G.L.Piggy [at] gmail.com
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From the New York Times, in an article on the “poverty of words” experienced by poor and minority children:
Though conceivably much more as well. Despite the Manhattan parody to which a scene like this so easily gives rise, it is difficult to overstate the advantages arrogated to a child whose parent proceeds in a near constant mode of annotation. Reflexively, the affluent, ambitious parent is always talking, pointing out, explaining: Mommy is looking for her laptop; let’s put on your rain boots; that’s a pigeon, a sand dune, skyscraper, a pomegranate. The child, in essence, exists in continuous receipt of dictation.
My girlfriend and I spent a Saturday morning over the summer hanging out in the town square of Mill Valley, a wealthy town north of San Francisco . We sat on a bench drinking our coffee watching parents play in the same town center with their children. The thing which I marveled at – even more than the stereotype of the people who’d let their dogs intermingle and sniff and get to know each other – was how the parents of these kids did not let one teachable moment escape their grasp. They were prowling, searching for knowledge to impart to their children.
Right in a row I saw several incidents where parents became very excited to show something new to their very small children. A dad was holding in his arms his son who looked to be less than a year old. A plane flew overhead and the dad excitedly spun around and started pointing at the plane saying “Look Dillon, look!” Dillon didn’t look; he didn’t care about the plane. Another dad was awkwardly holding up his daughter as she tried to navigate the pavement – he was straddle-walking while holding up her arms. They quickly paused to inspect a leaf on the ground. He held it up like he’d just discovered a new species and seemed to be giving a seminar on this particular leaf, but, again, the child didn’t care. While this seemed hilarious to me as an outside observer, I know these types of lessons seep into the child, filling them with knowledge and curiosity.
The article goes on to point out that children of wealthy professionals encounter 32 million more words by the time they are four years old compared to children who grow up in poverty. The article was written with the NAACP’s recent confrontation of the New York City public school system’s specialized testing for elite schools. And in this article, a similar point is made to the one both Steve Sailer and I have recently addressed independently:
And yet, all of this focus on the test — which examines reading comprehension, math skills, the ability to reason logically — suggests a myopia of its own. Expanding the ranks of poor black and Hispanic children in the top high schools would seem to require infinitely more backtracking. Consider that Christa McAuliffe Middle School in Brooklyn, one of the major pipelines to top public high schools, last year had a student population that was 0.52 percent black.
“Infinitely more backtracking” sounds kind of ominous. As Sailer recently wrote:
But, you’ll notice, over the years the conventional wisdom has slowly come to admit defeat at fixing The Gap between the races at later ages. So, the emphasis on interventions keeps getting pushed earlier and earlier in life. Currently, all the excitement is focused on pre-K. If only we can fix things up for poor children before they start kindergarten, then we will find out decades later that we have closed The Gap! (And when that proves not to work, then all the attention will be focused upon the first 12 months of life. And then when that fizzles out, the Big Thing will be pre-natal care. And then it will be the first hour after conception. And then the first second after conception.)
The Times article’s citation of the new Fix It program – one that reaches farther back than Head Start – will cost big bucks if scaled across the entire U.S. population (and which is also not helped by the fact that the government is OK with adding immigrants to the bottom of the economic spectrum which would require many more educational services than they are already provided).
All of this would seem to argue for a system in which we spent ever more of our energies and money on early, preschool education rather than less. The city has taken the right direction with the announcement of a new preschool in Brownsville, Brooklyn, scheduled to open next year, that will start with children as young as 6 weeks old. But that’s one program in a city where 7,500 children reached kindergarten this year without preschool preparation. Obviously we want equal opportunity; we also want children to know what words like “equal” and “opportunity” mean.
Scale that across the country and we’ll go broke. Not that we aren’t already.