Monday, June 15, 2009

All-day Junior Kindergarten

It's our annual tax deadline today. Which means that I've spent much of the last week wretchedly catching up on the accounting, and most of today on the computer trying to drag my way through tax return preparation. And which also means I've made some enthusiastic diversions into heated discussions on various message boards for no other reason than that they're not columns of numbers.

So someone asked if anyone cared to share their thoughts on full-day schooling for 3- through 5-year-olds. This is something the province of Ontario, which already pays for half-time schooling for kids from September of calendar year in which they turn four, is considering. And, craving some [virtual] human contact, something to throw some emotional energy at and a creative outlet for my left brain, I replied thus:

As a society we're institutionalizing our kids more and more, younger and younger, contracting out parenting responsibilities to beat the band, and standardizing the little holes we drop our kids into so that almost any child with any uniqueness needs a label to cope. All in order to serve the relentless drive to increase GDP.

It's all about money. It's about getting parents out earning and spending, and kids turned into consumer-oriented compliant workers, so that everyone can continue to drive the economy towards higher and higher numbers, plundering the planet and exploiting poor nations as we do so.

We live in a society where most families need two working parents, so full-time schooling makes economic sense for them. But if we examine that "need" for two working parents more skeptically it becomes apparent that it's a "need" only as defined in reference to a 21st century lifestyle, the one we've been led to by that same economic machine.

"Need" now means cable TV, high speed internet, a computer, separate bedrooms for every kid, a vehicle, two TVs, a DVD player, two bathrooms, a cellphone or two, ballet and swimming lessons for the kiddos, a dishwasher, BBQ, microwave and automatic clothes-dryer, eating out a couple of times a month, and a recorded music collection that would take several days to play through once. How many of these things did our grandparents or great-grandparents need as young parents? Probably none of them. Yet we're institutionalizing our kids at 3 because we can't imagine living without them.

I make it my business to imagine living without them. And to question this slippery slope ride towards a society that institutionalizes kids at birth so that their parents can continue to consume resources at unsustainable rates.

30 comments:

  1. Anonymous9:09 pm

    Here, here! I'm right with you. Wonderful to read. JAcinda

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  2. Exactly what I was thinking. Here, here!

    Unfortunately, we're not far behind in BC as the government is considering full day kindergarten for not only five-year-olds, but also three- and four-year olds. It's called Strong Start BC.

    Gah.

    More here.

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  3. Thank you for this. You are much more eloquent in writing than I could ever hope to be in such a heated, passionate subject.

    I may have to steal a few lines when discussing this with friends, co-workers, family and strangers. ;)

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  4. We MUST have two incomes so we can ???.

    "I make it my business..."

    Right on.

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  5. I don't care about 2 incomes. But I do care about my sanity. Altho' I don't in-principle care for full-day childcare. Instead I dream of no children and having normality. I'm not making sense, eh? Bc I'm not sane with kids around. LOL.

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  6. Anonymous4:35 am

    Glad you've got your blog mojo back.

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  7. Full day kindergarten is crazy! Crazy! crazy!

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  8. Great post
    Couldn't agree with you more
    Best thing I've read on line in a while!! Thanks!

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  9. I soooo agree! The amount of stuff we accumulate and consider essential boggles my mind. We frequently 'unplug' ourselves from technology just to live again.

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  10. Well put! Couldn't agree more :)

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  11. Hi - interesting to read this! We've been talking about this quite a lot at my house too. While I agree with you to some extent, I think it's important to remember that in many households, it takes two parents working full-time (or more than full-time) at minimum wage to pay for essentials like food, rent and clothing, not for the things you rightly point out are unnecessary luxuries. Food bank use is going up every day.

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  12. My sister is cheering the full-time kindergarten (if only 7 years too late for her) while I am fearful. That however, would sum up the differences between our circumstances. I'm an unschooling mom of three under seven with the support of a husband who really likes his job. she's a single mom of two who are only this year old enough to be home alone for the two hours between the end of school and when she gets home. The thousands she's spent on child care over the years I can't even fathom.

