Universal Pre-K is a Bad Idea, Part 1
When my wife and I first heard then Senator Obama on the campaign trail talking about the wonder of universal pre-K we rolled our eyes simultaneously. As far as we’re concerned this may be the biggest waste of time, money, and manpower out of anything he’s suggested so far.
Before I get into the reasoning, our credentials to make such a statement. My wife studied early childhood education in college, worked for a year at Early Head Start, and has volunteered on and off in children’s ministries. My mother-in-law has been an aid in a 3-year-old classroom at a private school for the last 3 years, and is now the lead teacher. I have no credentials. I’m simply the most opinionated, and the best writer (in my opinion). So here we begin. In this post I will tackle the ideas of structure and “school”, and tomorrow I will cover socialization, school readiness, and the immediate costs of the plan.
First, 3- and 4-year-olds do not belong in a classroom to begin with, and certainly not all day. My m-i-l, who’s school starts at 8 am, is constantly saying, “These kids need to be home by 11 because they’re all breaking down.” They just don’t have the attention span to deal with the structure of a classroom. They need to be playing in an unstructured environment. Even Plato knew that play was key in early childhood education.
Yes there is play in classrooms, but it’s structured to the point of not seeming like play anymore. It doesn’t allow the flow of creativity that unstructured play does. Some of our friends’ kids serve as anecdotal evidence. One began in “school” at 2-years-old. Observing him play at four is just sad; he isn’t creative at all, only able to enjoy games that are created for him. The other family has kept their kids home, and the last time we were there they were fishing for orcas (which they did not call “killer whales”) and octopus. In the living room. Using cords still attached to an alarm clock and a power strip. Don’t worry, they weren’t plugged in. There are a thousand variables that could have contributed to the creativity in one and a lack of such creativity in the other, but unstructured play provides more of an opportunity for that creativity to come out.
Second, and I say this with respect for teachers who dedicate their lives to young children, pre-k is not school. That’s the reasons for the scare quotes in the last paragraph. Pre-K is day care, plain and simple. There’s nothing wrong with day care, and there are plenty of people who need it so that they can support their families. But let’s call it what it is.
And when it comes to government run pre-K, you’d be hard pressed to accurately describe the adults in the classroom as “teachers”. My wife worked at Early Head start as a freshman/sophomore in college, and most of the teachers had only associate’s degrees in Child Development, the minimum requirement for the job. In fact, to be a “Lead Teacher” of a team in a Texas Head Start Association program, you need only a CDA certification and two years experience. The certification process is the equivalent of a semester of college and a summer internship. Yes, there are many teachers in these programs with bachelor’s degrees, but they far outstrip the job requirements. A CDA is not enough to properly call a person a “teacher” (in the liberal arts/k12 sense).
But that’s okay, because these kids don’t need teachers, they need caretakers, which is why you can get the job with only a CDA or an associate’s in child development.
Tomorrow I’ll take on socialization, school readiness, and immediate cost.