GOOD

Why Preschool for Poor Kids Can't Just Be a Crime-Prevention Strategy

Educating poor children is not a priority, unless perhaps it stops them from growing up to be lawbreakers.

It was a potent image. Five of Pennsylvania's top prosecutors lined up outside a state prison in Chester. The presence of so many law enforcement officials usually signals a major criminal indictment or the announcement of expanded crime-fighting efforts. In this case, the district attorneys gathered with a warning for policymakers: Pay now for high-quality preschool education or pay later for prisons.

The same scene was replayed in cities across the country as part of a national campaign led by "Fight Crime: Invest in Kids." The nonprofit groupcomprised of police chiefs, sheriffs, and prosecuting attorneysis pushing the idea that investing in early childhood programs for poor and especially poor minority children can help prevent the little tots from becoming career criminals. If there is any question where the emphasis for this benevolent crusade lies, the banner image that the "Fight Crime" Michigan affiliate chose for its homepage makes the audience crystal clear.

Even well-meaning columnists fall into the trap, asking "Do We Invest in Preschools or Prisons?" This is what education advocacy has come to: supporting quality preschool as an anti-crime strategy. The debate over the value of preschool has raged for decades, joining the long list of partisan fights in education. Every study that finds long-term benefits and cost-savings of investing in early childhood education is attacked by those who think Head Start and preschool programs are a waste of tax money: "free day care under the guise of education."

The irony is that as policymakers, Wall Street Journal op-ed writers, and others question the educational value of pre-K, children from upper-middle-class families are habitually enrolled in preschool because their parents consider it a no-brainer. In reality, the debate is less about whether preschool is a worthy investment or necessary and more about whether poor children are worth the money and effort.

In New York City, the intense competition for preschools is the stuff of folklore, with parents putting their names on waitlists while the child is still in utero. Manhattanites scramble fiercely to get their children into the most prestigious preschoolsestimates are 15 to 20 applicants for every spot. One infamous case involved a Wall Street analyst and $1 million donation made under slightly dubious circumstances just to guarantee entry into an exclusive Upper East Side school.

Since multimillionaires with nannies at their disposal aren't desperate for day care, it's safe to assume that the social elite view preschool as vital to their children's future success. For poor students, the preschool discussion always centers on worthiness (a waste of resources); feasibility (too expensive); or dire possibilities (preventing youngsters from becoming felons). For affluent parents, preschool is never up for dispute. They game the system and finagle their way into the "right" preschool, recognizing that it forges a path to positive educational outcomes.

What's so poignant about this contrast is that while all children may benefit from preschool, preschool can be a lifeline for disadvantaged children. Following up on research two decades ago that found children from low-income families hear as many as 30 million fewer words than their more affluent peers by age three, a new study finds that the "language gap" can now be seen as early as 18 months-old. In the homes of wealthy professionals, the non-stop chatter and bedtime stories help grow their children's vocabulary skills. For poor preschool-aged children, quality early education programs can close this learning gap.

Yet the research continues to be ignored and refuted. Because educating poor children is not a priority, unless perhaps it stops them from growing up to be lawbreakers. That is the heart of the prosecutor's anti-crime preschool campaign: all of the focus on pathology, none on potential. That is the core of many pro-preschool arguments—this Sophie's choice between preschools or prisons. While child and education activists, armed with volumes of data, continue to point out that investing in preschool can make a huge difference in a poor child's success in school and life, the debate drags on, with little progress. Maybe "loosen the purse strings or they'll grow up, knock you upside the head and steal your purse" is a more compelling message.

Educate these children to level the playing field, no thanks. Educate them or else they'll be criminals, ears perk up. It amounts to the Willie Hortonization of education policy. It is a sickening indictment of our national priorities. It just might work.


Want better early childhood programs for all kids? Click here to say you'll sign the petition to improve them.

Child at the blackboard image via Shutterstock

Articles
Julian Meehan

Young leaders from around the world are gathering at the United Nations Headquarters in New York Saturday to address arguably the most urgent issue of our time. The Youth Climate Summit comes on the heels of an international strike spearheaded by Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old climate activist from Sweden, who arrived in New York via emissions-free sailboat earlier this month.

Translated from Swedish, "berg" means "mountain," so it may feel fated that a young woman with Viking blood in her veins and summit in her name would be at the helm. But let's go out on a limb and presume Thunberg, in keeping with most activists, would chafe at the notion of pre-ordained "destiny," and rightly so. Destiny is passive — it happens to you. It's also egomaniacal. Change, on the other hand, is active; you have to fight. And it is humble. "We need to get angry and understand what is at stake," Thunberg declared. "And then we need to transform that anger into action."

This new generation of activists' most pernicious enemy is denial. The people in charge — complacent politicians and corporation heads who grossly benefit from maintaining the status quo — are buffered from real-life consequences of climate change. But millions of people don't share that privilege. For them, climate change isn't an abstract concept, but a daily state of emergency, whether it comes in the form of "prolonged drought in sub-Saharan Africa…devastating tropical storms sweeping across Southeast Asia, the Caribbean and the Pacific…[or] heatwaves and wildfires," as Amnesty International reportsare all too real problems people are facing on a regular basis.

RELATED: Greta Thunberg urges people to turn to nature to combat climate change

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet

Millions of people in over 150 countries across the globe marched for lawmakers and corporations to take action to help stop climate change on Friday, September 20.

The Climate Strikes were organized by children around the world as an extension of the of the "Fridays for Future" campaign. Students have been walking out of classrooms on Fridays to speak out about political inaction surrounding the climate crisis.

"We need to act right now to stop burning fossil fuels and ensure a rapid energy revolution with equity, reparations and climate justice at its heart," organizers say.

There's no doubt the visual images from the marches send a powerful message to those on the ground but especially those watching from around the world. GOOD's own Gabriel Reilich was on the scene for the largest of the Climate Strikes. Here are 18 of the best signs from the Climate Strike march in New York City.

Keep Reading Show less

September 20th marks the beginning of a pivotal push for the future of our planet. The Global Climate Strike will set the stage for the United Nations Climate Action Summit, where more than 60 nations are expected to build upon their commitment to 2015's Paris Agreement for combating climate change.

Millions of people are expected to take part in an estimated 4,000 events across 130 countries.

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet
via Apple

When the iPhone 11 debuted on September 10, it was met with less enthusiasm than the usual iPhone release. A lot of techies are holding off purchasing the latest gadget until Apple releases a phone with 5G technology.

Major US phone carriers have yet to build out the infrastructure necessary to provide a consistent 5G experience, so Apple didn't feel it necessary to integrate the technology into its latest iPhone.

A dramatic new feature on the iPhone 11 Pro is its three camera lenses. The three lenses give users the the original wide, plus ultrawide and telephoto options.

Keep Reading Show less
Health
via I love butter / Flickr

We often dismiss our dreams as nonsensical dispatches from the mind while we're deep asleep. But recent research proves that our dreams can definitely affect our waking lives.

People often dream about their significant others and studies show it actually affects how we behave towads them the next day.

"A lot of people don't pay attention to their dreams and are unaware of the impact they have on their state of mind," said Dylan Selterman, psychology lecturer at the University of Maryland, says according to The Huffington Post. "Now we have evidence that there is this association."

Keep Reading Show less
Health