    That said, in principal I'm with you all the way. We're in Ontario and I have been trying to hold my tongue for the last six months as the parents of my middle child's friends have deliberated about kindergarten classes and daycares, morning versus afternoon and the blessing that full day kindergarten will be when it comes. It is however an epidemic that has permeated all parts of our children's interactions.

    My older two are part of a non-competitive soccer programme here in Toronto and have been for a few years. My eldest is aging out next year and I've yet to find anywhere else to play soccer where the focus is on skills and fun as opposed to status and bullying. Somehow people have lost sight of the child in these decisions.

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  13. Amanda1:47 pm

    I share your concerns about escalating definitions of need. However I think the primary underlying motivation is not money but the aim (common to most Western educational systems) of reducing the spread of outcomes: 'closing achievement gaps' in the jargon.

    Given that parents are plainly very unequal in their ability to provide good early upbringing/preschool, the political hope is that universal institutional childcare/pre-kindergarten/kindergarten will level the playing field and lead to more equal outcomes.

    Here in the UK at least, equalisation seems to be regarded as more important than any absolute outcome - not a healthy state of affairs.

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  14. I'm mortified that as a society, we de-value the role of family to the extent that we are arranging for children as young as three years old to be in school all day long. With the added bonus of before and after care, so we can leave them there from 7:30AM until 6PM. I fully acknowledge that for some people, there may not be any other options (extreme cases), but overall, I'm not convinced that we can't stand up and do better for Ontario's children and families. I'm just astonished by this turn of events and think it's far past time we took a step back and asked ourselves if we really want to continue along on the path we're on. As I told my mother, next we'll be signing them up at two, so schools can manage their potty-training, too.

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  15. I came on to comment but Bronwen and Amanda have already covered it. It seems fairly privileged to think that all families can live on one income - it doesn't work so well when you only make minimum wage.

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  16. Beauty, Amanda and Bronwen, you're reading into my rant things I didn't say and assuming I think it's as simple as getting all families to live on one income. That's not what I said. What I said was that we shouldn't be institutionalizing our kids in order to live a consumer-culture-driven vision of what necessities are. We should be critically examining what those "necessities" are. And we should be protesting with our voices, our votes, our wallets and our feet the fact that we are on a global quest for exponential economic growth, rather than a global quest for goodness, responsibility and humanity.

    Obviously the answer isn't as simple as forcing poor families to live on one income. The solution, alas, will require an entire paradigm shift, where we value and promote the social supports, taxation structures, governmental services, community programs and traditions, flexibility and creativity that favour the kind of simplicity, humanity and inter-dependence that support families and people. There are a million little influences that have created the mess we're in today. A million little influences, and more, will be required to correct it.

    I don't pretend to have the answers. But some useful changes might be things like:

    Remove the income tax disincentives for single-income families that exist in Canada
    Create incentives for employers to allow flex-time employment and job-sharing
    Increase support for home-based daycares and daycare providers.
    Create incentives to encourage care by extended family members
    Schools should become community resources available for family-friendly general use during off-days and hours, not segregated institutions.
    Relax zoning regulations to encourage multi-generational living with extended family.
    Vastly increase "closer to home" and in-home support for families with young children and elderly relatives.
    Celebrate simplicity and encourage down-sizing in as many ways as possible -- starting with rebates and tax breaks for small homes, small vehicles, compact living.
    Create the organizational infrastructure for neighbourhood-based car-sharing.
    Support co-operative living and collaborative intentional communities through preferential zoning.

    I could go on, but I hope you get the picture. My beef is not with two-working-parent families who need daycare. It's with the kind of social values that are driving our global economic machine, producing societies that want their children institutionalized at 3 1/2, turned into ravenous little consumers by the age of 8 and unquestioning rat-race workers by the age of 23.

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  17. well said, miranda! we chose to step out of the "two incomes, everyone in school" mindset when we came to canada - it has been liberating. i know we're considered weird by outsiders but our bubble feels good. i truly appreciate your list above of changes! rock on!

