As a parent of a 21 month old, I have found myself thinking about childcare and school options a lot lately. Earlier this week, as I watched the inauguration of Barack Obama with my son, I thought about how great it would be if early childhood education was something that the administration could focus on for the term.
This is a topic that is not new to the national conversation. In my research I found a NYTimes piece dating back to 1989 (?!?!) discussing a citing childcare as an area of concern, and discussing a report issues by a delegation that went to France to explore child care in that country. (Interestingly, former First Lady and Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton, was part of that delegation, when she served as Chairwoman of the Children’s Defense Fund, an advocacy group.)
Last week I read a disturbing article entitled “The Early Education Racket.” It said among other things, that preschool only really benefits children who come from “disadvantage families” such as families that are below the povery line, uneducated mothers or who are racial minorities). Despite what the Slate article states, I do believe early childhood education is fundamental to getting children on the right track for success in learning later on in life… all children, not only those from “disadvantage backgrounds.” I compare it to building a home or a building, if your foundation is crappy, then the home is crappy. It is the same thing with children, if you do not give them a good foundation in early childhood, how can we expect that they will succeed later on in life?
Enzo @ a music class, @ Raising Astoria, Queens, NY
From conversations I have had with other parents, I know I am not the only person who is concerned about this topic, and I knew it must be a topic of importance when a couple of days ago, one of my favorite journalists of all time, Nick Kristof, wrote a piece discussing the importance of early childhood education and his hope that Obama would tackle it this time around. Kristof explains explains that James Heckman, a Nobel Prize-winning economist, “argues that the most crucial investments we as a country can make are in the first five years of life, and that they pay for themselves. Yet these kinds of initiatives are underfinanced and serve only a tiny fraction of children in need.” (key word: UNDERFINANCED)
Kristof cites research conducted in Philadelphia in an area inhabited mostly by working-class blacks and Hispanics and points to the lack of resources they have, few libraries and limited access to computers. Unfortunately, access to quality early childhood education and resources often depends on where you live, and as, often pointed out, on your socio-economic status. Data shows that children that come from homes where there are two professional parents working are exposed to more words by the time they are 3 than homes where parents are working class (30 million vs. 20 million), or on welfare (10 million). ***Before anyone starts judging “working class” parents, or parents who rely on public assistance, it is necessary to understand them… if you are working two jobs or working long hours just to make ends meet, you are perhaps not home as much as you would like, or are too tired to engage with your children in stimulating play at the end of a long day. (I don’t work two jobs and sometimes I feel I am too tired to engage!)
Kristof explains that improving education programs for low-income families is a good start to helping end cycles of poverty. I would go further and say that it is not only necessary to improve these programs for low-income children, but for all children; society as a whole would reap the benefits. While I do not qualify for any “low–income programs” such as Head Start, and I live in a household with two working professionals, I can tell you that I would not be able to pay the exorbitant amounts of money that Nursery School in NYC costs, (even more infuriating is that for the price, it is not even a full day of school, but rather some hours a day). If universal Pre-K existed, children would start school at an early age, and this would alleviate some stresses of working parents. I am not advocating for a government handout, but instead for a system where early childhood education is valued for what it is: a stepping stone that will prepare children for the future, and something that all children should have access to. A program that can help working parents, with affordable rates, longer hours (more in tune with the realities of working parents’ schedules!)
I believe sending children to early childhood ed. programs will benefit society as a whole. In addition to preparing children for the future academically, early childhood education programs can help instill in children the social skills they need to be healthy adults. Children could learn, from certified teachers and instructors, how to deal with their feelings, and learn how to play and work well with other children and adults, in other words… how to socialize outside the family cadre. Aside from learning about the ABCs and colors, these centers could also teach children about empathy, about bullying and why it is wrong, about healthy eating… all the issues that we are currently grappling with in our school systems. They say repetition and modeling is key to learning. Teaching children about these things early on could alleviate some social ills we are currently facing (shootings, bullying, obesity epidemic, just to name a few).
Debates about early childhood education, Head Start, etc. have been around for a long time. (it’s been 24 years since that NYTimes article!) I do hope things will change in my lifetime. I will leave you with some food for thought, that perhaps show what is wrong with this picture: we spend approximately $7,000 per child in a Head Start program (and much more if it is a private pre-school program, depending on the area, but around $18,000 for NYC by conservative estimates!) but we are spending an average of $31,000 per inmate incarcerated. According to the Vera Institute of Justice, “The total per-inmate cost averaged $31,286 and ranged from $14,603 in Kentucky to $60,076 in New York.” There is something fundamentally wrong with these facts. We currently live in a society that puts more value on putting people in prison than educating children… what an alarming thought.