Biden’s Preschool Problem

New York Times

There is a lot to like in President Biden’s – American’s Family Plan. Better pay for teachers, tax cuts for families with kids, paid leave, school lunches, etc. All well and good.

The problem is it looks like the same approach that doomed Head Start to mediocracy.

When you drill down to the studies used to bolster the term “high-quality preschool,” you find articles like this: Boosting school readiness: Should preschool teachers target skills or the whole child?

Here’s the contention of the authors. They found that most preschools have deficient educational content. So, they propose to inject literacy and math skills. Because they acknowledge that little kids like to play, their curriculum will be designed to be fun.

I hope I am not the only one who perceives this as another top-down imposition on children’s right to play. Developmental, evolutionary, and neurological science has established that children learn through play because they have a biological drive to explore the world. In that interaction, they configure their bodies and minds to maximize performance.

The Biden plan appears to mean that the “new” curriculum will once again push letters and numbers ahead of executive function, self-confidence, and sensory integration.

The Alternative

Head Start began in 1965. Today we have a wealth of science and many thriving models of real play-based preschools. Anji Play in China has the most rigorous program operating at a nationwide scale. There are many Parent Co-ops, Montessori, and Regio Emilia programs as well. We know what works.

We also know what doesn’t work. Dr. Peter Grey has chronicled with meticulous detail in his books and articles, the harm that forced education causes. Tom Hodson does the same in his blog, and books. In addition, a quick internet search will result in dozens of introductory books on child development, each of which will site many studies were done in the last decade that provides irrefutable support for child-directed play and the harm that adult-directed academic content causes.  

What can we do?

The challenge is that POTUS has a huge bully pulpit. The educationalists have enormous resources, access, and political clout. 

Play advocates, on the other hand, are viewed as mud pie enthusiasts, which we are. But, on the other hand, we now have the science above and proven programs to bolster our arguments. But, of course, that assumes we can create a movement and a vehicle to make the case.

The first step.

I have recently reached out to a dozen play advocates to begin a discussion of the issues. The criteria I used was, ten or more years of play advocacy, one or more books, and active blogging.

I have already received several positive responses. If that trend continues, I will share the direction the group sees as the best path forward. If it does not gain traction, I will reach out to those I have contacted to see if there are common reasons for inaction. In any case, I will share what we learn.