Saturday, November 20, 2010

On Childhood Education

LAST WEEK, MY SON turned two.  As some of the readers of TWR know, I blog about him occasionally over at 52 Gavins (well, I don't know if it's really about him per se.  It's more like of him).  Part of my interest in that project was in what we might call the semiotics of baby-ness; which is to say, the image of the baby.  But, now that he's two, he's no longer a baby.

His birthday corresponds with another sign of his passage from babyhood into boyhood--the preschool tour. So far, we have been on a dizzying number of preschool tours, and there are more to come. All of the preschools share some commonalities but all are just a little different.  When we are with friends who have children of similar age, schools and preschools are among the most common topics of conversation.  

And yet, I have no idea what makes a good preschool.

As an educator, I'm often asked what kind of educational approach I like best, and, of course, I have strong opinions about this at the undergraduate level but, I have learned that I know next to nothing about early childhood education.  I knew I knew very little, but now I know just how little I know.

But, that's about to change.

With all of the emphasis on Head Start, No Child Left Behind, the failing Los Angeles and New York Public schools, the increased focus on the importance of early learning, the push for diversity and equal access for the best preschools, it seems to me that early learning is not just an important educational issue but an important political issue.  

So, one of the topics of The Weekly Rader over the next couple of years is going to be the intersection of early childhood education, politics, culture, race, and class. I'll be blogging about our preschool search, how we are thinking about preschools, books and resources we find helpful, and the kinds of things you might want to avoid.

Almost no educational project out there has so many divergent opinions about approaches and importance.  Some very smart people will tell you that parents shouldn't worry about preschools at all, that they don't really matter.  Others will claim, as former Georgia Governor Zell Miller did, that preschool is "the most important grade."

I don't really know what I'll find, but I'm fairly certain that the more I look into access to good preschools for the underprivileged and the underrepresented, the more depressed I'll become.  Even in a city like San Francisco, where there are some excellent preschools, there is also a number of really smart parents vying for those few spots.  Even at this age, the stratification already begins, driving home a larger point about democracy, education, and American values.


  1. I will definitely be reading this - and commenting on it. I've been there and have developed some pretty strong opinions in the process... looking forward to (what I hope will be a constructive, insightful, and political) debate!

  2. Annick, I'd love to hear your perspective. Perhaps I can convince you to do a guest post!

  3. ... I'd be happy to.

  4. Dean, I have the three as you know. I think what I want to emphasize is: preschool is not a prerequisite. The girls had no preschool, but a lot of interaction from their mom and dad: they could read and write before kindergarten. With Jimmy, the family went through our trauma of losing his dad when he was three. I put him in preschool, and I can tell you what I thought was wrong with it although it was a friendly atmosphere for him, anyway: I put him in preschool because he craved hanging out with his friends. He is and remains a very social child. And, he was in preschool two days/week, two hours a week.
    I think preschool can too easily become daycare. Here's what a friend told me when my girls were four, we weren't preschooling, and this friend had high-school age children. She said, you get them for so little time. When they're five, it's full-day kindergarten, and they'll be in school all day, they'll have their activities, they'll have their friends. She continued and I agree: keep them at home as long as you can and enjoy this interaction with them. It really does build to the future.
    Take care Dean - I can't believe Gavin is two. Laura Burke

  5. Clarification Jimmy was in preschool two days/week, two hours a session.