In a recent Times column entitled “Occupy the Classroom,” Nicholas Kristof went to bat for the idea of “early childhood education.”
He quotes the dean of Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, as she forcefully states what we already know: there are significant performance gaps between rich and poor students; and those gaps widen in later years.
Question is, what does our Education Establishment intend to do about these gaps? Nicholas Kristof is sure that we should do something. And that something, apparently, is to do more and more of what we are already doing but force it on younger and younger kids. This proposal may be very dishonest.
First of all, I’m suspicious that this is merely a funding ploy. If the economy forces communities to cancel jobs in higher grades, the Education Establishment will simply create thousands of new jobs in Pre-K. The same number of teachers will remain employed. How ingenious.
Second, if the Big Plan is to extrapolate from the anti-intellectual, anti-cognitive, anti-knowledge, anti-academic, distinctly lightweight approach to education that we now find in far too many kindergarten and elementary schools, then we should just save the money.
If the Big Plan is to do unto three and four-year-olds what we now do to six, seven, and eight-year olds, then we need a better plan.
Here’s the crucial question. What is it precisely that defines those gaps between rich and poor students?
It’s nothing nebulous, murky, theoretical, abstract, or hard to pin down. It’s precisely all the easy, ordinary, fundamental knowledge everybody should know. Middle-class parents are teaching this stuff from an early age. Poor parents don’t know the stuff themselves, they forget to teach it, or they’re too busy surviving.
Here’s what we’re talking about: the alphabet, how to count to 50, the names of colors, animals, seasons, days, holidays, basic science, history, geography, maps, etc., etc., etc.
Head Start or any other program that purports to help poor children has got to immediately address the knowledge gap. Everything that children in a richer home might automatically know must be taught, AS A CRASH COURSE, to the children from poor families. This is how you create the equality that liberals always say they want; but then they refuse to create it.
I think Occupy the Classroom is an unhelpful name. What we need to do is to Occupy the Education Establishment and try to make it support helpful, practical ideas, for a change.
Ever since the time of John Dewey, our top educators have been hostile to basic knowledge. That's the big problem. How to spell correctly, the multiplication table, where Spain is--all the stuff that is just second nature to families further up the social scale tends to be neglected in poor families. Ergo, the public schools have to start confronting this problem immediately, for a change.
So the real enemy here is the kind of empty, so-called education that is basically a low-cal confection made from a stew of slick sophistries, with names like Whole Language, Reform Math, Relevance, Constructivism, Self-Esteem, Cooperative Learning, 21st Century Skills, Critical Thinking, Learning Styles, Prior Knowledge, Multiculturalism, and another two dozen. Harvard, in fact, is one of the main culprits in perpetrating this stuff.
Well, here’s my vote. Get rid of all the folderol and start teaching facts and more facts, basic skills, and mastery.
GIVE POOR KIDS PRECISELY THE EDUCATION THAT RICH FAMILIES PAY FOR AT PRIVATE SCHOOLS.
Here is our mantra, provided by none other than John Dewey himself: “What the best and wisest parent wants for his own child, that must the community want for all of its children.”
(For more on slick sophistries, see “56: Top 10 Worst Ideas in Education.”)
(PS: My literary site Lit4u.com has been redesigned. Name means "Literature For you." Not pretentious and opaque, but fun, feisty, and unexpected.).