The other day, NPR published an article on the benefits of Pre-K education. Highlighting a recent consensus statement on preschool released by The Brookings Institute, the article went bonkers on social media, presumably because of the following announcement:
“Some of the nation's top researchers who've spent their careers studying early childhood education recently got together in Washington with one goal in mind: to cut through the fog of studies and the endless debates over the benefits of preschool.
They came away with one clear, strong message: Kids who attend public preschool programs are better prepared for kindergarten than kids who don't.”
Such a statement is true – the education experts did determine that preschool education does prepare children more effectively for kindergarten. What’s disturbing, however, is the information that NPR withheld from the thousands who read this statement.
According to the Brookings document, the jury is still out when it comes to knowing whether or not preschool education can help children in the years after kindergarten. Some evidence suggests it does. Other evidence suggests preschool has no effect either negative or positive on a child’s future school career. Still other evidence suggests that preschool has a decidedly negative effect. Studies in this latter category include the following:
- A 2015 NBER paper found that children enrolled in a Canadian childcare program (similar to universal preschool) exhibited greater anxiety, aggression, and crime, while also enduring decreased health and life satisfaction in the 20 years after the study took place.
- A 2015 Vanderbilt University study found that children enrolled in Tennessee’s state preschool program fell behind their non-preschool peers in both academic and cognitive measurements by the time they hit first, second, and third grade.
These findings are recent and quite troubling. What’s even more troubling, however, is the fact that NPR – and other news organizations and public figures – seem to push these findings aside, boldly convincing the public that preschool education is a necessary and advantageous path to pursue. It’s as if they are desperate to get children into an institutional setting at the earliest possible age, regardless of whether such a setting is good for them or not.
But then, maybe that is the goal. Early 20th century Princeton professor and theologian J. Gresham Machen once noted:
“Place the lives of children in their formative years, despite the convictions of their parents, under the intimate control of experts appointed by the state, force them to attend schools where the higher aspirations of humanity are crushed out, and where the mind is filled with the materialism of the day, and it is difficult to see how even the remnants of liberty can subsist.”
Is Machen right? Could the effort to extol the benefits of preschool without considering all the evidence be simply another way to get children to march lockstep with the education system’s way of thinking at an ever earlier age?
Annie Holmquist is editor of Intellectual Takeout, an online magazine and sister publication of Chronicles.