I’m passionate about universal pre-school.
I’m passionate about it because there’s a picture I can’t get out of my mind. Imagine yourself a child. You’re five years old, and it’s your first day in kindergarten. No matter what your circumstances, you’re probably excited on some level, even if you’re scared. But if all goes well, this is the first day of the most marvelous adventure of your life – the journey of your education.
There’s only one problem though. Other kids in the room are playing with these shapes that you don’t recognize, that you don’t understand. They’re writing and drawing them and seem to know something you don’t know. They’ve got excited looks on their faces and the teacher is talking to them.
They’re playing with letters, and numbers, but you can’t read them. You don’t know what numbers are yet. But they do, because they went to pre-school. They’ve already started learning those things – they’re already started to read -- and they’ve entered a world you don’t yet inhabit.
It’s day one of kindergarten, and you’re already behind. You’re already left out. Would this experience not sear itself upon your psyche forever? Well, let’s see. Let’s follow the numbers.
If the teacher, the school, the school district, the community, the country – someone -- doesn’t teach you how to read and catch you up on your reading skills within two years, then by the second grade – yes, I said that, the second grade – you’re on a fifty per cent probability track to incarceration (You might want to read that paragraph again).
And two years after that – the fourth grade..? Well, if you want to understand how the prison industry can calculate how many beds they’ll need to build (our mass incarceration rate, at 2.4 million, is the largest in the world), just check out how many children in America can’t read by the fourth grade.
Are you passionate yet?
The issue of universal pre-school is not some “soft” issue merely peripheral to the “serious” things we should be talking about. In fact, it’s central to what I believe is the most serious issue these days – the lock-out experienced by too many people from the pool of opportunity that should be shared by all of us. Locked out of the educational system, locked out of the economic system, and locked out of the political system, millions of Americans now find themselves sidelined in their own country. And this bodes very badly for all of us – not only for those who are locked out, but also for those of us who are not. Another generation or two of this, and we will be in very serious trouble.
The last thing we need, by the way, is more people saying, “But what can I do!?” as though they don’t really know. Sometimes we do know what to do; it’s just inconvenient to do it. But as inconvenient as it might be, democracy depends on it. Our future depends on it. And the lives of millions of children depend on it.
Call your Congresspeople and your Senators. Ask every candidate his or her position on universe pre-school. Support the candidates who are making the effort. Talk up the subject. Create some buzz.
We do know what to do. We need to make some noise.