Universal pre-K is bad for everyone

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 And we have recognized as a nation that our school system is out of date and a waste of time for kids.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 classroomsWe 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.


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  1. Annabel Candy, Get In the Hot Spot
    Annabel Candy, Get In the Hot Spot says:

    Point number 2 assumes most parents are well educated. Are they?

    Sounds like he is focusing on the kids whose parents are not well educated due to the bad education system they themselves had. So what’s happening is that historically, bad decisions have been made about education and now when they try to fix those problems they’re actually just compounding them.

    I agree, it’s not helping kids whose parents are well-educated and able to keep their kids at home. I agree that’s the best for kids. So maybe this is a safety net for kids who are at risk but it doesn’t make sense for everyone to be forced into it.

    By the way I hear that in the UK it’s now illegal to take your kids out of school, for example to take them on holiday for a week, and parents who do so are fined. Crazy.

    • Becky Castle Miller
      Becky Castle Miller says:

      In the Netherlands, kids can only miss 10 school days for non-sickness related reasons, and even then, parents have to fill out permission forms to take their kids out of school. “Family vacation” doesn’t seem to be an acceptable reason for kids to miss. Coming here from America, I find this kind of government control over children to be infuriating.

      So, why are my kids in Dutch school? Because we want them to learn Dutch. But we are strongly considering bucking the system and fighting for legal permission to homeschool them next year. The schools are not bad – they are great, in fact, as public schools go – but they’re still damaging for family time.

      • Scarlett
        Scarlett says:

        The general approach to vacation time in Europe really leaves me with little sympathy… I’d love the summer and bank holidays my EU clients get, which policies frankly, seem very family-friendly.

    • Lisa
      Lisa says:

      I am old enough to remember, as a child, when abortion became legal. I remember my mother cheering on womens right to choose; even though we are Roman catholic. I have always received these types of mixed messages about what is a womens Right versus a womens responsibility and I have made my own choices. I have always worked part time since I had my kids, even thought I have four University degrees, am a multi licensed RN and also a college instructor so I fit Penelopes profile very well.I know I will have less than my parents do, and I refuse to have a stranger raise my kids. School does not fit the real world, Penelope is correct in asserting that the rules of public school create factory workers. A generation of drones created to continue to pay taxes in order to support the hive is not what I have in mind for my children and my own life shows them there is a richer way of living theirs

      • redrock
        redrock says:

        well, while I can see the many merits of homeschooling – more than a hundred years of public schools in countries across the globe have failed to produce the anticipated wave of drones and factory workers. In many countries public school is the only way to an education and out of poverty. Your generalization goes much too far.

          • redrock
            redrock says:

            I have lived for extended periods in 4 different countries. And nobody here was actually referring to schools in China.

    • Jim C.
      Jim C. says:

      An interesting answer to this is the Federal DHHS study that showed little or no benefit to kids from the Head Start program (which has been in operation for over forty years). That program is pre-K for children in low-income families, whose parents tend to be poorly educated. Obama knew — or should have known — about this study from one of his own cabinet departments before he gave the SOTU address.
      We found with our kids that a year of pre-K (a community nursery school) did prepare our kids for kindergarten by getting them used to a classroom environment and by taking them on a few local field trips appropriate for four-year-olds. The mothers took turns as teacher’s aides. The fathers did the grunt work like garden work parties, painting, etc. on weekends.
      Yes, I know — traditional roles, anathema to modern feminists. But the school was for kids with two parents, one of whom was a stay-at-home mom. It worked pretty well.

  2. Ann Stanley
    Ann Stanley says:

    So much food for thought for me as a mother and a teacher. Penelope, you argue that the function of pre-schools is to close the gap between children of educated parents and those of uneducated parents. I wonder if this is the most important function of schools at all levels, until they do the job of sorting kids for universities.
    Schools are not there just for academic education though. They are a way for young people to discover themselves in relation to others and to broaden their perspectives beyond what their families can offer.
    Thanks for this post. I found it very thought provoking.

  3. Drew Tewell
    Drew Tewell says:

    Our son, who just turned three yesterday, doesn’t like daycare. And he only goes for a half-day the majority of the time. So in my experience, our son would much more rather stay at home than go to “school”. I doubt this will change in the next couple of years. Thanks for the insights, Penelope!

    • Mallory
      Mallory says:

      My daughter, who turned two a couple of months ago, doesn’t like vegetables. I doubt that will change in the next couple of years. Studies show that most kids don’t like vegetables. Guess that proves that they really aren’t that valuable for them anyway.

      • Robert
        Robert says:

        This response is idiotic. The response is the worst form of strawman. First, the person you replied to never made a comment on the efficacy of day care or whether it was good one way or another, just that his child didn’t like it. You then conflate that with your child not liking vegetables so that means they probably aren’t good for them? All you can actually infer from Drew’s statement is that his child prefers to be at home as opposed to daycare. My child who is a little over two is the same way, but luckily we have a very good lady in our neighborhood who can watch her 2-3 times a week when my wife and my jobs overlap in days.

        What we can infer from your post, however, is that you have an agenda, horrible reading skills and Orwellian debating skills. You would do well to read the post before you right an idiotic sarcastic reply. I always read a post 2 times before responding and risking looking like an A**, then for good measure re-read it again so there’s no chance I mistook the person’s comment. I see thinking isn’t much of a prerequisite for you.

        • Me
          Me says:

          I would also consult a dictionary if I were you before attacking posters about being idiotic. You risk looking like an A**, as you obviously are.

          “Right” vs. “Write”

          Try looking them up to discover proper usage.

          • Greywar
            Greywar says:

            That is the totality of your response? That there was a single typo?

            Great job refuting the arguments on merit.

            You are the typo king. Her counter destroyed the original poster and you simply affirmed that you have no actual response.

          • Me
            Me says:

            I don’t know the “her” you are writing about, Greywar.

            I thought Robert would re-read his own post before submitting as he claims to read the post he is responding to several times. I’m sorry if it is so hard for you to understand, but typos & spelling errors DO detract from what the writer is trying to convey.

            His “arguments” stating a position one way or another seem very weak as he uses insults, name calling & belittling the reader as a method to explain his views. The only view he has convinced me of is that Robert believes the idiots reading & writing here need to be educated with his brilliance.

            My husband & I homeschooled our children & spelling, as well as proof reading, were components of their education. Now that their careers require them to write for law journals & scientific journals they have found it IS incredibly important to have no spelling errors or typos when submitting a paper for publication.

            I realize this forum in no way resembles an academic article, but typos still do distract the reader.

            Another aspect we stressed in homeschooling was the value of courtesy, avoiding name calling, & treating others w/respect even if you disagree w/their opinions, thoughts, or judgements.

            All of these skills have contributed to their enjoyment of their careers (law professor & “heavy” civil engineer), as well as their rapid advancement.

            Maybe you two might experiment & try these concepts for a day.

        • Arewehavingfunyet?
          Arewehavingfunyet? says:

          My kid eats vegetables, and I’m not a lousy cook. And I can spell. I’ll just scoot on over and claim that Discussion Winner trophy now. Thanks.

  4. Marion Croslydon
    Marion Croslydon says:

    ggrrrr! I’m sorry Penelope, I love your columns and I’m always looking forward to reading them every week. But this time, your words makes me jump on my seat and want to attack my keyboard with angry words.
    Now I’m living on the UK and I’m a French woman, so granted my background and my approach might be different from yours. I think a lot of what you say here is thought-provoking (as always) and I love that, but I also think that quite a lot is classist.
    Also, as a woman AND a mother AND a professional, I resent anyone telling me what women are supposed to want as a general and absolute rule. I want to work full time and that doesn’t mean my kid is less fullfilled or that our connection is less strong. Here in the UK (versus France and a lot of countries in continental Europe, especially Southern Europe) there’s limited (financial) help for childcare. This means for a lot of women that they have to stop working because the cost of childcare (especially in London) is higher or equal to what they would make at work. I’m not even mentioning the option of working part-time which is for many women not even an option either because their company wouldn’t negotiate or because the salary cut would be too important…
    This means for a lot of women here that having children equals the loss of their financial independence (now and later since they can’t contribute to a pension). They become dependent on men and lose the freedom to walk out of a marriage because they can’t provide for their kids and themselves. And even without getting to such a drastic conclusion, they lose their voice in the marriage in terms of choices and directions for the family.
    However, I agree with you that the role of the father, their responsibility, liability and the expectations society has for them should be rethought.
    Sorry, that was my very humble reaction to your post.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Hi, Marion. I get it. I have kids and I love working. But that doesn’t mean that everyone should have to want to work.

