In his last State of the Union speech President Obama proposed that we have universal preschool in the US. It’s appalling to me that he wants to pour money into preschool programs that are so out of sync with what families need.
Women have been very vocal about not wanting to work full-time while they have kids. And we have recognized as a nation that our school system is out of date and a waste of time for kids. So why are we dumping money into an institution that does not meet anyone’s needs?
Women don’t want a preschool system.
Most women want to stay home with their kids or work part-time. But some women don’t have enough money to do that and they need to work full-time. Other women who can afford to work part-time have huge difficulty finding rewarding, engaging part-time work because most of the exciting work in our economy is full-time.
Women going back to work full-time is not good for the kids when the women themselves feel they are gone from the kids for too much time. But women working part-time is good for young kids for a wide range of reasons.
This means that universal preschool does very little for working women. It doesn’t allow women to work full-time, because preschool isn’t full-time, and it doesn’t provide part-time jobs for women who want them.
Preschool does not help most kids.
Kids with educated parents do not need to go to preschool. So preschool primarily benefits kids with uneducated parents. Preschool can help those kids start out on equal footing with kids of educated parents.
Children who have educated parents should be playing when they are preschool age. They learn through play. They do not need to learn to sit still and stand in line and play only when the teacher says play.
The idea that kids should learn to read, write, and add when they are very young has been thoroughly disproven, and in fact, this sort of structured evinronment is so bad for boys that it puts them on an early path to being labeled low performers. This is why the rich don’t even bother with preschool—they know their kids will be fine without it. And almost all the research to support preschool is based on lower-income statistics, like preschool keeps kids out of prison.
Kids want to be with their parents when they are young, and given the choice, 84% of women would rather be home with their kids than work full-time. The universal preschool proposal ignores the needs of both these constitutent groups.
We do need good childcare.
What everyone wants is good childcare. That’s why they send their kids to school – because school is our state-funded babysitting system. Parents who are home with their kids want to have a break from their kids. Parents depend on school to provide that break from parenting duties, but we have no system for giving parents breaks when kids are not school age.
At best, universal pre-K is a babysitting service. Middle-class parents can’t afford good child care, which Obama says in his speech, and he says that preschool is a childcare solution more than an education solution. The real issue here is that he wants to give good childcare to the parents who want it.
That’s really different from saying that all kids should go to school.
The Harvard Business Review cuts to the chase and goes so far as to say that this discussion is not about school. It’s about whether kids are better off having early child care from a family member or a preschool. You have to have a pretty bad family life to think that a stranger, with a 15 to 1 ratio, is better child care for a young child than a mother or father.
Universal pre-K is a throwback to pre-1970s feminism.
Feminist site Jezebel also goes straight from universal pre-K to universal child care, pointing out that more women can work. Which would be a useful discussion if it weren’t that most women with kids do not want to work full-time. But we know they don’t.
Bryce Covert, writing at Forbes, says, “Working parents, particularly the mothers who still do the majority of care work for young children, can’t be expected to take three years out of their careers to stay home with young children until they’re ready for preschool.”
WHAT? We know that kids benefit tremendously from being home with a single caregiver during this period. We know that most women cannot earn enough money to pay for quality childcare, which they would still have to pay for if they had full-time jobs.
Putting universal pre-K on the table is taking away the very idea of choice that women have been fighting for. Women should have a choice to work or stay home with kids. Women should be able to choose parenting. Today we raise girls to think they are in school expressly to get a job that is not parenting. That’s as damaging to girls as telling them they are going to school to stay home and have kids.
We do not need our politicians to use their federal funding to denigrate the job of parenting any more than so much of society already does.
We need to acknowledge that school is a waste of time.
This country is already an absolute mess because we funnel kids through an education system for fifteen years to get to a college system that is a ponzi scheme. Even the research that supports preschool concludes that an all-around lousy school system undermines the positive impact of preschool.
We need to admit that kids do not need to go to our schools to be educated. One of the largest education trends is middle class parents taking kids out of school. The most expensive private schools model a homeschool environment because kids can learn through self-directed exploration. They don’t need school.
Middle class parents recognize this and don’t want their kids to suffer through an antiquated education system that was established to educate kids to be factory workers.
Obama is pouring more money into the idea that kids need to be in classrooms in order to learn. In fact, kids learn better outside of classrooms. We already know this, we just don’t have the money to fund it.
Focus on deadbeat dads instead of universal pre-K.
Here is my proposed solution. First, promote marriage. Yes, it’s judgmental and pushing cultural values onto individual citizens. But so is universal pre-K. Marriage, however, is much more successful at giving kids a good chance in life: keeping a marriage together decreases the chance of a child living in poverty by 80%.
And let’s go after deadbeat dads. The majority of low-income kids are not living with their dad. I do not believe that low-income moms are different than high-income moms; I think l0w-income moms also would choose to be home with their kids over working full-time.
New York City increased the amount of child-support collected by 50% in the last ten years. We can use the same tactics across the country. This will help low-income kids get out of the low-income bracket, and then they won’t have to go to preschool or any school. (It’s possible, really: The Economist reports that the average income of a family with a stay-at-home parent today is no more than those same families had in the 1970s, on one income.)
School in the US is for poor kids. Underprivileged kids are the kids who have to sit through standardized tests when they should be playing. The movement in this country to get kids out of the standardized tests is solidly middle-class. Let’s have universal protests about the stupidity of school instead of universal pre-K. Let’s enable lower-income kids to have the benefit of being told their time is too precious to sit in school all day.
In light of the overwhelming evidence that kids and parents are better off without preschool, let’s use the funding for universal pre-K to help parents create safe, stable environments where they stay home with their four-year-old kids.