Sometimes I purposefully read books that I know I'll disagree with. It's good to read other ideas; to hear the other side of things. There are times when doing this will cause me to rethink some of my opinions. There are other times when doing this just makes me want to pull my hair out. It was the latter that occurred today.
I'm reading (if you can call it that, it is going soooo slowly) Standardized Childhood: The Political and Cultural Struggle Over Early Education by Bruce Fuller. It is really a look at the idea of universal preschool, written by a Professor of Education. And it's just so, so educational-ly.
When I am reading a book on education, one of the first things I do is to take a look at the index in back. It can tell you a lot. If I see out-of-the-mainstream ideas or proponents listed, I can assume that the author is open to something outside the status quo. If these terms and names appear no where... I'm can be pretty darn sure that anything outside what is narrowly considered as 'normal' is the name of the game, and that the author probably won't (can't?) take a look at the system he or she is in and think about it critically. This book, not surprisingly, has a very mainstream index.
So it shouldn't surprise me when reading it makes be grate my teeth just a bit. That's OK, I can manage. And I was managing pretty well all the way up to p. 17, when I read this.
"This, despite Asian children's low preschool enrollment rate, illustrating the power of culturally situated forms of parenting and certain home environments."
It's the end of that sentence I want to talk about, but first you need some background. The author is talking here about the rates of preschool enrollment and how well the children do in school, based on ethnicity. Not surprisingly, the data seems to show that early enrollment equals better success in school; that the children from poor and lower middle class families who do not attend preschool, are often the same children who struggle in school. This is the disparity that universal preschool is supposed to eliminate. I don't know enough about statistics to argue with this, but it seems a little overly simplistic.
At least this is the correlation until you get to Asian families. Few Asian families send their children to preschool (based on the data), yet their children do quite well in school; at least as well as Caucasian children who went to high quality preschools. It kind of throws a wrench in the works.
Now, since the author is speaking in generalities, I will, too. It is no secret that most Asian cultures highly value education and learning, and make this a priority in their families, regardless of economic status. As a result, children growing up in such an environment are exposed to all sorts of learning opportunities within their families when young. Any child growing up in such an environment would be primed for school and for learning. It is not the fact of the child's race, but a matter of values and exposure. (Heaven forbid, we fall into the 'model minority' trap, which has the tacit assumption that there is something genetically educationally brighter about being Asian than being another race. It's not true, and it's oppressive, but that's a blog post for another day.)
It seems pretty simple, huh? A child raised in an attentive family environment, with lots of exposure to ideas and experiences is going to be more than well prepared for school. As well prepared as a child who has attended a high quality preschool. There is nothing magical about the preschool, except that it is a venue for being exposed to different concepts and ideas, hopefully in an age-appropriate way.
This is what made me want to scream when I read the sentence I shared with you. It seems obvious to everyone but the professors of education who write books and push for universal preschool. No, we can't have attentive parents doing a good job of raising preschoolers and preparing them for school and for learning, because that would kind of defeat the argument for universal preschool. That argument being that standardized, universal, and governmentally controlled preschool is the best way to prepare young children for school. Anything other than this is questionable and is the cause for the vastly different success rates of children in school.
No, we can't have parents doing a good job. Parents doing a good job has become, a culturally situated form of parenting (at least if you are Asian), and only certain home environments are able to succeed.
I'm sure that doesn't surprise you at all, does it? I don't want to argue for or against preschool... or quality childcare for families who need it... or that some children from less-than-stellar home environments are benefited. That would be stupid and pointless on my part, and pretty much a losing argument. What I want to rail against is the idea that there are not other options other than preschool for families who care to choose it. Parents can raise and educate their own children. Quite well, actually. And it doesn't take an education degree from a university in order to do it. Perhaps a bigger question is, had the widespread usage of preschool created a sense of learned incompetence in families? Once you start to pay someone else to do something for you, it becomes a very small step to thinking that it is not something one can do for oneself. Or is that what the proponents of universal preschool actually want to happen? These, to me, are the more interesting questions, but I fear not the ones which will be addressed in this book. We'll see if I'm able to finish it before my number of library renewals is up.