Obama’s Universal Pre-School Push

The first and most obvious question about the “universal preschool” idea President Barack Obama proposed in his State of the Union address has to be: “How in the world did we ever survive without it?”

The answer, until the nation and its culture began losing its way during the 1960s and 1970s, is that we mostly did just fine. Rich or poor, most families contained a married couple that stayed together. Their children generally grew up to competent with the help of strong reinforcing support structures in our neighborhoods, churches and communities.

Now we largely don’t have intact families. We’re paying for this devolution dearly in more ways than I can hope to enumerate in a single column. But I will note the primary result: Too many of our children are not being raised in home environments conducive to healthy early (or later) development. I will also note why this has happened: For decades, government policies have discouraged marriage while encouraging family break-ups.

Now the same people who brought us 30 years of a welfare system which did those very things (until 1996, when welfare reform began to improve that situation, but only marginally, because the culture by then had changed so markedly for the worse), an urban education system which has been failing children for decades (with the rot spreading to the suburbs and exurbs faster than more people recognize), and urban neighborhoods which have become virtual battle zones, are offering yet another “solution” which won’t solve anything, and could possibly do significant harm. But it will expand the government’s power and influence, which is what all of this is really about.

In his speech before Congress, Obama treated the dispute over the real value of universal preschool the way the left has treated global warming — y’know, the thing that really hasn’t been happening for the past 16 years — i.e., as supposedly settled science:

… today, fewer than three in ten 4-year-olds are enrolled in a high-quality preschool program. Most middle-class parents can’t afford a few hundred bucks a week for private preschool. And for poor kids who need help the most, this lack of access to preschool education can shadow them for the rest of their lives. So, tonight, I propose working with states to make high-quality preschool available to every single child in America.

… Every dollar we invest in high-quality early childhood education can save more than seven dollars later on, by boosting graduation rates, reducing teen pregnancy, even reducing violent crime. In states that make it a priority to educate our youngest children — like Georgia or Oklahoma — studies show students grow up more likely to read and do math at grade level, graduate high school, hold a job, form more stable families of their own.

This is another one of those major exercises in statism which somehow won’t “increase our deficit by a single dime.” It can be said Obama is right in a sense. It will surely increase our deficit and the national debt by hundreds of millions, and probably more like billions, of dimes.

It is clear that Obama’s definition of “a high-quality preschool program” is one that lasts all day. “A few hundred bucks a week” means at least $10,000 per nine-month school year. A small percentage of parents nationwide pay that much (many pay far less), and those who do are usually leaving their child in the care of others all day.

Thus, Obama has admitted, perhaps inadvertently, that he wants the nation’s children between roughly the ages of 3-1/2 and 5 years old housed all day long in what will surely be government-regulated and eventually effectively government-controlled situations.

Is there solid evidence that all-day preschool has lasting beneficial effects? Not really.

A USA Today editorial on Wednesday, citing government-sponsored research, noted that “intensive study of Head Start, the nation’s largest and oldest preschool program, finds that the beneficial effects, which are real, wear off by third grade,” because “for decades now, the American family has been breaking down.”

But it goes beyond that.

First, there are strong arguments relating to emotional attachment why many kids of preschool age shouldn’t be away from their parents for that long. The fact that this is so should not be seen as some kind of negative childhood trait.

Even more important, the driver behind the more aggressive preschool efforts is the belief that teaching children writing and math at an earlier age gives them a leg up in tackling their studies from that point forward. That premise seemed to be where Obama placed his emphasis in last week’s address. The trouble is, it erroneously assumes that preschoolers are ready for these tasks. From a strictly biological development standpoint, they’re often not.

David Elkind, at the time a professor of early childhood development at Tufts University, laid out the argument against rushing academics in 2005:

Those calling for academic instruction of the young don’t seem to appreciate that math and reading are complex skills acquired in stages related to age.

Children will acquire these skills more easily and more soundly if their lessons accord with the developmental sequence that parallels their cognitive development.

The reality is that children have to be far along in developing general motor skills (e.g., working with blocks containing letters, numbers, and colors) before they can effectively work on fine motor skills (e.g., holding a pencil, writing letters, doing simple math calculations). Elkind pointed to research showing that attempts to force fine motor skill work onto kids before their general motor skills have been adequately honed will leave children frustrated, anxious, and perhaps demotivated.

Elkind noted why there is so much pressure for doing what has been shown not to work:

… the movement toward academic training of the young is not about education. It is about parents anxious to give their children an edge in what they regard as an increasingly competitive and global economy.

Obama’s attempt to capitalize on this anxiety to impose yet another statist layer on society is among his more cynical and potentially diabolical moves. The better solution is the harder one: Rebuild a culture of personal and parental responsibility.

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  • http://www.adinakutnicki.com adinakutnicki

    Everything that the left pushes turns to crap. And when it comes to the pre-school set, it just gives them more time to indoctrinate the kiddies. Of course, the deconstruction of the family is of no matter to those who have no use for traditional ethos.

