Will New CA Bill Stop Home-Preschooling?
by: Tricia S. Vaughan
Posted: February 9, 2005
When it comes to preschool, the race is on. I remember questions from other moms about what I was going to do regarding preschool when my oldest son was a baby. I said "we're homeschooling" because it was an easy answer and I had indeed thought about doing so, but still I felt compelled to check out preschools, to apply frantically, and to make a deposit so that my child wouldn't be left out of the race. I was already feeling as though I wasn't good enough to teach my own child.
California Preschool for All
And this feeling, strange as it would seem to our pre-twentieth-century ancestors, is exactly what the Preschool-for-All Act advocates desire. In my current home state of California, a ballot initiative due for June 2006 will ask voters about government funding so that all children can attend preschool, but the groundwork for the initiative's success has already been lain. Recent television campaigns have told my mommy friends and me that if we don't start our children in the right preschool, our little darlings may have trouble getting into the right college. And "Preschool for All," as CA Assembly Bill 172 is called, is being promoted by none other than Rob Reiner. How do these Hollywood sitcom stars help us make educational decisions? Or more to the point, why do they sell us on such silly ideas?
I could teach my child how to count and recite the alphabet, but we had no chickens. Was I depriving him?
I'd love to say that the moms I know are exempt from preschool and kindergarten mania, but they are not. Many suburban moms spend all night writing essays so that their precious son or daughter can attend the right private kindergarten. I even know of parents who waited to divorce until after their daughter was accepted, just in case those who decide admission would worry that a divorce may make their daughter less than acceptable preschool material. Kindergarten in Los Angeles can cost $27,000. I can almost hear your gasps now - I paid less than that for my entire college tuition!
If I paid that much for my child's kindergarten experience, I'd expect him to be speaking and writing fluent Latin at the end of the year. Multiply that tuition number by 12 or 13 years and you come up with around $300,000, just as a predecessor for college. If I spent that much money for my son's K-12 education, I would expect nothing less than for him to rule the world.
We visited one of these pricey preschool/kindergartens shortly after my second son was born. My firstborn son, now four, was two at the time and I was at the end of my proverbial mommy rope one day; the only way I thought I could cope with life was to dump my child in school a couple of days each week. The school looked like a page out of Architectural Digest and it even had a chicken that the students helped to care for. A chicken! I could teach my child how to count and recite the alphabet, but we had no chickens. Was I depriving him?
Commercials Instill Parental Doubt
I never did turn in the application, but even now, as he prepares for our homeschool kindergarten, there are moments in which I question my decision, especially after viewing the pro-preschool commercials and feeling as though I have doomed my child because I want him to learn from me. And perhaps placing him in one of those toney classes once a week or so would have done him no harm; after all, we still have no chicken. But what happens if it's legislated? What happens when we have Preschool for All?
Diane Flynn Keith, who produces the well-written and insightful www.universalpreschool.com, a Web site that promotes the idea that a young child's place is in the home, wonders about the standards that Mr. Reiner's seemingly altruistic plan would entail:
Preschoolers will learn language arts, math, history/social sciences, and science. The curriculum standards proposed require accountability as well. What are they going to do? Put a No. 2 pencil in the chubby fist of a 4-year-old and ask him to stay inside the lines as he colors in bubble after bubble on a multiple choice test that he won't be able to read? Will his failure to perform adequately on the preschool test result in a designation of "special needs" and banishment to remedial nursery school?
The perceptive reader can already feel the ever-reaching tentacles of the pharmaceutical industry reaching into every crevice of this utopian plan. Diane Flynn Keith notes:
When [the student] acts out due to the sheer boredom of learning the letter of the week and the insanity of not being able to indulge his natural curiosity, engage in copious amounts of imaginative play, explore his environment and the bounty of life indoors and outdoors with the people who love him the most, ask millions of questions to get information about how the world works, and be allowed to develop at his own pace in his own time -- will he be drugged into passive compliance and obedience so he'll sit quietly at his desk, hands folded, feet flat on the floor, trying to steal a glimpse of the outside world under the teacher's harsh glare? I'm sorry, but that's a toxic prescription for preschoolers.
Toxic indeed! It's one thing to have your preschooler draw and paint and feed chickens for two or three mornings each week, but quite another to have your preschooler forced to deal with government standards all day, everyday.
One of the more frightening aspects of AB 172 is its insistence that in the "voluntary preschool-for-all system". . . programs may be offered in a variety of settings including public schools, centers, family child care homes, faith-based institutions, and head start programs." While that seeming freedom sounds innocent enough, preschool-for-all programs must "meet research-based standards for social, emotional, cognitive, linguistic, and physical development, and are linked to public school system standards." No preschool will be left behind. And in those "research-based standards," the government intrudes into my children's social, emotional, and physical development. No thanks! We're doing just fine ourselves, thank you.
Does anyone remember that children used to do quite well without preschool? Fifty years ago, most parents felt as though their child learned just fine from them until first grade. With the mass preschool hysteria that we have been reading about in the last few years, however, parents feel unqualified to take care of their own young children. One friend, whose son has been in daycare since he was a few weeks old, said of her son's caretaker, "She knows more than I do about teaching him; she works with children all day."
I must admit that I was once in this crazy state myself, thinking that it would be no big deal to place my children in someone else's care all day. Fortunately, my opinion changed drastically after I gave birth. No expert could know more about the child I helped to create than his father and I.
Experts Know More Than Parents?
