Election day is fast approaching, as seen by Barack Obama’s official acceptance of the Democratic nomination for President yesterday and John McCain’s plans to follow suit in just a few days. In all the discussion of important election issues, one issue that seems to be taking a backseat to more pressing ones, is the issue of what has been called “universal preschool.”
Obama has, for sometime now, been promoting some form of universal preschool as he has addressed the issue in many of his most important speeches. This would make preschool for Children between ages 3 and 4 a necessary prerequisite to attending public schools across the country. Obama’s hope in instituting such a program is to give underprivileged children a boost toward succeeding in school. This sounds like a noble goal–who doesn’t want to give underprivileged children a boost? However, Shikha Dalmia and Lisa Snell, writing for the Wall Street Journal seem to think otherwise. They argue that not only would such plans be outrageously expensive (Obama plans to spend $10 Billion+ toward such a plan), but recent research seems to suggest that growth over the last several years in the number of children attending preschool has not resulted in improved academic performance. In the last half-century, preschool attendance has grown from 16% to 70%. But as Dalmia and Snell report, “fourth-grade reading, science, and math scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) — the nation’s report card — have remained virtually stagnant since the early 1970s.”
The academic benefits of pulling children out of the home and placing them in preschool at 3 or 4 years old remain largely a mystery in terms of benefiting our Children’s education. However, what is more alarming about universal preschool is what it does to the family. Yesterday, Dr. Albert Mohler discussed the issue of universal preschool on his radio show, Mohler argued that universal preschool, though it could be beneficial for underprivileged children, would be detrimental to children on the whole if implemented across the board. Mohler is concerned about the professionalization of parenting. Universal preschool for all children ages 3 or 4 essentially means free daycare and pulls children out of the home at an even earlier age. Thus children are moved another step further away from the place where they will grow and learn the most important lessons of life, the family. Thus children are increasingly being parented not by their parents, but by “professionals.”
I think Mohler is on to something here. I don’t think preschool is a bad idea for all parents and there are certainly preschool options that many children and families benefit from, but the problem with universal preschool is that it devalues the family.
Universal preschool devalues the family not because kids go to preschool which can be and often is a good thing, rather it devalues the family by telling parents they cannot keep their preschool child at home–parents are not allowed the freedom to keep their children at home if they so desire. Universal preschool tells the parent that his/her child is better off at school than at home. As I have said above, preschool may be a good thing for many children, but not all children in all circumstances. This sort of thinking that has led to the proposal for a universal preschool is the same sort of thinking that may outlaw homeschooling some day.
I believe that the family is one of the most essential cornerstones of civilization–it is the primary training ground for our children and the environment in which our children are cared for and nurtured and the most fertile ground for a child’s learning. When we agree to allow our children to be taken out of the home at an earlier age, the family is in essence being greatly devalued. We are saying that the state can and will raise our children better than we can.
While I think learning in a preschool is a better situation for many children whose parents are disengaged from their lives, implementing such a plan across the board hurts young children whose parents are actively involved in their upbringing and education. Further, I think universal preschool encourages disengaged parents to remain so–thus failing to fulfill the stated goal to benefit underprivileged children.
I have not and will not endore a candidate for president on this blog, but I will speak clearly about issues that I sense devalue society’s most precious building block–the family. Please don’t hear this as a rant against Obama. Rather, hear it as a cry to encourage parents to make sure they are the ones raising their Children and more pointedly a cry to Christian parents to raise their Children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord!