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1. All-Day Kindergarten and the Myth of Institutional Progress

By William C. Duncan and Bryce Christensen

Courtney Lee has taught in the all-day kindergarten program the Utah State Legislature authorized three years ago, a program that will end after this year without a new infusion of public money. In expressing her hopes that that legislators will find that money, Ms. Lee argues that all-day kindergarten makes the difference between clueless 5-year-olds whose efforts to produce their names yield only “illegible squiggles and letters scattered across pages,” and poised 5-year olds capable of writing “their names correctly and legibly.”

Now that the State Board of Education and the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce have come out in favor of renewing the funding of all-day kindergarten, state legislators can expect to hear from a good many teachers and public officials who share Ms. Lee’s views. Indeed, some legislators believe that champions of all-day kindergarten may even seek funding to expand the program and make it compulsory for all 5-year-olds.1 Though the justification for such funding may seem obvious to Ms. Lee and her allies, state legislators should weigh this issue carefully. For in trying to enlarge a program that enables five-year-olds to write their name legibly, the state may unintentionally diminish students’ awareness of why their name matters.

A name, of course, has traditionally signified attachment to a family. And a family flourishes only when its members share a vibrant home life. Unfortunately, family life has suffered in recent decades as the home has surrendered more and more of its meaningful functions to outside institutions, including schools. Decades ago, Harvard sociologist Pitirim Sorokin recognized the danger in this cultural displacement. As the home surrendered its essential functions, becoming a “mere incidental parking place,” Sorokin saw the family losing its integrity. Sorokin predicted that in this disturbing process “the family as a sacred union of husband and wife, of parents and children, will continue to disintegrate. Divorces and separations will increase . . . Children will be separated earlier and earlier from parents.”2

Sorokin’s words should give Utahns pause when considering educational initiatives that move young children out of the home. For as such programs further weaken family life in ways identified by Sorokin, they will also compromise children’s long-term academic success. Typical of a number of sociological studies on how family structure affects children’s academic performance, a 2000 analysis of national data concludes that children raised in stable, biological families are more likely to complete high school and college than children from divorced, single-mother homes.3 It seems that children’s long-term academic progress ultimately depends less upon whether all-day kindergarten teachers help them write their name than upon whether married parents maintain an intact family. Further, a raft of research shows that the same adverse family trends that darken children’s long-term academic prospects also expose them to unfavorable risks in physical and mental health, make them more prone to violent and criminal behavior, and increase their vulnerability to the temptations of alcohol and drug use.4

Of course, advocates of all-day kindergarten will protest that they are not threatening the family. They are simply supporting a measure that will help young children develop essential academic skills. But it is precisely because so many experts championing social progress have ignored the family that the family has lost its functions – and consequently its cultural integrity – in the way Sorokin recognized.

To be sure, a few radicals – including William Morris, H.G. Wells, Charlotte Perkins Gilman and B.F. Skinner – have not simply ignored the family but have deliberately attacked it.5 Utahns will find few if any such radical utopians among the advocates of the expansion of all-day kindergarten. Yet they will find that many of these advocates share with these anti-family utopians a belief that credentialed professionals can do much more for young children than can their own parents. With utopian psychologist Skinner, they believe that wise application of professional skills makes “group care . . . better than parental care,” especially since parent care means exposing young children to “mistakes [that] range all the way from child abuse to overprotection and the lavishing of affection on the wrong behavior.”6

But Utahns will not find social progress by moving young children out of parental care in the home and into professional care in an academic institution. After all, one of the most costly and extensive studies of preschool day care has established that even when the care takes place in high-quality institutions, non-parental care makes children significantly more likely to manifest “at-risk (though not clinical) levels of problem behavior” evident in “more aggression and disobedience.”7 Further, the favorable results attributed to the costly expansion of Head Start programs have tended to “fade out” by third grade, as children not in the programs catch up.8And as far as academic achievement goes, it is hardly irrelevant that children who are homeschooled score much higher on standardized tests than do peers in public or private schools.9

Utahns assessing the favorable claims for all-day kindergarten must remember that those proffering the claims are often advancing their own vested interests. When professionals displace parents, money – often tax money – flows into new pockets. Good jobs with attractive benefits then open up for those with the right credentials. On the other hand, when parents themselves care for their own children, no money changes hands and no new jobs open up. Consequently, no one finds financial benefit in defending home and family in public forums.

But those who truly care about the long-term well-being of Utah children will heed Sorokin’s warning about malign cultural processes that damage the family by separating children from their parents at earlier ages. They will remember the overwhelming evidence that no state institution – academic, therapeutic or correctional – holds as much long-term and universal promise for children as does the family. And they will accordingly do all they can to ensure that when Utah children do learn how to write their names, those names will be reassuring reminders of essential family ties.

Co-author Bryce J. Christensen, Ph.D., is associate professor of English at Southern Utah University and adjunct fellow of Sutherland Institute’s Center for Family and Society. He is a contributing editor to The Family in America and author of Divided We Fall: Family Discord and the Fracturing of America (Transaction, 2005). He has also published articles on family issues inSociety, The Public Interest, Policy Review, Modern Age, and other journals.

Co-author William C. Duncan, J.D., is director of the Marriage Law Foundation and is the director of Sutherland Institute’s Center for Family and Society. He formerly served as acting director of the Marriage Law Project at the Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law and as executive director of the Marriage and Family Law Research Grant at J. Reuben Clark Law School, Brigham Young University, where he was also a visiting professor.

ENDNOTES

1. Cf. Lisa Schencker, “Lawmakers Debate Extending Kindergarten Program,” The Salt Lake Tribune, October 21, 2010, http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/home/50510753-76/kindergarten-program-extended-students.html.csp
2. Pitirim A. Sorokin, Social and Cultural Dynamics: A Study of Change in Major Systems of Art, Truth, Ethics, Law, and Social Relationships, Rev. and Abr. Ed. (1957; rpt. Lanham: Transaction Books, 1985), 700, emphasis added.
3. Timothy J. Biblarz and Greg Gottainer, “Family Structure and Children’s Success: A Comparison of Widowed and Divorced Single-Mother Families,” Journal of Marriage and the Family 62 (2000): 533-548.
4. Cf. Laurie J. Bauman, Ellen J. Silver, and Ruth E. K. Stein, “Cumulative Social Disadvantage and Child Health,” Pediatrics 117 (2006): 1321-1327; Kelly J. Kelleher et al., “Increasing Identification of Psychosocial Problems: 1979-1996,” Pediatrics 105 (2000): 1313-1321; Robert F. Valois et al., “Risk Factors and Behaviors Associated With Adolescent Violence and Aggression,” American Journal of Health Behavior 26 (2002): 454-464; Carter Hay et al., “The Impact of Community Disadvantage on the Relationship between the Family and Juvenile Crime,”Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency 43 (2006): 326-356; Thoroddur Bjarnason et al., “Familial and Religious Influences on Adolescent Alcohol Use: A Multi-Level Study of Students and School Communities,” Social Forces 84 (2005): 375-390; Andres G. Gil, William A. Vega, and R. Jay Turner, “Early and Mid-Adolescence Risk Factors for Later Substance Abuse by African Americans and European Americans,” Public Health Reports 117. S1 (2002): S15-S28.
5. Cf. Bryce Christensen, “The Family in Utopia,” Renascence 44 (1991): 31-44.
6. B. F. Skinner, Walden Two (1948; rpt. New York: Macmillan, 1976), 107-134.
7. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development / Early Child Care Research Network, “Does Amount of Time Spent in Child Care Predict Socioemotional Adjustment During the Transition to Kindergarten?” Child Development 74 (2003): 976-1005.
8. Cf. Darcy Olsen and Jennifer Martin, “Assessing Proposals for Preschool and Kindergarten: Essential Information for Parents, Taxpayers, and Policymakers,” Policy Report 201 (Phoenix AZ: Goldwater Institute, February 8, 2005).
9. Cf. Lawrence M. Rudner, “Scholastic Achievement and Demographic Characteristics of Home School Students in 1998,” Education Policy Analysis Archives 7 (1999): 19.

 

2. Watch Sutherland Policy Forum on Jan. 13

Authentic conservatism has unique ideas about the meanings and values of community and free markets. What is an authentic view of free markets? How does this view differ from traditional capitalism? Do conservatives really believe in laissez-faire economies? How does the conservative view of community differ in substance from the liberal view of communitarianism? How do strong communities and free markets protect freedom?

Sutherland Institute invites you to join Sutherland online for a conversation about conservatism and the foundations of freedom between Sutherland President Paul Mero and Allan Carlson, director of Sutherland’s Center for Community and Economy. Mr. Mero and Dr. Carlson have been close friends and colleagues for over a decade. Dr. Carlson is a prolific author, having written 10 books, including one co-authored by Mr. Mero titled The Natural Family: A Manifesto (2007). Along with being the longtime president of The Howard Center for Family, Religion, and Society, based in Rockford, Ill., Dr. Carlson also is the Distinguished Visiting Professor of History and Politics at Hillsdale College in Hillsdale, Mich.

We invite you to watch the live Internet broadcast of this one-hour Sutherland Policy Forum starting promptly at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 13, on Sutherland’s Ustream channel. For additional information or inquiries, please call 801-355-1272.

We look forward to having you join us via the Internet on Thursday evening, Jan. 13.

 

3. Defending the Family

BYU’s Wheatley Institution is sponsoring “Wheatley Conference on Defense of the Family” on Thursday, Jan. 27, at the Hinckley Center Assembly Hall on BYU campus. Speakers include Robert P. George of Princeton and Bradford Wilcox of University of Virginia.

For more information, go to http://wheatley.byu.edu/events/
or call 801-422-5883

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