But this crazy mentality, in which the supposed experts know more than parents, helps us to suffer through bouts of mommy guilt while we go to work and leave our children in a daycare center. And then, of course, we appease our guilt by sending our child to something called preschool when he or she is 3, or 2, or sometimes even younger. It feels better somehow to say, "He's in school," rather than "He's in daycare." But is there any real difference when a child is so young? Don't young children need to learn from their mom or dad all day, instead of from a teacher who would probably not be teaching if he or she did not receive money for it?
It's a funny thing, these supposed choices that we moms have these days. We have more degrees than our mother ever thought of, and yet, we don't think we're qualified to teach our children the alphabet. One mom I talked with recently said about her child, "I see what he does in preschool and I could never do that at home." Really? The mom I was talking to has a master's degree.
Somehow we feel good about separating ourselves from our children, or we pretend to feel good. We place any guilt we may feel about leaving our child with someone else all day into the category of "Mommy Guilt." We've read all about Mommy Guilt in the parent-oriented magazines, you know those-they tell us that "high-quality daycare," whatever that vague description means and however it differs, if it even does, from preschool, can help our children to develop properly. We know that if our child cries when we leave, it's merely due to separation anxiety, the Freudian term that tells us if we become too close to our young children, they will suffer some huge psychological crisis and our names will pop up in our offspring's therapy session one day.
So we separate. And the so-called childhood experts, who depend on this craziness to pay their mortgage, cheer us on. Meanwhile, mainstream media pit those of us who stay with our children most of the day against those who don't. It's all about what's best for us as moms and it's not at all about what's best for our child; the Preschool-for-All crowd even tells us that no matter how many degrees we have, or how much we love our children, we need to separate ourselves from them, at an early age.
Who cares if Universal Preschool in Georgia has not shown significant results, despite the taxpayer money spent on it? Who cares if Rob Reiner and his ilk have misrepresented Head Start statistics to make it seem as if all this early schooling of all children is essential for success in later life? If Reiner wins enough souls and this bill becomes law, we can eventually kiss our children goodbye when they are three, or even two years old, and hand them over to government schools. Or we can pay lots of money to send them to a private school, which will probably be receiving federal funds and going along with federally-funded mandates.
Although the Preschool-for-All people tell us that this initiative is for voluntary preschool, that's just a handy way to sell us on the concept. We feel better as parents if we think we're voluntarily giving our children an edge via preschool, even if this supposedly free preschool-at a projected cost of $2 billion-gives no guarantee that our children will succeed. But how long will this program be voluntary? Presently, some people are working to lower the compulsory school age so that children under six must attend school. It's only a matter of time after the passage of the Preschool-for-All Act until we are forced to send our three-year-olds to school.
There's an especially important, but tricky element to this Preschool-for-All stuff for those of us in California: Currently, most homeschool people file an affidavit with the California Department of Education to establish a private school in our home. If preschool becomes mandatory, however, there would be all kinds of hoops for those of us who teach at home to jump through. Children five and younger in a private school or daycare setting are subject to much more stringent regulations than children of current mandatory school age or older. The result is that most of us who now qualify to teach our six-year-old would not qualify to teach our two-year-old. Eventually, parents may be deemed not qualified to teach our own toddlers.
The crazy consequences of this initiative make me wonder if this preschool initiative is part of something bigger and smellier: What about the massive School-To-Work agenda that is being pushed on our nation's government schools, which includes tracking students into different careers, often by third grade? When you hear about making children "ready-to-learn" in kindergarten, what's underneath the surface of that remark is that children need to be ready-to-be-indoctrinated, ready-to-be-classified, and ready-to-be-assembled-into-a-human-resource. Could Preschool-for-All be a way of indoctrinating, classifying, and assembling at an even earlier age?
I began teaching my oldest son his alphabet and numbers when he was 2. Since he began his formal learning at home, we have been blessed with another son. My two older sons went with me to every doctor's appointment while I was pregnant. My oldest may be one of the only preschoolers who can identify what an amniotic sac is. He and his younger brother became great friends with the doctor on each visit. I wonder how many children enrolled in all-day preschools have the advantage of visiting and befriending their mom's doctor. The birth of a sibling always brings changes, but my older sons have adjusted quite nicely. I attribute this to their being with me instead of being separated for much of the day at preschool.
Another advantage of teaching my children at home is that my little guys talk to adults and children with ease. They do not have to compete with ten or twelve other children for the attention of their teacher. Instead of being "socialized" mainly by their peers, their dad and I teach them manners and social skills at and in between meals. I hope that more mothers and fathers will realize they can teach their young children at home; I pray that we will still be allowed to do so easily; I hope that voters will see what terrible consequences the Preschool-for-All Act can have. I am thankful that I have the opportunity to teach my young, even if we don't have a chicken.
- California AB 172 - An Act Relating to Preschool
- Universal Preschool
- What Bob Reiner's not Telling You About Universal Preschool
© 2005 - Tricia S. Vaughan - All Rights Reserved
Tricia Smith Vaughan has a Bachelor of Arts in Speech Communication, a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics, and a Master of Arts in English. Before she became a mom, she taught first-year English Composition and Literature for five years at North Carolina State University in Raleigh.
Tricia has written for the Los Angeles Times, Durham, N.C.'s Independent Weekly, and Raleigh, N.C.'s News and Observer, and other newspapers. She performs stand-up comedy and writes about homeschooling and other momly stuff.