      I think each country has a cultural bias – toward working or not working – that women feel acutely. In the US the cultural bias is toward women working. In either cases I think women are sick of (mostly male) politicians telling them what to do.


      • Marion Croslydon
        Marion Croslydon says:

        Thanks Penelope for taking the time to answer my post. You’re so right about the cultural bias… and I agree with you that nobody should tell women what to do, especially not politicians. But I’ve often felt–since becoming a mother myself–that women tend to judge each other harshly. I’ve been judged severely by friends and family because I chose to work full-time or even worse because I didn’t breastfeed which, for some, is some kind of child abuse!
        I respect your opinion about homeschooling and helping women who wants to stay at home, but I do resent when you state that ‘Women have been very vocal about not wanting to work full-time while they have kids. ‘ I resent when one woman tells me what I’m supposed to think or how I’m supposed to live my life and raise my family. Or tell me that because I do it in a different way from hers, then I must be doing it wrong.
        But anyway thanks for your reply and not being scared of expressing your opinions. I’ll keep enjoying your blog!

        • E
          E says:

          Biased- often equals ignorance. You spent how long raising your children in another country? Biased- all personality disorders aside.

          • Marion Croslydon
            Marion Croslydon says:

            Sorry, E, but I’m not sure I understand your comment. Are you telling me I’m ignorant or that I have a personality disorder? And if so, is that just because you have a different opinion? ;-)
            Anyway, very thought-provoking posting, Penelope. Thanks.

        • Elizabeth
          Elizabeth says:

          True, every country has its own set of conditions, America’s is quite different from Europe, and the UK is somewhere in between. I’m moving to the London area in the next year with my husband, and we may have a child there. The idea is kind of terrifying for many reasons.

          But while women everywhere struggle with similar issues in different forms, it’s all relative. Here in China, working for millions of women means leaving their only child in a small village with the child’s grandparents, and moving to a big coastal city a thousand miles away. They see their child once, maybe twice a year, max. I think western women have it pretty good, to be honest.

        • Sarah Rolph
          Sarah Rolph says:

          You are misinterpreting the post.

          You say: “I do resent when you state that ‘Women have been very vocal about not wanting to work full-time while they have kids. ‘ I resent when one woman tells me what I’m supposed to think or how I’m supposed to live my life and raise my family.”

          Nobody is trying to tell you what you are supposed to think or do. Penelope’s comment that “Women have been very vocal…” is supported in the text with data. She doesn’t mean to imply ALL women, she tells us that 84% of the women surveyed shared this opinion.

        • FL Mom
          FL Mom says:

          That statement, “Women have been very vocal about not wanting to work full-time while they have kids,” was just an observation based on current US statistics. It wasn’t meant to tell any individual woman how to behave, but it should tell politicians to take note and avoid making harmful policy that crams everyone into one mold.

          For the record, I’m with you regarding judgmental moms. It’s like they can’t tell the difference between sharing an experience vs. adopting a “you’re doing it wrong” attitude.

        • Sadmom
          Sadmom says:

          You are correct that women judge each other harshly. I live in the US and, unlike you, the women in my family are pressuring me to continue working (I’m currently on maternity leave) despite the fact that deep in my gut I prefer to remain at home with my child – not forever – but at least for his first year. I envy women in Canada and other countries that have an opportunity to enjoy their children’s fleeting babyhood by having a year long maternity leave. I would be willing to take one year off UNPAID. But my employer – a large non profit supposedly dedicated to the interests of America’s most vulnerable – does not provide such a luxury to it’s female employees nor does it provide part time positions. In fact, a former colleague at the same organization attempted to negotiate a part time position once she had a child. The organization refused and she chose to quit instead.

          I love to work and I want to be financially independent. But I also want to be there for – and enjoy – the early years of my children’s lives. In an ideal world I would work part time. But as Penelope has correctly noted, it is incredibly hard to find exciting, engaging, part time work as someone who’s worked hard to attain an advanced degree from a prestigious university…

    • Gretchen Powers
      Gretchen Powers says:

      I love working, too, which is why I broke out and worked part-time from home after my kid was born. I totally get it. Love digging into projects, problem solving, the accolades, the satisfied clients. At the same time, with everything I know about 0-3 development, there was no way I was going to leave that to someone else. This is the time that I wanted to imprint my child with my values (yes, I know they change and my kid could end up being a conservative Republican and love top 40 music and eating steak) but I mean deeper values of independent thinking, creativity, deep empathy, and a sense of family “tribe” if you will (not to mention an outstanding vocabulary and capacity for learning). I’d love to see more parents (or anyone, really) have the opportunity to work part-time, at least during certain stages of life.

      • Alan
        Alan says:

        Probably, deeper values of independent thinking would result in the kid becoming a conservative Republican. The schools and the media and the elite being the way that they are, the conservatives are the rebels.

        • Gretchen Powers
          Gretchen Powers says:

          Could be…though, the party such as it is now leaves much to be desired, as do the mainstream Democrats. I should not have brought politics into it, it was just an example…

    • Evy MacPhee
      Evy MacPhee says:

      Thank you for saying what I wanted to.

      I was raised poor by parents who valued education above anything.

      As a financial aid administrators I dealt with MANY teenagers who had not had good education. I think the pre-K is for them and there are many, many more of them than those with educated caring parents.

      Penelope is right, perhaps, for people like her. Heard of the 99%?

  5. Jacquelyn
    Jacquelyn says:

    I have to strongly disagree with this posting, I usually liked your column but lately you have been taking a very one-sided view on issues that I don’t feel you understand fully. I work in the early-childhood program at a school as a teacher. You say the primary goal of preschool is to close the gap between kidd from educated families and those from no educated families. But preschool is not just about academics. Its important because it helps children learn social skills and gives them the chance to interact with people their own age. That is very important especially for kids who do stay home with mom or dad all day otherwise and would not have that opportunity.

    • Rachael
      Rachael says:

      “Its important because it helps children learn social skills and gives them the chance to interact with people their own age. That is very important especially for kids who do stay home with mom or dad all day otherwise and would not have that opportunity.”

      Um, I call baloney. I’m so sick of people acting like “socialization” at an extremely early age is so valuable—it’s not. Spending days with a loving parent is ten times more important.

      My mother homeschooled her eight children—I’m her oldest—and then sent them to public school starting in 8th grade. Since we had spent years playing outside and being adored by our mother, were we socially deprived? Outcasts? Unable to process sarcasm? We’ve all done fantastic. My brother, the second oldest, went into public school in eighth grade and played four sports, got straight As and was class president. He eventually became homecoming king as a senior.

      I paid for college by myself—on academic and leadership (say what? But I wasn’t “socialized”!) scholarships—and I have two siblings currently in top colleges (one is Ivy League) both entirely funding their education through academic and athletic scholarships. My parents have three boys in public school—top athletes, well-liked by their peers and favored by their teachers—and two children still being homeschooled (some of the friendliest, considerate, well-behaved children you’ll ever meet).

      So stop acting like shoving children off in their formative years to someone with no biological or emotional attachment to a child—and dozens more to watch—offers a superior outcome to being adoringly and intentionally “socialized” by one’s mother.

      • Carina P.
        Carina P. says:

        You were socialized…you are one of eight kids. I’m guessing you also have a ton of cousins or community friends and grew up surrounded by other young people. This is not the case for most families today.

      • Melissa
        Melissa says:

        Thank you! Socialization depends on many different factors, not just hanging out with a bunch of fellow toddlers.
        And besides, being segregated into age groups only happens while you’re in school. What exactly is it supposed to be preparing you for?

        • Eco Dude
          Eco Dude says:

          The socialization argument is one that we hear about constantly but never actually see outside of school. When was the last time you were put into the “45 year old” room at work?

          Socialization is about being exposed to a diverse group of individuals. The classroom is the exact opposite of the real world.