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  18. Amanda1:53 pm

    Miranda, I completely agree with you about premature and excessive institutionalisation, and with most of your proposals in your last post - I only wanted to point out that the political goal of social equalisation is probably just as important a driver in the extension of full-time school down through the age groups as any economic goal.

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  19. Amanda, you bring up an interesting point about social equalisation. I don't think that's much of a consideration here in Canada, though I take your point about the UK. We haven't got a history of class-ism nor do school funding and achievement levels vary to nearly the extent that they do in the UK (or the US for that matter).

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  20. Amanda4:30 pm

    Interesting to see the differences in emphasis between countries. (Though I have just been reading a book by Ben Levin, the Deputy Minister for Education in Ontario, and 'closing the achievement gap' seemed to feature quite strongly there.)

    NB the UK is quite unlike the US on school funding - our schools are funded essentially on a national formula, not out of local taxes, and with quite a significant weighting for pupil disadvantage factors - so the schools with the hardest job to do have the highest incomes, no matter where they are situated.

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  21. Anonymous5:39 pm

    I have a question for you Miranda! We homeschool our three children, but one is a bit delayed (the way she is, nothing to do with being homeschooled!). My question is, how do you feel about kids, starting at age 3, going to a developmental preschool through the school district 2-4 days a week in the morning, say 2-3 hours? They have speech therapy and physical therapy there.

    Is that too much? I'd love to hear your views on this!

    K

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  22. Miranda, this recent fooferah in Alberta is interesting in light of this post and following discussion.

    Personally, I do think that a lot of the push for daycare/early education services is because the prevalent thinking (in government) is that consumer-2-working-parent families are good for the economy.

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  23. Anonymous5:26 am

    I live and teach in Ontario.

    The all day kindergarten is about equalization. It's not exactly based on class, but lower income families do not tend to have as enriched (this is only a generalization) an environment as middle class families with higher education levels.

    The point is to "catch" the kids who are behind the others because they weren't read to, or sung to, didn't learn nursery rhymes and generally haven't been exposed to as much language as other children. Kindergarten is not mandatory. There is also a move to making the schools more community centered. We have a program here called "Best Start", providing all sorts of services for families: including a school prep program, assessments, speech therapy, etc.

    Will it work? Time will tell.

    I've heard that some communities in BC are running their own schools with tax money rather than bus kids for an hour.

    BTW, I agree with you about our culture in general and I like your suggestions.

    Erin

    PS. My name is Erin and I have twin daughters named Fiona and Sophie! I linked to your blog off the Mothering magazine forums. I love your math posts.

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  24. Erin, I agree that many people believe the move is about equalization, about helping the disadvantaged become capable, educated, happy and contributing members of a vibrant democratic society. My SIL is retiring this month from years of teaching JK and she certainly feels that this is what she's engaged in on a daily basis. The belief that teachers in the trenches can make a difference in the lives of disadvantaged children, is what motivates the many truly good people working in the schools. But I still think this is mostly window-dressing on a governmental policy driven by more crass considerations.

    Having read a lot of background about the history of compulsory schooling I tend to favour John Taylor Gatto's interpretation -- that equalization is the bill of goods we've been sold that masks the more sinister and fundamental aim. I'd encourage you to read "An Underground History of American Education" and consider the wealth of evidence therein. And furthermore to recognize that we now live in a society where governmental policy is far more driven by economic considerations, more prone to influence by the global economy, far less guided by fundamental ideals than it was when compulsory schooling was born. I find it hard to believe, based on both those things, that the equalization justification is suddenly more than the window-dressing it has been in the past. As a socieyt we put priority on giving poor disadvantaged children decent educations not because it will give them happy lives but because "success in school" will turn them into well-oiled cogs in an economic machine.

    The idealists buy into Junior Kindergarten because of the equalization argument. But I still think the real motivation is different.

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  25. Anonymous1:36 pm

    I find your argument (that equalisation is but the carrot) all the more convincing in light of the school system's emphasis on obedience and "self discipline", the latter meaning slavish adherence to the school staff's directives. And how 'bout those assessments? Well, don't get me started...

