Saturday, July 29, 2017

Certain home environments

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 disagree.

Heartily.

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.

4 comments:

Erica said...

"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."

Yes yes yes. I actually said that when I read this sentence. Sometimes I feel like everyone is being brainwashed into conforming a certain way and then they say the typical line 'Oh I could never homeschool. I don't know how you do it.'

Donna said...

Oh I have a few things to add...but I am supposed to be preparing food. Which is my favorite thing after having bamboo shoots hammered under my fingernails. :D

Katie said...

I've been reading your blog for a month or so now and really enjoy it. I've been thinking about this particular post and I'd rather read the book before commenting so I'm asking questions and responding more to your comments as that's all I can go on. Is the author really stating there are no other options better than preschool? I mean it seems to me there clearly are plenty of excellent options from home based to private pre school - no one needs to argue there are no better options for some people than universal Pre-K it's just that those better options are not universally available or attainable for the very reasons you say you wouldn't argue against preschool for some above. So why limit it to those few vs making it universally available (vs mandatory)? You suggest the government wants to create a dependence -the equally cynical flip side of that is perhaps the government or powers that be want to maintain the status quo of haves and have nots with a pick yourself up from your bootstraps motto that leaves those on limited means, with limited education and resources often out of luck and the children at an early disadvantage. I, personally, don't think there's some master plan on either side just people with notions they are pushing that are both sensible and both flawed - and both are easily spun to meet the ends of whatever objective a group wants, which is always frustrating and problematic.

I do agree with you on the quote though. It also ignores the disparity in Asian immigrants in the US - there's some interesting research from Harvard on those who voluntarily immigrate from Asia vs refugees (Laos etc) who come with much more limited education. I obviously don't know the greater context around the quote but it seems to be poorly written.

So anyway I'm new here, I admire your blog and find it very interesting and this post got me thinking which is always fun. I may check out the book (I'm a bookworm) and I'd love a well thought out counter to it if you find such a thing!

thecurryseven said...

Katie--

Thanks for reading! A quick answer to your question, though with the caveat that I am hardly into the book. Yes, based on what I've read and scanned, my guess is that the author would make the argument that non-regulated private home-based care is not to be considered viable, precisely because it is not regulated and standardized. Believe me, I will be thinking of your question, though, as I work (slog?) my way through the book.

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