After discussing universal pre-kindergarten (UPK) with my family yesterday, I happened to stumble upon an article discussing the research behind it. Like I thought, all studies conducted on the future success of students in UPK show little to no difference in educational outcome. Nevertheless, Democrats here and abroad (in the UK, at least) still advocate expanding these programs as a means of helping poor children catch up with their more affluent peers.
Most conservatives will usually point to the data and rest their case there, but I think it’s important to try to understand why UPK doesn’t really make a difference. If a young child grows up in a stimulating environment that introduces skills like reading and abstract concepts like shapes and numbers, why shouldn’t they have a leg-up on kids frying their brains on Nickelodeon while their single parent struggles with unemployment or works at a dead-end minimum wage job?
Some conservatives will likely resort to the bell-curve theory that links intelligence to genetics–of course, it’s reassuring enough to say this when one is the parent of genetically privileged children. Kids from a certain gene pool will inevitably fall to the left valley of the curve, their lives cruelly predetermined by nature. While I’d say that a person’s genetic makeup does play a role in their cognitive development, I think this oversimplifies the problem and distorts the situation for a few reasons.
What these studies on UPK suggest, in my opinion, is that psychologists like Piaget are right about cognitive development. Human minds, even ones gifted with better processing speed or memory, proceed through certain stages at a certain rate. For this reason, even the very brightest child cannot verbally communicate soon after they exit the womb no matter how much his parents talk to him. This was also a big reason gimmicks like “Baby Einstein” did little in the way of making toddlers musical prodigies or more developed academically. Teachers and parents, even the very best ones with the best kids, cannot do much to push through these stages of cognitive development faster.
I found it telling that some of the “gains” cited in the bogus Perry study that 5-year-olds made because of UPK flattened over time, with non-UPK ending up in the same intellectual orbit by the third grade. All that Pre-K “professionals” can do is train (not teach) these toddlers to perform a few mental tricks that boost their score on a dubious aptitude test designed on purely speculative neuroscientific grounds, with little overall effect on learning. In other words, Pre-K teachers can have their children sing the alphabet and count to ten, but the kids do not really understand what this means. Toddlers singing “Twinkle Little Star” and listing the names of their Pokemon are applying the same mental processes.
All this matters because this type of “mental jumpstarting” has permeated popular thinking on education and child-rearing. Many educators now believe that they can bypass rote learning and memorizing content, two key phases in cognitive development, and skip to the later phases of critical thinking and complex reasoning skills. Following Common Core, a federal curriculum designed by a committee of experts headed by Obama’s basketball partner Arne Duncan, teachers have ditched grammar, arithmetic, and even classic fiction in order to force kids to write profound reflections of why and how two plus two equal four and what Curious George suggests about post-colonialism and tolerance. I would say that Common Core offers some helpful guidance for high school teachers, at least ones who teach reading and writing, since it places an emphasis on constructing arguments and writing clearly, but it tends to become way too utilitarian and short-sighted by ditching the literary canon for disposable nonfiction.
As you can imagine, many states have either modified Common Core or rejected it outright for the same reason they reject UPK: it doesn’t really make a difference.
So why do so many people keep promoting it? I think it’s for the reason that the article implies and seems to approve, so that parents can have free daycare for their kids. At first, this seems like a fine enough reason to pay for it, helping parents, particularly ones living in poverty, as they try to make an honest living. However, when you think about it, UPK is predicated on some seriously immoral logic. As they did with the slaves, the government will essentially rip kids from their parents, dissolve the family bond, and brainwash younger generations to lean on the state.
I sometimes joked with my students that they probably spend more time with me than their actual parents and that I was a surrogate father figure for them. I stopped making this joke when a good chunk of the students replied that this was really the case, often never knowing their father and having little in common with their mothers. And this is in a relatively nice middle-class suburb. Imagine all these orphans seeking guidance in the inner cities!
Like contraception and abortion, UPK makes it all the easier to opt out of family life. In the case of contraception, one can have sex without having babies, thus destroying the bond between men and women and taking responsibility as an adult. In the case of abortion, one can even become pregnant without having a baby, again with the same effect though with addition of taking a life, numbing one’s conscience further. Finally, in the case of UPK, one can even have children without really having to raise them, eliminating the need for home. For people hoping to see for an elimination of family, which many secular liberals desire, UPK can finally sever the last link.
This sounds particularly diabolical–and it is–but we should consider its goal: absolute freedom. Freedom from parenting, freedom from adulthood, freedom from committed relationships, and certainly freedom from conscience and morality. Feminists want the “Hubby State” so that they can live independently of others while they happily depend more and more on the government. Men cheer them on because this means the same for them—and additionally, they can happily depend on their strong independent female companions. When people understand this, the allure of the Democratic and Socialist platforms make so much more sense.
The great irony behind this “freedom” is, as you can guess, the great slavery that comes from it. With the dissolution of family comes the rise of big government and big business. People will depend more and more on both and become slaves to both, with one providing security and one providing employment and often one’s purpose in life. The byproduct of these two masters is unrestricted pleasure, the greatest enslaver of all, towards which people put all their money and time. Now that they have dispensed with family, people can work long hours so that they can go travel, eat fancy food, go to rock concerts, attend sporting events, work on yet another post-graduate degree, attend a few political rallies, and maybe wave some wave some rainbow flags at some protests against conservatives. And when they reach an end to this pleasure, they will grow “tired of life” and ask for assisted suicide as they now want to do in Belgium and many other countries. It all comes together as the Brave New World prophecy of Aldous Huxley takes place before our very eyes.
Of course, I’ve now pursued a tangent and deviated from the original topic. What does the research of UPK mean for little children growing up and for parents? Simply put, it means that parents should simply love them and focus on conditioning behavior (eliminating bad habits and nurturing good ones) in the early years. Good behavior can then lay the groundwork for a good education as children can read good books, have good conversations, and patiently learn the fundamentals of various academic disciplines.
With that in mind, parents should remember that they and God Almighty hold the greatest influence in influencing a child’s development. A loving parent who’s present can do so much more than the best teacher. Moreover, a spiritual life complete with religious education and a regular reception of the sacraments will offer so much more wisdom and maturity than even the best moral instruction and modeling.
Sadly, the Western world will learn this truth the hard way, but devout Catholics should know better and carry the torch through cultural decline as they have in the past. Both the spiritual family, the Church, and the physical family, a monogamous heterosexual couple with children, for all their unpopularity will always be better equipped to thrive than very best, most scientifically cutting edge social program.