"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power." - Thomas Jefferson 1820

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Sunday, February 17, 2013

Is Lack of Universal Preschool the Reason For Poverty?

Or is it that children need fathers?

The call for universal preschool programming has created an avalanche of comments from academics, politicians and the citizens paying for these programs.

Gail Collins in the NY Times supports increased spending.  From The State of the 4-Year-Olds:

One of the big moments of the State of the Union address was President Obama’s call for “high-quality preschool” for 4-year-olds.

Nobody was happier at the idea than Walter Mondale, the former vice president. “This is going to be wonderful,” he said in a phone conversation. His delight was sort of inspiring.

In 1971, when he was a senator, Mondale led the Congressional drive to make quality preschool education available to every family in the United States that wanted it. Everybody. The federal government would set standards and provide backup services like meals and medical and dental checkups. Tuition would depend on the family’s ability to pay. 

And it passed! Then Richard Nixon vetoed it, claiming Congress was proposing “communal approaches to child rearing.” Now, 42 years later, working parents of every economic level scramble madly to find quality programs for their preschoolers, while the waiting lines for poor families looking for subsidized programs stretch on into infinity. 

And President Obama is trying, against great odds, to do something for 4-year-olds. 

Collins believes it is the government's role to provide programming for all children, especially for those who are not wealthy and don't get the language and reasoning skills present in those families.  She quotes Mondale speaking about  his proposal in 1971:

“We came up with a lot of proposals, but the one we were most excited about was early childhood education. Everything we learned firmed up the view this really works,” said Mondale.  

We now know that it doesn't really work from the Head Start study which followed the program and its results from 2000-2012.  Any progress made has disappeared by 3rd grade and some children exhibit worse social/emotional behavior than those children not served by preschool programs.

Collins writes:

A child born to poor parents has a pathetic chance of growing up to be anything but poor. This isn’t the way things were supposed to be in the United States. But here we are. 

How are things supposed to be in the United States?  That's a fundamental question.  Are we allowed the freedom to make our choices in this country that lead to failure and/or success or is our government supposed to provide all our needs (whatever they may be) regardless of our choices?

A reader replies to Collins:

As a 58 year old woman who was born poor, I disagree with the statement "a child born to poor parents has a pathetic chance of growing up to be anything but poor"

Many come to our shores legally and otherwise wise for better economic opportunity. They don't come with pockets full of money. They come with hunger in their gut for success and many do 'make it'. Will they be the next Donald Trump? Probably not.

Growing up in a family of 8 children I learned that you did not spend .15 on a coke, that money may be needed for milk for the baby. I also learned that having holes in the bottom of your shoes only meant wet socks. No tragedy or poverty.

When I was old enough I left home, joined the Army and earned an education. Now nearing retirement I am confidant that my husband and i can enjoy retirement because of careful choices and investment.

I cannot think that we have reached a point where opportunity is stagnant.
If so, then we have met the enemy, and he is us.

She doesn't buy into the idea that people cannot control their own destiny.  She describes choices and lessons for life which enabled her to lead a successful life.  She did not stay in poverty and rejects the idea it is a life sentence of misery and doesn't mention the need for a preschool program as a benchmark for success.  Another reader writes:

Advances in preschool to be beneficial need to be continued and supported by children's families......I teach in Head Start...parents need to take responsibilty..Head Start offers that but and that is the question..

These commentors both mention the necessary roles of families for successful outcomes for children.  They received few "recommended" scores while the comments imploring for more spending and "let's do it for the kids" overwhelming were highly supported.  

Troy Robinson in the article Gail Collins, how much do you really care about children in poverty? published in The Aquila Report sets forth the premise that children find themselves in poverty because of the break down of the family vs the lack of universal preschool:

She is really concerned about growing poverty and a permanent under class. Applause. As a Christian, I am too. But what, Ms. Collins, what is the most basic reason for why children find themselves in poverty to begin with? Do you know or just refuse to care enough about the kids to say it publicly? (Hint: it ain’t the lack of pre-k education; there was hardly such a thing before that 40 year period you refer to). It’s the breakdown of the traditional family, like it or not. Now what will you do with that fact? Will you publicly promote the traditional family for the sake of children, or will your concern for them be effectively capped by an ideological pre-commitment?

Perhaps supporting a government program, however effective, will be enough to appease your guilt. But if you didn’t know before, I’m telling you now, the breakdown of the traditional family is the main cause by far of poverty, a well-established fact in the social science literature. What’s family breakdown? You know, the nice liberal gift we have been unwrapping for that same 40 year period you are so concerned about, in which the whole notion that certain family and sexual arrangements are to be morally preferred, supported, and politically promoted over others has been identified as totally unnecessary and even hate speech. And while celebrating the disappearance of any taboos and producing a culture uncritically accepting of any conceivable family arrangement, the unmistakable linkage of poverty (and crime, drop-outs, depression, drug-use, health, etc.) with family breakdown among our kids is simply ignored. 
Read the entire article here.

Will universal preschool solve the problem of the breakdown of the family?  Will a government run program be an acceptable substitute for parental responsibility and training?  What IS the ultimate goal of universal preschool and will it provide the emotional and social basics that parent(s) cannot provide and support in the home?


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