also look at them for guidance. Clearly what we are doing isn't the best solution and many of the other countries out rank us in academics, maybe their universal preschool programs have something to do with it. I have two boys and I am all for staying home with them, but I am not representative of the American population and neither are you. Just because there is universal preschool does not mean we have to partake in it, similarly to how some people go to private school or home school.