      • Ruthie
        Ruthie says:

        You are right!! Children receive better socialization living real life, learning to keep a tidy clean house, learning to be a frugal shopper, learning to plan and prepare healthy meals. Watching mom or dad kindly respond when someone they meet is in a grumpy mood. Dealing with clerks, managers other customers in the store. Librarians… Children in parks, Sunday school, or dance class. Visiting nursing homes or shut-ins.

        To be honest I had to learn how to socialize after I left school. As a person who struggles with a spectrum difficulty AND dyslexia. School was HORRIBLE!! Preschool does not make it better!

        Aspies still are not recognized as bad enough to need help in preschool… So they are in a huge group not fitting in and no help! (personal experience) Plus, I was stupid enough to try with my son. Thankfully, he was young enough his classmates hadn’t started bullying. The teachers noticed the ADD children who appeared defiant. I watched as they failed to notice my son disengage and sit away from the others… He was not taught socialization in preschool; he was taught he was different and no one cared if he sat or played alone.

    • Jane
      Jane says:

      Social skills and interacting with people are adult values that we project onto children. We, on the other hand, are blessed at some level with the choice to choose how and with whom we interact.

      Also, I’ve rarely met children who “stay home all day.” As a stay-at-home Mom, I sought out play groups. Poorer children in our community tend to play with cousins, siblings, and neighbors, since their parents are unlikely to be able to drive them places. Some people find lots of kids to play with in church.

      I remember being happiest playing with a few cousins in my childhood, but I have no fond memories of elementary school or of my peers. I can’t even remember their names. Mostly, I just tried to avoid getting boogers wiped on me. Also, they were a chore, because since I could read before I went to school I got stuck “teaching” the other kids to read because the teachers didn’t know what to do with me.

      My oldest went to preschool and she is still uncomfortable around peers. My youngest is still homeschooled in 2nd grade and is totally outgoing. A child isn’t an animal you put in a pen and say “be socialized.” A child is just a small person with feelings like we have. I personally would not want to wake up tomorrow and be told to get dressed and to get on a bus. I remember the happiest day of my life was graduation day because I was finally free of that dreadful trap called “school.”

      • Sarah Rolph
        Sarah Rolph says:

        Amen to this. Public school was the worst thing that ever happened to me. I learned to be suspicious and fearful and to doubt my own abilities. I learned that grown-ups won’t protect you and don’t care if people are mean to each other, you are just supposed to toughen up and find your place in the hierarchy. I also learned that the authorities do not care about reason, competence, or excellence, but only about obedience. Some of this is true, but I would have been better able to face these realities had I been allowed to grow and thrive in a more supportive environment. I don’t mean coddling–I also wish I had learned discipline and self-control. But being forced to be obedient does not teach those things. One learns when one has the right combination of support and challenge. Had I been asked to develop my skills and become accountable for the results of my own achievement, I would have become much happier much earlier.

        I realize there are some public schools that don’t have these drawbacks. Or so I hear.

  6. Gretchen Powers
    Gretchen Powers says:

    Finally, someone not super right wing/religious who’s saying things like this! I can’t understand why certain elements keep trying to cram this down our throats—warehousing children in institutions at younger and younger ages. And middle class people seem to eat it up—ghettoizing their children so they can slave away for the man in corporate America!

    I’d much rather see (if the government is going to spend money on this, which, in itself is problematic, but…) subsidies for mothers (or fathers) to stay home with their 0-5 kids and economic policies that make it easier to manage a household on one adult income. We also need a cultural (and policy) shift to support parents in on-and-off-ramping careers, working part-time, etc.

    I’m not against part-time play-based preschool for a little bit of socialization and a break for parents, but pinning much more value on it than that for all but the most disadvantaged kids is foolhardy.

  7. Shandra
    Shandra says:

    I think your need to defend homeschooling (which you don’t need to do) is getting in the way of your capacity to look at this issue.

    I really don’t care what surveys say; I want to work full-time, and I love my kids, and being in a good Montessori while I do that has been absolutely amazing for them. What’s more though, I’m suspicious that the surveys show that life with little kids is hard, not that women magically want to give up their careers.

    I think a lot of women say they want to work part-time _because the pieces don’t fit_. A really bad cold & flu season gets me thinking about it too, frankly, because it is so hard to juggle all the pieces when my kid gets sick and then I do too. But that doesn’t mean I don’t want to work full-time. It doesn’t mean I automatically want to ramp my career down because I have ovaries.

    It means balancing things is tough and women still carry a lot of the mental and emotional weight of handling family business as well as business-business. I am fortunate in that my husband jumps in too, so we both look at our schedules and decide whose meetings can be teleconferenced etc. and we both have reasonably flexible employers, meaning then we work on the weekend to catch up.

  8. Thisbe
    Thisbe says:

    Penelope, you are telling women something very dangerous here. It is fine to acknowledge that many women want to work part-time and/or stay home with the children, and advising marriage to a wealthy breadwinner is also fine as far as it goes.

    However, women need to safeguard their own earning potential, especially if they have children. Being supported by a male breadwinner is fine as long as he is alive and willing and able to support a wife and children. If, however, he dies, becomes disabled, or chooses to opt out of having/supporting a wife and kids, the family will be much more secure if a woman remains able to make a decent living.

    When women take significant time out of the workforce (to raise children or for other reasons), they pay salary penalties that never go away; even 20 or 25 years later, they are still earning less than they otherwise would be. The sensible and safe course of action is then NOT to take years out of the workforce to raise small children. Childcare costs are much greater in the first year of life than in the following years; even if a family loses money in the first year of a child’s life by keeping mom in the workforce, there is almost certainly a lifetime financial and security gain.

    Women should consider this before taking years out of the workforce.

    Of course, if we lived in a civilized country with adequate and gender-neutral parental leave that every parent was expected to take, none of this would really be an issue.

    • Rachel D
      Rachel D says:

      Why does everyone think they are suited for having children to begin with? It seems most people are ill-equiped for the huge responsiblity. They spend all of their time trying to figure out how to financially and emotionally deal with the consequences after the fact. How is this fair to the kids? Our purpose as human beings is not strictly to keep reproducing in an overly-populated world. I just simply don’t understand why more people don’t choose not to have children….for the children’s sake. Isn’t our time better spent trying to be better human beings ourselves, without involving more children? These discussions never address the real issue…..that some/most people just should not have kids.

    • Sarah Rolph
      Sarah Rolph says:

      Your comment seems to assume that financial security is more important than raising a child. I disagree.

      I’m not saying there is anything wrong with YOUR choice. Just that I don’t agree with the implied assumption that finances ought to be the higher priority for everyone.

      As has been pointed out elsewhere in the conversation, and in the post, there are some profound developmental advantages for children in being close to their parents for the first few years of life. That’s not the only issue any more than finance is, but it shouldn’t be erased from the picture.

      • Rachel D
        Rachel D says:

        Ms. Rolph, explain this to me, please.

        Would you advise your own child to have children if you knew they were not financially or emotionally stable to do it, and had no time to nurture their children because they are too busy trying to make ends meet????

        What kind of priorities and values are being passed down? From the state of the world today, it seems like all the wrong ones.

      • victoria
        victoria says:

        I don’t know that I’d say it’s universally more important, but I think it’s a more important consideration than people sometimes let on.

        We were lucky enough to have the choice (from a financial perspective) for one of us to stay home, and given the circumstances it was obvious that I should be the one to do so. But observing the difficulty some friends had in ramping back in I made the decision to keep my hands in — I freelanced a good bit while my daughter was young and moved to an office job during school hours once she was in school. And I’m very glad I did.

        An interesting article along these lines: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/01/01/fashion/sundaystyles/01LOVE.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

        • Rachel D
          Rachel D says:

          Great article, Victoria. Thank you for posting.

          One of the saddest things my mother said often was, “God can take me anytime because now my kids are raised.”

          We’re all looking for purpose in life. I think self-sufficiency needs to come first above all else, including having children, when defining your purpose.

          Children are the blessing that should come after you have the resources to share your purpose with them and to demonstrate to them what a fulfilled enriching life looks like…homeschooling being a great platform for this.

          Universal Pre-K just sounds so irrelevant to the true core issues and problems of today. The problem being THE PARENTS.

  9. Jayne
    Jayne says:

    Amen, Penelope. I couldn’t have said it better as a parent and a life-long feminist, with a background in education and public policy. Thanks for putting it out there.

