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When “early childhood intervention” is not enough

Dennis Byrne 29 April 2008 One Comment

Ah, the debate is back about how much preschool we should force every American toddler to have.

“Force” may be an odd way to put it, but what we’re talking about is “universal” pre-school, early childhood “intervention” and a raft of other government “programs” that mostly Democrats “advocate.” And in all this talk, there’s little about “choice,” as in whether parents can decide whether not to send their kids.

Although the debate about universal preschool is hardly new, it will re-emerge with new gusto as the elections approach. It is one of those “issues” that Democrats love to raise because it makes Republicans, who generally question the effectiveness, cost and philosophical underpinnings of such programs, look like ogres. If you’re not prepared to plunge headlong into a nation-wide roundup of every kid 5 and under you’re presumed to be a monster.

The “experts” and their partisan allies who constantly raise this issue are divided only over just how early in a child’s life pre-school education should start and whether it should begin with conventional pre-school, or something more programmatic. For many advocates the more programmatic is preferred, seeing as how it requires specialized training, certification, inspections, evaluations and all the other things that government does so well.

Many also demand that the programs encompass all pre-schoolers, because so many studies show that “disadvantaged” (why don’t we call them “poor” any more?) kids benefit more from early childhood interventions. Never mind the gapping logical hole in the assertion that everyone should attend pre-school because the poor receive benefits from it that they might not otherwise receive growing up poor. (A fine examination of the entire early-childhood education issue can be found here in the Chicago Tribune).

But let’s be honest. If getting kids out of poor homes is good for them, why stop at sending them to pre-school only during the day? Why not get them out of the destructive environment around the clock? Why not put them in an “advantaged” environment? How stupid is it to give them the benefits of daily interventions and then return them to poor, fatherless, neglectful or abusive homes at the end of each day?

This idea, of course, will be received with the same enthusiasm as Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal,” a satirical essay from 1729 in which he suggests that the Irish eat their children. But, I’m serious, sort of. We keep hearing the superiority of a “community setting,” or “non-institutional surroundings,” so, if taking the kids out of the home at an early age during the day produces a plentitude of benefits, then why not follow the idea to its logical extension, and generate an even greater abundance of benefits by removing them entirely from their “at risk” environment?

Why not relieve exhausted grandmothers of the burden of raising their daughters’ kids, because the mothers are in the grip of chemical dependence? Why put children back into an environment in which a boozy mother and a pervert boyfriend physically, sexually and emotionally abuse innocent children? Why not break the “cycle of poverty” in which “kids are raising kids” by taking the older “kids” out of the equation and turning over the younger kids to someone more qualified to raise them?

We have experienced generation after generation that is less and less able than previous ones to give their children the love, attention, care, education, acculturation, support and the many other tools they need to grow into minimally functional adults. It requires a drastic change to the nibble-at-the-edges, half-steps that “universal day care” would provide. After all, these children are the modern day equivalent of orphans, abandoned by their parents and left to the care of society. Why not create a modern-day version of orphanages, run by expert, loving staff, and fully funded? Why not cut the cord tying one generation of incompetent parents to the next and to the next and forever after? Why not establish the equivalent of a Marshall Plan—created after World War II to save economically ravaged Europe—to finally save one generation from being sucked down into the whirlpool of the permanent underclass?

The reason why not, for many people, is that it is too Orwellian, reminiscent of the nightmare of raising children in an incubator-type setting. Turning over to any institution—state- or privately-run—the job of raising an entire generation is just too draconian. For many children, it would mean being removed from a loving home that just happens to be lacking the necessary financial, emotional and caretaking skills.

In other words, one size doesn’t fit all. Which is perhaps something for the good hearts to keep in mind when they propose shipping everyone’s child off to the loving embrace of the state.

So, where I do stand? Among those who think that this is a subject too complicated to be turned into a political slogan or a party platform plank, as it surely will after the Democrats settle their hash and pick a candidate to take on the repulsive, child-hating Republicans. So, help the severely “dysfunctional” families to the extent possible. Allow those who are targeted in such a program the “privilege” of choosing where to send their kids. And leave the rest of the kids alone.

One Comment »

  • Sara (author) said:

    The debate over universal preschool is a difficult and complicated one. There is empirical evidence, expert argumentation and logical reasoning in support of many different positions on this issue. It might have been helpful if this author had introduced even a few of the supporting arguments for either side of this debate, instead of nonsensical hypotheticals.

    I eagerly await the day that this policy issue is addressed in the public sphere in a constructive, analytical manner and by more competent commentators.

    This issue deserves rational, well informed discourse. Mr. Byrne offers none of that.

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