    I've noticed that there seems to be a generational component to this whole thing, too: much younger parents seem less concerned about matters of self determination and privacy than I, especially in the post 9/11 climate of mindless fear that some never tire of encouraging and exploiting. The other day Andrei Codrescu said that the Chinese have traded freedom for prosperity. Maybe the Western world is falling into that trap also?

    Deborah

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  26. Hello,
    Yesterday on CBC's 'The Current'Gabor Mate, Charles Pascal and Susan Prentice, discussed
    the new full-day, fully funded and fully integrated child-care and
    kindergarten program starting in 2010 in Ontario. I agree with Gabor
    Mate's comments and found his statistics about a similar program in Sweden
    that has failed very interesting. The "other book" that he has written, apart from
    "Hold on to your kids...." with Gordon Neufeld, and to which he
    refers during the show is "When the body says no". I just bought
    this book and so far it sure makes a lot of sense...
    http://www.cbc.ca/thecurrent/2009/200906/20090617.html
    Also:
    Read the entire "The Underground History of American Education" free online at:
    http://johntaylorgatto.com/chapters/index.htm

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  27. Wow! That was great. I agree whole heartedly with the sentiment and how you stated it. But, I was amazed at your list and how I have over looked some of those things as not really being needed. For the most part we as a family have reeled in much of that need, but there are a few items there that give me room to pause and reflect.

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  28. My own feeling is that full-time Kindergarten is a way of providing "free" daycare to dual-income households. Having both people working is "better for the economy" but the cost of full time daycare, then before and after care for the preschool/kindergarten years can really influence a parents' decision to return to work.

    The whole thing disgusts me because I think they try to couch it in terms of doing what's good for kids (names like "Strong Start" are just propaganda, IMHO), but really they just want both parents out there working. They want us to believe it's because kids need to be institutionalized to learn anything of "value".

    I question the idea that kids from "disadvantaged" homes who APPEAR to be "behind" from all the other kids are somehow needing help from us with earlier and earlier schooling. Just b/c a kid can't read when they are 4 doesn't mean they are doomed to be a failure. Their homes may not be full of Baby Einstein DVDs and a home library of books, but that doesn't in and of itself make these kids "unequal".

    If we addressed the socioeconomic issues behind family poverty rather than trying to take the kids away from their parents and institutionalize them (residential schools, anyone?) this would achieve much better results, IMO.

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  29. Anonymous5:13 am

    I agree that addressing socio-economic issues should be high on the agenda. It's a matter of how to do it and convincing the people and the government that it's important enough to invest in.

    When I said enriched environment I in no way was referring to baby Einstein or any such other silly "educational" product for infant, toddlers or young children. I meant being exposed to a lot of language through interaction with parents, reading, singing, conversing, etc.

    I will not send my children to Kindergarten at all and I'm a teacher. I just don't like the overly academic programme. I think they should be playing.

    I would love to home/unschool and we're working on how to finance that, it's not a matter of giving up luxuries for us. We've barely been surviving on my part time salary since I went back to work. The debt is accumulating, it's been worth it to spend more time with my twins but it's also stressful to owe.

    I will get Gatto's books (I don't really want to read it on a computer screen). I find this discussion very interesting. When I was finishing University I had what I call my "Crisis of Faith" I lost faith in humanity because we've (in the "west") created a system of "democracy" & capitalism that holds us all captive and seem to have lost all empathy for others and our sense of community...I could go on and I know I'm rambling. Ironically I left my first career to go into teaching because I wanted to do something that was helpful. I think I do, my intentions are good and I do not "impose" my will on the kids, although I guess I do impose the curriculum on them.

    That's all for now...got to go to work lol.

    Erin in Ontario

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  30. Just wanted to add (I also agree with the post and am enjoying reading this "conversation"), Diane Flynn Keith vehemently opposed Universal Preschool in CA in the US--it's being pushed with the notion that getting kids into school earlier will give them a better start in life, the "great equalizer" so to speak. Well, her website sure has some arguments against UP that are eye openers. I agree the concept is "window dressing" for political/economic agendas.

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