  10. Christine
    Christine says:

    Hi Penelope,

    I was really sad to read this post. I grew up in a middle-class, abusive household where both of my parents worked full time. I think it’s easy for children to fall into the belief that the microcosm of the family is the world, especially when they are the lowest ranking person in the family. Not all homes are loving.

    Access to high-quality preschool, as Mr. Obama proposed, gives young children access to a caring environment and decreases the burden of parents who have no choice but to work full-time. And preschool/childcare gives social support to the most vulnerable among us. I know that calls from my teachers who heard me talk about the abuse as a child made it at least apparent that their behavior would not remain a secret.

    I really worry about the little ones who are currently living in fear. I want them to know as soon as possible that the world is not their family, that people out there care for their well-being and safety.

    Please do consider that not all children are so lucky to have a truly loving, intelligent, and protective mother like yourself. Thanks.


    • redrock
      redrock says:

      Socialization should not be misunderstood as simply having contact with as many others as possible. If a kid sees only the family life he/she will mostly experience the social connections as they play out in this particular setting. Many families have well-developed interpersonal interactions which are odd – ways to push and control each other, certain strategies which have developed over time in a small circle of people. Allowing kids to spend a substantial amount of time outside this circle with its own little rules and interdependencies is what counts as socialization. School is one way to achieve it, or having lots of stuff outside the family circle when homeschooling is another way.

      • Christine
        Christine says:

        Right. School is a way to provide children with access to socialization for several hours per weekday. It is imperfect, but convenient for parents, cost-effective for families, and designed to be caring.

        Depending on the circumstances of the family, access to “lots of stuff outside the family” can be limited by money, time, location, negligence, or design.

        I want to homeschool my children. I deeply care about the well-being of children and their education. I think I will do a good job because I care so much.

        However, there are plenty of parents out there who are not the best candidates to look after young minds. I highly doubt that they would devote the considerable time and effort required to homeschool. For the children born into those families, access to high-quality preschool can make all the difference. At such a young age, several hours every weekday in a safe, caring environment where they can form trusting bonds can provide the potential for immeasurable long-term benefits.

        My concern is not so much about socialization as it is about providing vulnerable children with access to hope, safety, care, and opportunities for development.

  11. Kathy Donchak
    Kathy Donchak says:

    Bravo Penelope! As for the comment that “women need to safeguard their own earning potential, especially if they have children” – it is time for women to design part time meaningful work that supports their role as a mother, wife, and an intellectual. I can imagine many men would prefer the same type of work. It is possible and your children will be better off in the long run rather than waking up at the crack of dawn to be drug to school or daycare. Women need to stop accepting this notion that the 40+ hour work week is the only way.

  12. Nathan Sanford
    Nathan Sanford says:

    Thank you for this, Penelope. This post points out a huge blind spot in our society. It is much needed.

  13. Stacy
    Stacy says:

    I agree with so much of what you’ve written, but then, we homeschool and have for five years now.

    Jacquelyn, I have to say that preschool kids do not need interaction with kids their own age and do not need to learn social skills from other preschool aged kids.

    At preschool age, they aren’t interested in sharing or in playing interactively with other kids, anyway. Their “job” at that age is to explore and learn about their world. If there are other kids there, fine, but it isn’t required.

    It really bothers me that teachers believe kids have to somehow know how to navigate school and interact with other kids. At no other time in their lives will they be surrounded by the same age people as when they are in school. Most folks I know have come out of that experience with some damage. It’s one thing if a parent wants/needs to put a child in preschool, but let’s not extoll benefits that really aren’t there.

    • Nathan Sanford
      Nathan Sanford says:

      I was just saying this exact thing to my wife, Stacy. The “social” aspect of schooling is not only unnecessary, its often damaging. The social side of school can traumatizing in so very many ways. Why isn’t that discussed more? At least Penelope is using her platform to get this conversation kick-started.

      • Rachael
        Rachael says:

        Amen Nathan. Are there there outliers who were homeschooled (usually only children) and are socially odd? Yes. But what about the countless children who were “socialized” and parented by our broken school system, looking to their peers for knowledge? No thank you.

        • Stacy
          Stacy says:

          Rachel & Nathan,

          I do think it’s interesting how folks judge homeschooled children. If they are shy or reticent, then they’re “unsocialized”, but schooled children are just deemed “shy”. Kids are who they are, period.

          My son was in public school until the beginning of third grade. He avoided the kids who got their names on the board, and was considered “quiet”. His teachers loved him. He’s still the same person, but has become more expressive.

          My daughter was in until the beginning of first grade. She was into everyone’s business. She’s the same now, five years later, it’s just different people now. They are who they are.

  14. CdrJameson
    CdrJameson says:

    Ideally I’d like to see more, good quality part-time work being acceptable.

    I know several parents doing staggered four- or three- day weeks, but try applying for a job saying you only want to work part time…

  15. Laurie Weil
    Laurie Weil says:

    I must object. Not all parents have the education to prep their kids for school. Not all parents have access to groups that allow for piaget/vygostsky learning. Many parents don’t even know how important it is for their children to hear oral language. This should be an option for everyone. You don’t have to take it but is should be available. You have no idea how many kids enter kindergarten and have no clue as to how to put on boots, follow a direction, manage a zipper. I am not in favor of enforced academics in early education but I am a promoter of regulation and executive function practice and that is what early education helps to provide.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Hi, Laurie. I come from a family of poor executive function (it’s big part of Asperger’s Syndrome). You can’t teach executive function. You can only teach people to compensate for poor executive function in specific cases.

      If a kid needs to learn executive function it’s because they don’t pick it up intuitively, which is how neuro-typical people gain executive function. The worst thing about school is it creates demands of executive function that are much more extreme than the regular world demands. For example, changing classes in high school while you change books and get homework ready and see friends is incredibly difficult executive function that is mirrored almost nowhere in adult life.

      I write this to show everyone how ridiculous it is to peg one single thing as a reason why kids should go to school. School is all day every day for fifteen years. There is nothing in the world that requires such a high percent of ones time and energy in order to learn.

      Another example of this line of thinking is Evy’s comment, above. She lived in a terrible home and she thinks kids need to go to school so someone sees the kids who were in terrible homes.

      I could tell you that I was in a terrible home and a teacher didn’t involve the police until high school, when most of the damage had already been done. But what I really want you to hear is that we can’t send EVERY kid to school day after day after day in order to catch the very small percent of kids who are being abused at home. There has to be a better way.

      I caution everyone to think that kids needs to grow up sequestered in classrooms away from the world, isolated from most other adults, with no choice about what they do or learn, in order to function in society. It’s impossible to believe that, even if it’s impossible also to imagine homeschooling your kids.


  16. Alexis
    Alexis says:

    I hate/fear that everything you are saying about the traditional school system is true.

    But I will defend great preschool.

    Many preschools (dare I say most?) are pretty unexciting and for those preschools what you are saying is likely quite true.

    But there are some really great preschools out there. Preschools that embrace the idea that play=learning. That aren’t focused on getting kids to get in line and memorize the days of the weeks. That are creating great opportunities for exploration through play and provide gentle guidance as kids learn to navigate social conflict.

    Universal preschool is unlikely to foster a flood of exceptional preschools. But I’m hopeful that even a moderate preschool experience will help extend community resources and parenting education to a range of parents who might not otherwise have had access. That while not solving our systemic educational issues, will be a positive step for improving the outcomes of young children.

    And for those of us lucky enough to be engaged with exceptional preschools, I would suggest that preschool definitely CAN be a wonderful and positive experience for kids and parents.

    • Helen W
      Helen W says:

      We sent my son to a preschool in our neighbourhood that tailored to special needs kids and they accepted a portion of “typically developing” children too. Well, wouldn’t you know it, the told us that they had noticed things in him like delayed speech, odd behaviours and encouraged us to have him assessed. He is our only child so we had no one else to compare his development with on a day to day basis. He was diagnosed with PDD (mild autism). Not having that prod from the preschool would have put us behind with his intervention. By the time he started Kindergarten, we had all the proper supports in place for him there. Otherwise, it would have probably taken a few more years.

      Result? I have a pretty typical 16 year old boy today. Who knows, this may have happened anyway, but I do believe that his preschool had a lot to do with how great he is doing now. Mind you, I live in Canada, and my feeling overall is that our public education system on the whole is better than the one in the US. Our teachers are WAY better paid and respected. I don’t know if this makes a better teacher but it probably attracts more “talent” to the profession.