    Adina Kutnicki, Israel http://adinakutnicki.com/about/

  • http://www.clarespark.com clarespark

    My three children greatly benefited from a cooperative nursery school in the 1960s, but it was locally organized and not state-imposed. Under the new "diversity training" dispensation from liberals, I doubt that a Head Start type program would actually increase reading and science skills. I wrote about the contrasting types of child-rearing here: http://clarespark.com/2013/02/17/aristo-democrats…. Separation anxiety was an issue for all the children in our co-op, as Blumer suggests, but it is hardly insuperable. The issue of whether or not to support pre-school for poor children is unclear without explaining the proposed purpose and exact programs that want support. I wouldn't trust anything that comes out of this administration.

    • EarlyBird

      Clare, we know factually that Head Start absolutely makes a huge difference to childrens' success in kindergarten and beyond. My wife works in a local kindergarten and can tell in the first hour of the first day of a new year which children had pre-school and which didn't. The ones that did are far better at reading and just knowing how to behave in school, which is critical to learning.

      You write as if the entire focus of public education is to indoctrinate children into liberal worldviews of "diversity" and so on, which is ridiculous. That does exist, but it's hardly the reason for public education's existence.

      To your credit, your children definitely would have benefitted from the co-op pre-school they went through in the '60s. Most people don't have "co-ops" at their disposal, nor can they afford private pre-school like the well-off can.

      • http://www.clarespark.com clarespark

        If you think that pre-school can compensate for single parent households and poverty in general, then I suppose you are self-deceived. Obama’s proposal is at best, a band-aid. As for Head Start, the results have been “mixed” according to the Wikipedia page, which ideologically would have been supportive of such programs.

  • EarlyBird

    Sounds to me that Obama is trying to make us more competitive with other nations. Good for him. Where do people think such programs, meant to be universal, would come from other than the state? Wealthy people, to their credit, already get their children into pre-school. The rest of us, meaning most of us, send kids to kindergarten with no school training, and very few academic skills.

    • JacksonPearson

      Sounds to me like Obama just wants more socialism, and redistribution of wealth…So why don't you, and the Progressives lead by example, by emptying your wallets, and life savings to Obama to get it started? Then if it's successful, you and he and thee can take all the credit? Agree?

      • JacksonPearson


  • pierce

    Obama is always pushing something. He has more ideas on how to make the world a better place, and some of those ideas don't hold water. Educating a 2 or 3 year old should be left to the parents. Here in lies the problem, the parents are too busy doing nothing or shooting dope.
    Barack concentrate on something you know about, like balancing the budget (ha ha ha).

  • Flowerknife_us

    The State wants control of the Children once the Health Care Bill culls the Herd.

    Break the Family up more while producing Cars too small to have one-Family that is.

    But it's "day care" they say- in the way of the collective- unmentioned.

    We have breakfast, lunch and even dinner at some Schools. Anyone see sleep overs in the future?

  • Aero

    Me thinks Early Bird definitely has his head buried in the sand and other dark places. There is nothing demonstrative that the Left has done that has benefitted the country or has been successful except to insidiously indoctrinate in the failed Marxist way.

    • Walt

      I don't know why Obama doesn't drill down and promote the 'full monte' of pre-school enrollment commencing within one hour of the child's birth. In fact the registration could be done as the child was being taken to the nursery, and the child would then be fully authorized to being directly transferred from the nursery to the pre-school a week or so later (cutting out the 'middle-mom'), if you will.

      This is obviously just another thinly veiled suck-up to low information voters/47%ers that will save child care expenses for taking care of children that they only produced to gain other benefits from the government coffers.

      Welfare needs to be terminated except for the physically/mentally impaired (as verified by several doctors), and even then with annual verifications to prevent fraud (which is currently out of control).


    Waitaminnit. Wait just one cotton-pickin' minnit. KINDERGARTEN is suppose to be the pre-school program that transitions the child from home to school. Why do we have to have multiple programs that cover the same thing? Answer: so we can hire more NEA teachers to vote Democrat.

  • κατεργάζομαι

    The LEFT's obsession with Social Justice -
    – versus – equal justice under the BILL of RIGHTS,-

    OBAMA's & Vygotsky's learning theory is called Constructivism.

    See: American Thinker http://www.americanthinker.com/2011/03/preschools

    OBAMA's & Vygotsky are contemptuous of reality.

    THEY are led to conceive methods that trap children in progressivism's central struggle:

    Preschools, which use Vygotsky's creative play to relieve the tension between pretend and real worlds, implant fairy-tale realities in children.

    A self-described Marxist thinker, Vygotsky maintained, "[In] play it is as though [a child] were a head taller than himself. "The psychologist upended the idea that "play is imagination in action," insisting that imagination constitutes "play without action."

    Stop global warming.
    Erase inequality.
    Establish a new world order,

    ………..one classroom at a time.

  • jtrolla

    Obama's motive behind this is simple: start the government brainwashing process at the toddler stage of development.

    • Lou

      D I T T O ! ! !

  • Eric Maher

    Education is not mentioned in the US Constitution. By the 10th Amendment (in the Bill of Rights) therefore, the federal government can have nothing to do with education.

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