Do We Need State-Supported Early Childhood Programs?

The following article from educationnews.org covers some of the myths that education and legislative bureaucracies use to urge the creation of state-sponsored daycare/education programs.  Usually the programs cite much "evidence" from multitudes of "experts" for the need to get very young children in school as early as possible.  However, that evidence is not based on sound scientific research, and "Early-Years Learning Myth" documents some of junk science that surrounds the subject of early childhood education.

 

PERSPECTIVE
EARLY-YEARS LEARNING MYTH
by JANN FLURY

November 19, 2001

Every rational member of society can agree that a stable, normal family life provides the optimum conditions for a child's early emotional and intellectual development. And everyone can accept that learning is a natural process that seems to come easiest to the young. However, to translate that axiom into a requirement for state-run "professionally-staffed early-childhood learning centers," into which children must be placed-literally from birth- in order for them to reach their full potential, is a distortion of reality. It is a fad that a certain school of "experts" is promoting, much to the delight of social services and the education establishments, because the initiative creates lots of new jobs, and educators find it most convenient to teach groups of children with uniformly molded personalities.

The concept is readily embraced by educators; they have long used the excuse that children come to them with different levels of knowledge, many, ill prepared for school, not knowing how to read or print. Educators insist that this great discrepancy in basic knowledge represents an insurmountable gap for teachers to achieve any kind of standard learning results by the end of the school year-even in grade one.

According to proponents of early-childhood learning, a child's brain must be nurtured and appropriately stimulated-not by unqualified parents, but by trained experts-during the optimum period of brain development between the age of one to six, or the child will never reach its full intellectual potential. According to that hypothesis, all past generations must have missed the boat.

The concept is mostly based on opinion rather than sound scientific fact. It has been challenged by reputable research scientists, and it flies in the face of decades of empirical evidence. With the development of PET scans (Positron Emission Tomography) these avant garde "scientists" boast they can observe the brain from the "womb to the tomb." Their "research" claims to have shown conclusively that certain neural pathways in the brain will not get connected and will shut down, probably forever, unless they are appropriately stimulated. This "research" has inspired national programs such as "Success by Six" in the United States and "Early Childhood Development Centers" in Canada, the goals of which are to put children from infancy to age 5 into special daycare centers run by professionally trained staff, so all 6-year-olds will be uniformly school ready.

The Myth of the First Three Years, a book by John T. Bruer, published in the late 1990's, debunks most of the hypothesis and suggests that such early-learning initiatives are a waste of taxpayer dollars. His book has received the support of reputable scientists such as the director of the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who labeled the book as "a voice of sanity, common sense and genuine expertise to counter the latest fad from the witch doctors of child development." And Howard Gardner, a professor at Harvard, said the book "convincingly debunks current hype about brain research and learning [and] should shame those who propose grandiose policies or issue dire warnings on the basis of scanty or ambiguous evidence." The advent of PET scanning presented an opportunity for certain so-called "research scientists" to watch an infant's brain develop-or not develop. They jumped to conclusions and published their papers on brain development without regard for proven procedures or adequate scientific evidence. It's rather reminiscent of earlier years, when mass spectrometry became a practical scientific tool for analyzing the composition of matter. The would-be-scientists determined that tuna was no longer safe to eat because it contained unacceptably high levels of mercury as a result of industrial pollutants dumped into the oceans. Serious health warnings were issued, and the tuna fishery plunged into crisis. Industry was ordered to clean up their dumping act and the environmentalists had their day.

Two or three years later, lo-and-behold tuna was back on the menu, apparently safe to eat. Nothing in the oceans, the tuna, nor the dumping habits of industry had changed over the short period, of course, but the "scientists" decided the levels of mercury generally detected in tuna by mass spectrometry could be easily tolerated by the human body. Similarly, scientists can watch the brain grow by using PET scanning techniques but they don't quite know what they are watching. As Bruer so aptly put it, "The myth of the first three years can serve as an interesting case study for how science is used and abused in policy debates."

Plenty of empirical evidence exists that disproves the wild hypothesis of early brain development. All past generations managed to do fine, despite a dearth of "professional" early-childhood brain stimulus. Programs such as No Excuses in the U. S. have shown conclusively that underprivileged, "under-stimulated" children from poor neighborhoods can learn as well as anyone when they are taught diligently by teacher-centered direct instruction methods. And some countries, producing superior results to North America-Switzerland for one-don't start children in grade one until they are in their seventh year. Remediation classes is another case-in-point. Most of the students relegated to remediation classes, even in the later grades, learn very well when taught effectively.

Government run early daycare is not new. All communist and socialist states have tried it in the past. And Nazi Germany had its Hitler Youth. It's a blatant maneuver to undermine the nuclear family and seize control of our children from birth (make it the human capital of the state), so the establishment can mold their little minds into uniform, politically-correct thinking entities. In reality, such institutions will raise a nation of apathetic, detached, little socialists without conscience, moral values or integrity, ready to betray their parents to the "Thought Police." These "fortunate" children will be then considered truly school ready, able to reach their full potential.

We do not need "Success by Six" programs or "Early Childhood Development Centers" we need better teaching when our children start their formal schooling, be it kindergarten or grade one. Some parents do a lot to give their children a head start in school, others do not, or cannot. It is the responsibility of the teacher and school to ensure that all children follow a proper code of discipline while at school and that they learn what is needed to succeed in the workplace or to go on to higher learning.

Instead of new fad projects, the "experts" would be wise to rework existing frill curriculums into something more useful and concentrate on the existing, effective teaching methods for grade-school-aged children. Let the establishment encourage and support the nuclear family, and leave the nurturing to the mothers and the fathers.

Jann Flury
Phone 1-905-571-4811
Fax 1-905-571-4881

 

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