      • Alexis
        Alexis says:

        That’s a great story – I’m so happy that you got early intervention and the outcome was so positive :)

        And nobody is going to defend the educational system in the US. It’s one of the worst ranked among our international peers so I’m sure you DO have a better system in Canada.

        The only thing I can say about the US is that I feel/hope we’re actively working on improving things. We’re experimenting with different educational models and things like charter schools, Kahn Academy, etc. are all offering alternatives to the way it’s BEEN done. So hopefully we’ll catch up soon :)

      • Penelope Trunk
        Penelope Trunk says:

        Helen, the discussion of schools is not about whether or not the teachers good. The discussion is whether or not we need kids to learn a set curricula.

        It’s easy to say, “Oh, that’s a problem in the US. So I don’t have to worry.” But the discussion is more high-level than you’re acknowledging. The discussion is about if kids should be told to learn someone else’s list of stuff or if kids should learn what they want to learn.

        The very solid research that kids learn best through self-directed learning rather than national curricula is very solid and that’s not US specific. Of course kids in Canada are born curious as well. And kids in Canada learn best through self-directed learning.

        One of the most persuasive links to me in this post is the one about how elite schools in the US are adopting a homeschool model. The kids direct their own days and learn whatever they want.

        The same reason toddlers do best playing when they are very young instead of being in school, kids learn best directing their own energy when they are older – we are born smart and curious and if you let people be who they are, they will learn the material that drives them to be their best selves.


        • Helen W
          Helen W says:

          I don’t believe that most preschools here are mandated by set curricula other than “this is snack time”, or this is “clean up time”. From what I recall, it was pretty much all about self-directed play. My own point here really is not about the quality of the teachers, but that there is some good that can come out of preschool, in that it enabled my son to get an earlier diagnosis he otherwise would not have had. Had he been at home, we would not have taken his issues very seriously, putting it down to a boy’s slower development. I was in total denial at the time, and the staff at his preschool helped to nudge me in the right direction.

          I get your argument and don’t necessarily agree that preschool should be funded by the government, but for my family, preschool for him was one of the best decisions we ever made. There ARE always exceptions.

  17. Enzomiles
    Enzomiles says:

    I agree that a huge problem is children not having fathers but to say that it’s the fault of “deadbeat dads” is really unfair. Men have no real say when women have children and the truth is that 66% of divorces are initiated by women. (http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=713110) Our society has built perverse incentives. Poor women can have a higher standard of living by having children without a father. (http://www.powerlineblog.com/archives/2012/11/it-doesnt-pay-to-work.php) The reality is that giving more money to poor women to homeschool their children will just make it more likely that they and their children remain dependent on government, poor, and without a good man in a stable marriage.

    • millbrae
      millbrae says:

      If you had children, you’d understand how your remarks about poor single mothers having a higher quality of life without a spouse is nuts. Just try to make a late night trip to the store, to your doctor or anywhere. You simply can’t unless you wake up your kids and bring them all with you.

  18. Stephanie
    Stephanie says:

    You are really out of touch with reality. Luckily for you, you have the time and resources to write nonsense like this.

    • Rachael
      Rachael says:

      Interesting. I LOVE the links. Perhaps because I’m an ESTJ, and love seeing everything substantiated with facts? I can more readily read, process and move on when reading when I see links backing up a statement, because then I don’t have to analyze the sentence for validity (unless truly outrageous).

  19. Lauren
    Lauren says:

    I take issue with your point about academics in preschool because most preschools understand this ( besides montessori).Play-based preschools understand that this time in a child’s life is about learning through play so they facilitate children’s unstructured play. They have excellent sensory centres and art spaces where the children can play as they want. I am from Canada and did a year of ECE but have since graduated from university. All we learned was play based learning and in fact in Ontario the curriculum has shifted to play based learning for JK and SK. I really feel the kids and my daughter explored through play more in preschool than at home.

    • Helen W
      Helen W says:

      I agree Lauren – also Canadian (Ontario) and wonder if such structured preschools as described in this post exist here? I thought they were all pretty much play based. My son’s was.

  20. Matt Weber
    Matt Weber says:

    I’m in sympathy with a lot of this, but I think “keeping a marriage together decreases the chance of a child living in poverty by 80%” is pretty misleading. The linked study just documents the difference — the number of married two-parent families in poverty is about 20% the size of the number of female-headed single-parent families in poverty.

    First, it’s very unclear how divorce is counted. If my wife and I got divorced and we got equal time with our daughter, which of our households would count as the “family”? Or would we still be counted collectively? What about your own situation — you aren’t married to the father of your sons, but your household is at least plausibly construed as a married, two-parent household. This is supposedly “research”; precision matters.

    Second, that big difference between those two bars in Chart 1 says very little about how a child’s fate changes if you (somehow) keep a failing marriage together. It would be just as valid for me to infer from the chart that getting out of poverty reduces your risk of divorce — which I would bet is true. I imagine there is other research on this, and maybe it supports the study’s point, but the bar chart just documents a correlation. Everybody knows what correlation isn’t.

    • redrock
      redrock says:

      After reading the link about the marriage-poverty correlation I thought that poverty must skyrocketed since the 1960s. Interestingly it did not – the average appears to be rather stable between 13-16% with peaks of a few percent either way due to sudden economic changes. The main cause for poverty appears to lie somewhere else with the numbers given in this links a minor contributor.

  21. Leslie
    Leslie says:

    Reading this column reminds me of the New Yorker cartoon, where, a woman looking at her computer screen, declares to her husband, “someone on the internet is wrong!”

    Also, in my next life I hope to come back as a French woman.

  22. Monica Leonelle
    Monica Leonelle says:

    I’m glad you finally wrote about this. I agree that Obama’s State of the Union speech was way off on education. I, as a taxpayer, do not want to invest in education the way he outlines and do not think the system is set up to bring prosperity to America in the future.

    The only reason I can think of to invest in education is in lower-income neighborhoods where institutionalized school prevents a lot of additional gang-related crime. Chicago has recently invested in longer school hours and after-school programs to get a lock on the crime rates in specific neighborhoods. (Chicago, however, still has the one of the highest homicide rates in the nation. It is nearly all related to gangs, of course. And right now, the gang-related violence is due to Chicago cops taking out a number key gang leaders, which has led to intergang violence as they compete for leadership.)

    Teenagers, especially, have a better chance of making it through high school without getting killed in gang-related violence when there is a place for them to go between the hours of 3pm-6pm. So, in some sense, the education system provides not just baby-sitting service (which is crucial to double-income families), but also some sort of public service that helps reduce crime in major cities.

    Here’s a link that might help put this into words better than I am (there is tons of interesting data as you scroll down): http://theactioncenter.leadev.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=43&Itemid=71

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Monica, thanks for bringing up this aspect of the discussion. Once we start talking about school as a social service for families that are in trouble, I’m totally happy to pay for school. And even expand it. And interestingly, Obama’s language is almost there.

      Universal school is like giving universal food stamps: absurd. Just give food stamps to families who need it and then we’ll have more money to help people who need it.


      • Monica Leonelle
        Monica Leonelle says:

        Given this discussion, I really wonder if Obama’s speech was actually a way to set the agenda of investing in education for families in low-income neighborhoods. I don’t think he can say that outright, so I think he has to say, “oh, yeah, it’s for everyone,” assuming that people with the means will opt out.

        Maybe I’m wrong and just reading between the lines… I just think that “school for everyone” is a ploy to get republicans on board. Again, I know nothing about politics, but that’s how I would approach the topic if my real goal was “lessen crime in low-income neighborhoods and provide a government service for at-risk children.” This agenda would align well with his other initiatives that are primarily about helping the poor.

        The danger in this message is that the middle class doesn’t realize they have the means to opt out… which I think is why your homeschooling blog is so valuable. I’ve been reading it though I don’t have children, but it’s helped shift my perspective on my potential ability to keep kids at home, have some sort of career, and still provide them with an education. I would be surprised if you hadn’t at least converted some parents to the idea of homeschooling. And it makes sense to get more middle class kids out of school so that the government has enough money to pour funds into the lower-income neighborhoods. (I think you even wrote a blog post suggesting this.)

  23. jane
    jane says:

    This article makes you sound like a spoiled brat. Yes, women should have a choice to stay home with kids.

