The Politics of Irreconcilable Differences: The Pre-K Education Edition

So one of the good things from Obama’s State of the Union speech is his proposal for universal pre-kindergarten education–if nothing else it will help women re-enter (or stay in) the workforce. As is the case with any broadly popular proposal, conservatives oppose it. A Heritage Foundation hack explains (boldface mine):

A conservative policy would give money that otherwise would be spent on Head Start to parents so that they could put their children in private or church-based preschools, said Lindsey Burke, an education fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington.

“Head Start has been a 48-year-long failed experiment with government preschool, and I’m afraid we’ll see more of the same, based on the president’s proposals,” Burke said.

She said birth to age 5 was a pivotal learning period, “which is why I wouldn’t want the government involved in such a critical time. We want children with families, with parents.

The coming madness that will pass for debate has nothing to do with–and can not be refuted by–studies of efficacy or budgetary mechanisms to provide for this program. Fundamentally, this argument is about deeply held views on family structure (who’s the ‘head of the family’), the societal and economic roles of women, and the very existence of single parent families (if we make the children suffer, somehow they will magically disappear. Because that’s worked really well so far).

Like I mentioned, this is a popular proposal (though that often has nothing to do with anything), but the minority who oppose it, for the most part, aren’t doing so on policy grounds. It stems from a fundamentally different view of the world. No magical incantation of buzzwords, no singular study or overwhelming evidence will ever convince them.

These things have never convinced conservatives:

The preschool backlash is one of the oldest stories in the history of “New Right” organizing. A bill proposing a national system of nursery schools, under the authorship of Minnesota Senator Walter Mondale, was on a glide-path to passage in 1971. “Backed by Democrats, Republicans, and a highly mobilized set of interest organizations,” historian Kimberly J. Morgan has written, “the bill’s middle-class appeal made it seem like a political sure bet in the months preceding the the 1972 election season.”

The experts agreed: What could go wrong?

Then came a visitation from a new political planet: the nascent “family values” right.

A young University of South Carolina graduate named Connie Marshner accepted a job in 1971 on Capitol Hill as a secretary for Young Americans for Freedom. Quietly, on her off hours, according to historian Leo Ribuffo, she transformed herself into an expert on a bill she decided was the quintessential example of the “therapeutic state invading the home.” Wrote Ribuffo, “Marshner established a letterhead organization and sent out mailings denouncing Mondale’s bill to local church women. To her own surprise this small effort prompted hundreds of thousands of letters to the White House.” Nixon vetoed the bill—with a speech that precisely tracked the nascent religious right rhetoric on the family: its good intentions, he said, were “overshadowed by the fiscal irresponsibility, administrative unworkability, and family-weakening implications of the system it envisions…our response to this challenge must be…consciously designed to cement the family in its rightful position as the keystone of our civilization.”

I only hope Democrats realize this and push ahead on this without attempting to make nice with Republicans.

Hope is such a fleeting thing, however….

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2 Responses to The Politics of Irreconcilable Differences: The Pre-K Education Edition

  1. If we look at Finland, we see parents starting to teach their own children at home how to read by age three and by age seven—four years later—when the children start school, they are already literate and start school on a level/equal learning field.

    We don’t see that in the United States.

    Most illiterates in the US had illiterate parents. Because the children of illiterate parents start school with no reading or writing skills, they start out behind and stay behind.

    I taught for thirty years in the public schools and 16 of those years I taught English in a high school surrounded by teen gang infested streets. Many of the parents spoke only Spanish and were illiterate in that language too. In every high school English class I taught, I had students that read at about second or third grade level and due to standardized testing and other politically driven agendas, I had to teach them out of a grade level textbook.

    Back to Finland, almost 100% of the teachers belong to a strong union, and teachers make the decisions in the schools with parent support. Finland’s public schools are considered one of the best in the world, because religion and politics does not wage war over how to teach or not to teach the children in that country.

    Due to far too many parents that do nothing to teach their own children literacy skills the first six years of life—the most important years for language acquisition, the US must support early literacy programs starting as early as age three as they do in Finland. By age six it is almost too late.

  2. Pingback: A literacy-based Racist Conservative Religious/Political Agenda « Crazy Normal – the Classroom Exposé

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