This Saturday, I’ll be graduating from Georgetown University. I’m just a few days over twenty-one years old, and I’m graduating a year earlier than expected. I know that I am blessed beyond measure– that my story is not the typical one. But exactly how unlikely is my story? Where I grew up, in Georgia:
57.1% of children go to preschool. 77.8% of teenagers graduate from high school. Of those high school graduates, 65% enroll in college and of those college students, less than 60% graduate within six years.
Being a college graduate puts me in the most fortunate 30% of Georgia students. I could name a long list of people – my family members, my teachers, neighbors, and friends – without whom I wouldn’t be in the position I’m in now. But if I had to pinpoint one thing that put me on this track, it would be my early childhood education. Early childhood education is a good predictor of what the rest of a child’s educational and career path will look like: “the children who received [preschooling] had higher average test scores and were twice as likely to still be in school or to ever have attended a four-year college [than their non-preschooled peers].”
A common saying among educators hits the nail on the head: ‘From K through 3 you learn to read, and from 4 through 12 you read to learn.’ If a child enters the fourth grade not knowing how to read, that inability cuts off that child from learning opportunities for the next eight years (unless he drops out sooner, which is likely). If we want to make the American Dream accessible to all of this country’s children, we must first teach them to read.
Much to the dismay of the left, with their endless list of programs designed with the intention of helping kids, there is just no big government program that gets kids to read. You learned to read because someone stood over your shoulder and helped you pronounce words, syllable by syllable. You were told to “sound it out” until your choppy reading got smoother, and you were made to practice your reading skills until phonetics and vocabulary came easy to you. My mother read me “Big Bird’s Big Book of Red” so many times that she could probably still recite it from memory. Thanks, Mom!
Not all children in this country are as fortunate as I was. Children living below the poverty level are much less likely to be sung to, or to have stories read or told to them. This equates to poor children hearing fewer words on a daily basis than children of middle or upper class families. This means that children living in poverty have less of an opportunity to develop vocabulary and reading skills. This disadvantage will follow them for the rest of their educational career. In fact, children without early childhood education are more likely to grow up into adult criminals.
This is simply unacceptable in a society that says, “All men are created equal.” We need to start living by this belief, and make sure that every child in this country has equal opportunity to learn and grow and succeed. Notice that there is a huge difference between equity of opportunity and equality of outcome. If you’d like to see what equality of outcome looks like, take a look at North Korea – oh wait, you can’t, because the government of the DPRK is too humiliated to show the rest of the world how bad those “equal conditions” really are.
In an ideal world, all kids would have two loving parents in the home to teach them about the basics of the world during their first years of life. These kids would hear language and learn it. But not all American parents are able to be at home with their children, and some parents do not even share a home with their children in the first place. For many, family time is a luxury. No matter who the parents are, the children deserve a fair shot at the American Dream.
So yes, here I am, conservative as can be, arguing in favor of government programs for educating the youngest members of our society. This is an endeavor best taken on at the local level, since every community has different needs that a nationwide program simply cannot account for. Ultimately, I believe that investing in early childhood education will save this country millions: Not only is preschool the most cost-effective way to educate children, but the more people with basic educations there are, the less money we will have to spend on unemployment benefits, welfare, and the penitentiary system.
None of this is new or revolutionary. Since preschool has existed, we have known that its students are more likely to go on to success. Breaking the poverty cycle starts in early childhood. If we really want to invest in America’s future – we will invest in making sure every child has the opportunity to get a quality education from the start. If that education takes place in the home, great! “Family is the most basic unit of government,” as Charles Caleb Colton once said. A parent knows their child better than anyone else on earth. This makes parents the most effective teachers. I am where I am today because my parents have been engaged in my education since I was a little crying goo ball with a pink bow on my head. And then, when I was a slightly older crying goo ball, they put me in preschool. For all the families who don’t have the means to invest in their child’s learning, their children are no less worthy and no less deserving of the best education this country has to offer. It is for this reason that I support locally-based universal preschool initiatives.