    However, this particular choice looks like this: stay home and starve, and not just for the 5 years when kids are young, but for the rest of your life, including retirement years. Because missing 5 prime working years (most women have kids in late 20s and 30s) puts a lid on a woman’s career – and seriously restricts how much money women are making during their entire life. If more women do that, like you suggest, it will also bring down wages (and the entrepreneurial success) of women before they have children – because employers (and clients) are smart enough not to invest in people who are about to drop out of the economy for years.

    School in the US is for poor kids – as in, for the 99% of kids. For the top 1% it is nannies, private caregivers, and highly educated caregivers paid out of a trust funds.

    • Melissa
      Melissa says:

      I think Penelope is making the same point you are: the current choice isn’t really a choice.

      So instead of emphasizing more school, how can government policy give people real options?

      I’m 31 years old and I haven’t had children yet because our society doesn’t do a good job supporting mothers (but companies are always ready to advertise at moms). I always thought that I needed to get my career to a point where I could afford quality child care, like a live-in nanny or something. But by the time I’m earning at that level, my eggs will have shriveled up!

      • jane
        jane says:

        Well, more equality, where more wealth is in the hands of middle class (i.e. you, and me, and perhaps even Penelope, who makes more money than most people, too) would help. Better childcare options – provided by government, and also provided by private companies – are essential.

        Because women who know that there are good affordable childcare options (public and private) are more likely to demand and get part-time career options. And employers are more likely to agree if they know that the woman is not quitting work cold-turkey for 5 years because she’s got to take care of kids full-time.

        Having choices means you can afford to have kids – and work part-time, find a good childcare part-time, and maybe even get your mom to move closer and help part of the time. Having good public childcare/pre-K means private ones will be better, too.

        Not having government deal with it means women will be back in the kitchen, girls will no longer be welcome at better colleges (who track lifetime earnings), and home-schooling will deteriorate with the public schooling – because systems thrive in competition.

  24. Daniel Baskin
    Daniel Baskin says:

    I think preschool really can help English-learning families integrate into the U.S.’s English-speaking culture. Good can come from it. But in general, I agree that it is merely a side-step to solving the real problem of our entire education system, and doesn’t do much for even lower class English speaking families.

    I don’t think there is anything the state can or should do regarding dead-beat dads, from a law-making standpoint. I do think the president could use the bully pulpit to give this issue more airtime, and counsel individuals to not rush life decisions like marriage and family.

    One of the two parents sacrificing their future viability for financial independence to raise children is often a necessary evil if you want to raise homeschooled kids. This parent is often the woman (in heterosexual couples).

    This will be vinegar in a wound for some of you to hear:

    If the non-breadwinning person in a relationship is worried about their financial independence should the relationship dissolve, then the relationship may not be the best environment to bring children into in the first place.

    It’s okay not to get around to having children. It really is.

    Why does it matter that you be the one to birth/father a child if the school system spends most of their lives raising them in your stead? If YOU having your own child matters so much, then financial dependence may have to be the sacrifice for it.

    It’s really all about maximizing on your ideals and not settling. If you are worried about financial independence for if your partner leaves (death or disability-related issues are low-risk / avoidable through insurance, etc.), then don’t rush into marriage and children with them. If you can have children and homeschool, and be financially independent–great! Most people can’t.

    (By this time I’m just ranting–I’ve lost any sense of an intended audience).

    If you send your kid to a school to raise them, you miss out. You see them a couple hours a day at the most and interact directly with them much less than that. Parenthood doesn’t seem that great unless you can actually be the one raising them, not the schools.

    Ignore the cult of mother/parent-hood–don’t feel pressured into having kids for any other reason that you intrinsically want them without regard for social pressure to.

    If you really want kids, then structure your life so that you can be the one raising them. If the financial risk of this scares you, then chase after ways to mitigate this risk.

    The world of humanity is better off with agents that act with coherent and focused purpose. Rarely do the stars align and you can miraculously have a fulfilling career and homeschool kids on your own. Two people teaming up for this task greatly improves those odds. If you can’t find a partnership that can achieve these things, then don’t sweat it. It’s better that you enjoy your life and focus on making the world a better place in other ways than to force yourself to have children if it’s not in the cards.

    • redrock
      redrock says:

      “If the non-breadwinning person in a relationship is worried about their financial independence should the relationship dissolve, then the relationship may not be the best environment to bring children into in the first place.”
      Relationships can dissolve even if you have no intention of getting divorced in the beginning. Partners can die and leave you a widow/er, have accidents and become invalid, loose their jobs and be unemployable….this is the eventuality you might want to consider.

    • redrock
      redrock says:

      “I don’t think there is anything the state can or should do regarding dead-beat dads, from a law-making standpoint. I do think the president could use the bully pulpit to give this issue more airtime, and counsel individuals to not rush life decisions like marriage and family.”
      If you make a kid then you should at least pay child support if you don’t want to acknowledge the child in any other way – the law actually has the power to hold you to that responsibility.
      However, it is not the presidents/any other officials role to counsel you on how you should make your life’s decisions – this is the state infringing on your right to make your own.

      • Daniel Baskin
        Daniel Baskin says:

        To specify further: I don’t think there is much further the state can to do prevent dead-beat dads. I’m all for stricter child-support laws. I don’t know how much that would help solve the root issues, but it certainly would make things fairer.

  25. http://Angelesstyle.blogspot.com
    http://Angelesstyle.blogspot.com says:

    Hooray for Obama!! He understands that all things are not created equal and parents should have a CHOICE!!! I do not know any mothers who WANT to stay home with thier children past the age of 3. I had a stay at home MOM who did not believe in kindergarten and when I started my first day at school in First Grade I was TRAUMATIZED and walked out of the class and home to my Mom as fast as I could. When I was told that was no longer an option I was sick. Of course Extroverts (including you) who rule our country do not understand when Introverted learning to socialize is MAJOR!!!!

    • jane
      jane says:

      I think you’re supposed to be traumatized, or as most people call it, challenged, on the first day of school. It’s not such a bad thing.

      I am happy you recovered, though.

    • Rachael
      Rachael says:

      “I do not know any mothers who WANT to stay home with thier (sic) children past the age of 3. I had a stay at home MOM who did not believe in kindergarten and when I started my first day at school in First Grade I was TRAUMATIZED and walked out of the class and home to my Mom as fast as I could.”

      1) I’m sorry you don’t know any. I know dozens. Very talented women at that.
      2) So you freaked out your first day of school? If it happened in first grade it would have happened your first day of kindergarten. What does it matter when it happens?
      3) I walked into public school for the first time in eighth grade having never sat in a classroom or been tested. The only unsettling thing was the behavior of all the children who had been “socialized” for years—disrespecting teachers and physically fighting—a few days into my first year at school a mob fight broke out in gym which ended with a teacher getting his nose broken.
      4) It’s your parent/guardian’s job to socialize you and prepare you for the world—not the public school system.

      And before you “hooray” Obama remember whose money he’s spending. No matter, we can just raise the debt ceiling.

    • sarah
      sarah says:

      Introverts don’t have a problem with socialising. They simply need quiet time afterwards to recharge their emotional batteries. Some of the most social and confident people I know are introverts. Perhaps the issue instead was shyness or something else.

    • Arewehavingfunyet?
      Arewehavingfunyet? says:

      Hi, SAHM of a 3 and a half year old here. Just wanted to introduce myself. I want to continue to stay at home and raise my child. It’s sad to me that school days are so quickly approaching. I will miss that time with my little one so much. There, now you know someone.

  26. Mark Kenski
    Mark Kenski says:

    You’re wrong this time, Penelope. President Obama’s proposal is good, but far too modest. What we need is a bold plan, something more like this:

    The government must take possession of children at birth.

    Only in this way will properly-trained professionals ensure that every child is treated with perfect equality and given a standardized, correct education. With government finally taking over all of education, we could eliminate redundant universities and even libraries since they are filled with inaccuracies and half-truths.

    The government would of course make sure the internet was kept clean and correct as well. Would you eat food that is not FDA approved? Then why would anyone want to read books, or blogs, that have not been similarly inspected and certified correct by properly trained experts?

    Did you know that people who disagree with science, and even government policies, are free to intellectually abuse children today by just saying whatever they think?

    A much bolder approach like this would be the first step toward the beginning of a new world, a perfect world, without the social ills we are now plagued with due to our clinging to outmoded ideas and ways.

    Get with the program! ;)

  27. Darnell Jackson
    Darnell Jackson says:

    Interesting topic.

    I thought “left” people wanted the government in charge of everything?

    New York has regulated sodas.

    Now we have regulated light bulbs.

    What you think pre-k is exempt? Why?

    I think the people who support big government will learn the hard way.

    Here’s an idea:

    Why not give the parents who home school their kids the same cash voucher that these private schools are living off of?

  28. sarah
    sarah says:

    In New Zealand, moves are afoot to force all social welfare beneficiaries to send their children to preschool or daycare, not so that the parents are then available to work, but because the assumption is that most beneficiaries abuse their children or neglect their “learning needs”. I have so many deep feelings about this whole subject, I can not articulate clearly. I’ll just say that I’m really scared about the continuous assault on families, and the growing idea that wanting to mother your children and make a home is abnormal.

    • Help4newmoms
      Help4newmoms says:

      Well said. The overwhelming sentiment in the US is that stay at home moms stay home because they don’t want to work. The truth is, they do want to work outside the home but feel staying home is more important for their family. Do they take a risk, financially, absolutely. Do they risk their career, you bet. They do it, because they think their family is better off for it.

  29. channa
    channa says:

    You base too much of your writing on the supposed “preference” of women who tell researchers that they’d rather stay home or work part-time. It’s a simplistic question and results in bullshit answers.

    Stephanie Coontz had a column just last weekend that tells the truth about these preferences: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/17/opinion/sunday/why-gender-equality-stalled.html

    “The sociologist Pamela Stone studied a group of mothers who had made these decisions. Typically, she found, they phrased their decision in terms of a preference. But when they explained their ‘decision-making process,’ it became clear that most had made the ‘choice’ to quit work only as a last resort — when they could not get the flexible hours or part-time work they wanted, when their husbands would not or could not cut back their hours, and when they began to feel that their employers were hostile to their concerns. Under those conditions, Professor Stone notes, what was really a workplace problem for families became a private problem for women.

    “This is where the political gets really personal. When people are forced to behave in ways that contradict their ideals, they often undergo what sociologists call a ‘values stretch’ — watering down their original expectations and goals to accommodate the things they have to do to get by. This behavior is especially likely if holding on to the original values would exacerbate tensions in the relationships they depend on.”

  30. Esther
    Esther says:

    “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.”
    Yes. I’m a social worker and we are often putting young children into childcare or kinder without really thinking this through. The assumption is that it’s always better. “How Not to F*** Them Up” by Oliver James suggests otherwise. The families are certainly disadvantaged in many ways, but I’m not always convinced that childcare is better than home.

  31. Drew
    Drew says:

    Feminism is about equality for women. When you tell women they need to be more like men to be successful, that’s not equality. Women do things differently, we have different goals and different priorities, and that is OK and even great.

    • RJ
      RJ says:


      I would also add, if you need to subsidize a woman’s choice to help make her more like a man it’s the opposite of equality, it’s insulting.

  32. Anne
    Anne says:

    Have you seen this? http://healthland.time.com/2013/02/18/better-tv-habits-can-lead-to-better-behavior-among-children/?hpt=hp_t3

    I have to imagine that these statistics are so insane because low income mothers have no choice but to plop their kids in front of the TV, because they’re working and have older kids in charge or some relative or someone that really has no business watching their kids while they try to make a living to support their family.

    You’re making a very broad assumption that keeping your kids at home when they’re young is a choice available to everyone. And it’s not.

    I’m so sick of this argument because it all comes down to – once again – are you a bad mother for working. And you’re clearly landing on “yes”.

  33. Pat
    Pat says:

    This is interesting. I am 50, already raised my two. I did not work outside the home. I read stories and books to my children, and they are fine, going to college and being responsible people.
    I was thinking, that children are born to learn, born to inquire, to ask and to learn, to try on roles and attitudes and play and grow as human beings, no matter the economic level of their parents. My grandfather, was born into a very very poor family, lived in the Great Depression, ate pinto beans all his life, his parents never read to him, but he grew up in that poverty, took off on his own as a train hopping hobo of the Great Depression, and worked hard at odd jobs and earned his way up from great poverty to a status of a country elegance. he died with much savings, etc. I am sure there are many more instances of a similar kind of story of those who were not educated as preschoolers (in the modern sense of this) and strove with hardship and came out winning materially and socially.
    One thought that pierces my mind is, that, without relationship, Words are meaningless. Without a relationship that helps frame and give understanding of words, there is a lacking of comprehension, that relationship offer to children, the needed frame to understand words, life, terms, meanings, and ideas.


  34. Kelly Salasin
    Kelly Salasin says:

    I felt myself bristle when President Obama announced universal preschool, but I wasn’t sure why.

    I believe in early education. I find it of value to children. I’d like to see it spotlighted so that these educators and providers receive the kind of salary and professional development that the field deserves. That said, I feel cautions. I don’t want early education absorbed into the public school system in such a way that it becomes academically directed and full-day.

    I’m also uncertain as to how universal preschool addresses the issues of our time. I’m not sure that it strengthens families; which I find is key.

    When I was a first-time parent, I was dismayed to find that I could get a childcare subsidy and tax credit if I returned to work, but there was no support for the investment of staying home.

    Then when I was ready to return to work, I was equally dismayed at what was available to me; and how little support was available to help me transition back into the work world.

    More than anything, I love learning. I could have easily homeschooled my boys, but each of them was so eager to be with their peers and I was so eager to have some time to myself that school was a good fit for all of us. I can truly say that my sons have received an excellent education at a public institution.


  35. Cindi
    Cindi says:

    Please educate yourself about the incredible value of preschool learning for children before posting such an uneducated opinion on this very important and needed programming. Please review statistics of educated versus uneducated parents as well as the statistics of the dire economic times. Further, there are plenty of educated parents who have children with special needs. Do you live in a bubble? It isn’t always about how “educated” the parents are. Just because a parent is well educated, does not make that person a good parent, nor does it guarantee that their child has normal functioning and abilities. Regarding home-schooling, parents will still have the option, as they have for years, to educate their child at home, as long as they can provide proof of a home-schooling regimen. Those who have economic means will still have the choices they have now. Universal Pre-school will provide opportunities to families who are stuck in the middle. They aren’t able to have the luxury of staying at home with their child, but yet, cannot afford the tuition that it costs for public or private preschool. Unless a child qualifies for special needs in one or more areas, the parent currently has to pay tuition for even public school. Many cannot afford it. Your posting shoots from the hip, with little research or understanding of early childhood education. The children who are typical learning children, who are within the average range of functioning for cognition, social emotional ability and areas of communication, provide wonderful models of normal skills to children who are not within the normal range. They learn about understanding and compassion and learn to be young teachers. Children learn from children. I agree that there are many flaws in our education system, but early intervention is not one of them.

    • Stacy
      Stacy says:

      I don’t want to misinterpret your comments, but are you saying that the majority of children are considered “special needs”, and that the majority of parents do not make good teachers? I’m sincerely trying to understand what you’re saying regarding the statistics.

      Your post brings up a lot of different scenarios, but I truly think that those scenarios are the exception and not the rule, or are they?

      Your last four sentences are about children becoming teachers and helping with the children not in the normal range. It’s a nice idea, but it doesn’t always work well. My children were considered “little teachers” and were around children who led vastly different lives. While I realize I can’t shelter my kids from everything, they certainly learned about some things that were upsetting to them, and us, as parents.

      I believe it’s putting those “normal functioning” children in a negative position by that expectation. Of course, parents do the same thing in families, but we’re there. We’re also parenting our children and not a classroom of 15 three and four year olds.

      • Cindi
        Cindi says:

        No, I did not say that the “majority” of children are special needs, what I stated was “It isn’t always about how “educated” the parents are. Just because a parent is well educated, does not make that person a good parent, nor does it guarantee that their child has normal functioning and abilities.” meaning that just because a parent may be educated does not mean they will not have children with educational needs beyond what they can manage at home. Also, there is no research that shows a negative impact on normally functioning children in a preschool classroom of children who have special needs. Again, it is your “choice” as a parent to place your child in a preschool or not, regardless of what President Obama is proposing, if it even passes. Parent’s will still have the choice to educate their children at home or in a private school. Again, to restate the importance of early childhood education, if you are able to be at home with your child to educate them and provide them with outside social opportunities to interact with peers, then great, but you are not in the “majority’ in regards to the ability to do so financially. I am a Speech Pathologist who evaluates children for early intervention and know the stats and know the research. I am passionate about children having free opportunity to learn. Universal Preschool with provide that opportunity for more families than it does now. Although it may sound mandated, it is no more so than children in in level of schooling where parents do not want them participating in the public education system.

  36. GingerR
    GingerR says:

    I’m not that keen on universal pre-school. The schools we have now are big money-sucking institutions that don’t deliver good results. The fact that children learn anything at all in schools is a testament to the natural ability of most children to learn!

    Beyond that I don’t really agree with P. UNTIL she gets to her proposed solutions, which I think are spot-on.

  37. Help4newmoms
    Help4newmoms says:

    I never understood how moms have to work because they don’t have money to stay home and yet many moms stay home because they don’t have the money for daycare. How can it be both? And another thing, I have met hundreds of moms, while speaking to MOMs club international groups. They are NOT in the 1%. They don’t have a lot of money. They don’t go on vacation, they don’t have fancy clothes, they struggle and they clip coupons and they stay at home and raise their kids. Staying at hme is NOT a luxury, it is a choice, it is a sacrifice. Please stop saying the SAHM’s are rich and privileged. They are NOT. Ok, with that said, many moms work for a variety of reasons, they want to work, they need the benefits, they need to work to make ends meet, working works for their families…terrific..all good reasons…own it, be proud of it.

    Let’s Stop criticizing each other’s decisions. With all that said, I agree with Penelope on this one. The government is overstepping here and making us all responsible for every child’s education and development. I’ll take care of my kids and you take care of yours, ok?

  38. avant garde designer
    avant garde designer says:

    I can’t believe we’re STILL arguing this same old argument of working vs stay-at-home moms! I’m in my fifties and raised four kids. Ten years ago I was thinking we were beyond this argument but now that my kids are of parenting age, I see their generation going at it worse than we did. And now, not only do they argue about working/staying at home, they’ve added home schooling/traditional school to the debate.

    Here’s why they’re both stupid arguments. In the 25 years I raised kids, I watched many stay-at-home moms eventually go to work, and many working moms quit and stay home with their kids. What was right at one time in their parenting lives, wasn’t necessarily right at another time. By time my generation’s kids were teens, we got smart and eased up on each other because we realized there’s no right or wrong for everyone.

    This same thing applies to homeschooling. Jeez, give it up! The argument, that is. And the self-righteous attitudes.

    Our country is blessed to have both types of education. One is not better than the other, we need them both for different reasons and different students. We’re always going to need traditional schools because not every family is capable of or wants to school their own children. It’s also wonderful we have the non-traditional opportunities for those who do wish to school their children. Maybe we should think in terms of a unified goal of educating our children, whether traditional or non-traditional, and maybe they’ll grow up and work together in a more unified and complimentary way.

  39. The 73rd Virgin
    The 73rd Virgin says:

    “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.”

    I don’t think you know enough about the underprivledged to say this. I go into hundreds of homes per year and there is a vast swath of lower middle class to poverty line parents who absolutely SUCK at almost every aspect of life including getting their kids out of bed, fed, and into some useful activity. And I’m not just talking about drug addicted single moms.
    TV, snack, Video Game, snack, TV, snack, bed, TV, crash, maybe some lunch, Video Game, Judge Judy, snack, bed. And I mean not even time for a shower.

    I agree preschool is mostly a joke, but almost anything’s better than home life for a growing number of “families”.

    • wtfci
      wtfci says:

      “I agree preschool is mostly a joke, but almost anything’s better than home life for a growing number of “families”.”

      Almost anything is better than home life for a growing number of families. I don’t think you’re crazy, but think about what you just said. Despite all data that shows that parents are the best teachers the real problem is that kids are spending too much time in the home.

      There is a reason why civil discourse is eroding in the United States. The primary reason is that the people cannot understand basic facts anymore.

      • The 73rd Virgin
        The 73rd Virgin says:

        There is no data behind Ms. Trunks’ quote,
        “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.”
        Period. It is a statement of opinion from someone who gives no indication that she ever spent any time in the homes of disadvantaged or utterly screwed up families. Not to mention a self-(and CONSTANTLY) acknowledged person with a condition that makes it difficult for her to pick up on non-verbal cues. How does she know?

        “Despite all data that shows that parents are the best teachers”
        WHICH parents? All the same? Really? What about the “pretty bad” ones. And is everything they are teaching didactic knowledge? Or are they also teaching lousy life skills and not even the most basic notion of what it means to live in this country and in this society?

        And here’s a quote from the link that Ms. Trunk misleadingly uses to support the statement, “This is why the rich don’t even bother with preschool—” http://www.forbes.com/2008/05/15/wealth-education-parenting-biz-billies-cx_lm_0515richkids.html

        “Russ Alan Prince, who runs the firm that tracks the habits of the rich, says the super-rich simply don’t view education as the be-all-end-all, mostly because their wealth and connections can already open doors for their kids that the less wealthy have to struggle to pry open.”

        The article in no way supports her use of the link.

        “There is a reason why civil discourse is eroding in the United States”
        Yeah, well, I’m not the one with “wtf” in my signature. Dig that mote out of your own eye.

        • Helen
          Helen says:

          I’m familiar with the “leaving your child with OMG STRANGERS” meme. It’s been around ever since talkback radio and letters to the editor were invented, never mind the internet. It is one of my hobbies to go around reminding people that a child’s carers are NOT strangers. They are strangers when they first meet them – you know, like aunts, uncles, best friends, grandparents and all those categories who are deemed somehow magically less “strange”…Then, after a few days or weeks: Not strangers! It’s like… magic! or… reality, perhaps! :)

  40. Millbrae
    Millbrae says:

    Does the author have any children? How did she do it? As a father of two kids under 5 I have experienced the problems with the current system. My wife works but the current preschool system was designed for families where a spouse didn’t work. Is moving my kids from preschool to daycare at lunch an efficient use of my time? This would not be possible without an understanding workplace. In France kindergarten starts at 3. Why not offer that here as well? Or should preschool only be for the children of the well off?

    • wtfci
      wtfci says:

      You’re missing the point.

      Two parents are great. Two full time working parents is not good. Two full time working parents is often a choice that is made in order to “afford” children. Women that choose to stay at home to raise their kids often still want rewarding part-time work.

      It is very difficult to construct a national policy that would satisfy all of these goals. France doesn’t do it either. Preschool won’t solve this issue either. And the wealthy in the United States don’t even send their kids to preschool. Some do, but a vast majority do not. They fall into the category where “rewarding part-time” work isn’t really necessary. They have the means.

      I think a better approach is to basically stop wasting so much money on schools. The United States will spend over 750 billion dollars US this year on education. I would wager it’s a 50 billion dollar problem where women want to stay at home to teach their kids, but find the loss of career earnings to be an impediment that makes them consider preschool or daycare so they don’t have to leave the workforce for good. So, place a value on the teaching that women do do when they stay at home with their kids to teach them most everything a preschool or daycare might do.

      Now pay them in vouchers.

      Now prepare for war for the monopolized labor force in education because they are going to give you war.

      • Millbrae
        Millbrae says:

        If it was not for preschool, we would have never known about my child’s language development delay. It turns out he needed tubes in his ears because there was fluid behind them. If it was not for preschool this would not have been discovered until kindergarten. We only have the kids in preschool 9 hours a week, but I can’t understate how helpful this has been for us and their future growth. How has preschool been detrimental to your children?

        • Margaret
          Margaret says:

          Millbrae, I’m glad that preschool was good for your child. But why do you assume you would not have found out about his problem without preschool?

          • millbrae
            millbrae says:

            We did not know there was a problem in the first place. They were able to spot it for us. I did not like the idea of preschool, but my wife had gone, so I agreed that we’d pay for it. The program was well worth the money once we discovered that. My mom was a teacher and she just assume it was his personality and not that there was any issue.

  41. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Univesral Pre-K– so kids can go straight from daycare to Kindergarten then elementary school without ever being influenced by those corrupting conservative (eww, ick!) parents! (Truth be told.)

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