Since she hasn’t any good ideas for reforming our existing education structures although their decrepitude contributes to our troubled culture and economy, Hillary Clinton is pitching voters a new preschool entitlement. Because all the others we have are working so well.
The Obama administration has already taken steps towards cobbling together such a program. Thank the Republican-led Congress’s refusal to deny yet another unconstitutional executive overreach by substantially cutting funds or federal power. The Atlantic recently released a big piece casting New York City Major Bill de Blasio’s preschool program as a potential national model, even though there’s no useful data on the program’s effectiveness because it’s barely a year old (!).
The New York City program is certainly instructive, but not in the way Atlantic author Dana Goldstein thinks. It shows that Democrats don’t mind talking openly about tricking taxpayers into funding programs they know are wasteful and ineffective. The program itself would be a shackle to the new economy we’re in. Federal funding for preschool is a 1950s answer to 2016’s needs, and that means it will create more problems than it solves.
Let’s Lie to the Public to Get What We Want
Goldstein reveals the Left knows their pitch for government preschool is based on several major deceptions because that model of socialism has discredited itself after wide experience with hulking social entitlement programs such as Medicare and Medicaid. There’s a lot to chew on in this paragraph:
In 2016 there is one central debate, between the left and center-left, about the role of government in America. Can the widening gap in opportunity and life outcomes between the rich and the poor be closed using the dominant policy tools of the last 30 years: tax credits that are supposed to encourage minimum-wage work, and stigmatized, underfunded social programs that serve only the poorest of the poor, like Medicaid, food stamps, and Head Start, the federal preschool program? Or, does the country need to return to an older, and until very recently, largely unpopular idea: taxing the rich to create big, new government entitlements, like pre-k, free college, or single-payer health care—entitlements available to everyone, including the affluent who currently have little trouble procuring such services on the private market? This was the crux of the debate between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton.
So, as we all knew, the debate on the Left about what to do with other people’s money and children fluctuates between fascism and socialism. I’m using these terms academically, not as epithets. Here’s a comparison of the two from the Concise Encyclopedia of Economics:
Where socialism sought totalitarian control of a society’s economic processes through direct state operation of the means of production, fascism sought that control indirectly, through domination of nominally private owners. Where socialism nationalized property explicitly, fascism did so implicitly, by requiring owners to use their property in the ‘national interest’—that is, as the autocratic authority conceived it.
It’s important to understand that this is what is going on, because both fascism and socialism have been widely discredited in the United States, and for good reason: They don’t work. Both systems of governance impose high economic costs and high limits on individual liberties. As a result, they’re expensive, ineffective, and frustrating.
Goldstein touts poll numbers showing large numbers of Americans support preschool, but these polls show support for the concept of broadly available preschool, not for a specific federal program modeled on welfare programs like Medicaid or Head Start. Get specific about who would do this program and what it would inevitably look like after Congress (or the executive branch) got done porking it up with deals for special friends, and you have yet another unpopular, sclerotic, wasteful social welfare program.
American trust in institutions is at an all-time low, and with good reason. Bloat breeds corruption. Big government is bad at managing social programs. We don’t trust government could get another big program right, and with good reason. It’s already leaving hundreds of thousands of veterans to die through horrifically slow medical care and rationing care in Medicare. In education, it’s been well-established by even government research that increasing subsidies for, for example, college has directly fueled a dramatic increase in costs during a dramatic decrease in quality. Preschool would be no different.
Rich Kids Don’t Need It; Poor Kids Don’t Get It
This new preschool push employs another deliberate deception. The truth is that middle-class kids do not need preschool. Government preschool is only socially beneficial as compensation for deprived homes (although its ability to accomplish that is sketchy even after 50 years of and billions spent on large-scale government preschool programs). In the Atlantic article everyone acknowledges this, but says they must dupe middle-class families into supporting these programs or they won’t materialize.
In an interview with Politico New York, de Blasio’s pre-K lead said preschool should be an entitlement for all, not a welfare program for deprived children, both for “diversity” and because, “from a political perspective, universal programs are easier to maintain over the term, [and] there’s a broad constituency for early childhood education.”
A Georgia pre-k bureaucrat told The Atlantic deception has been key for getting Republicans aboard, particularly portraying government preschool as “school choice” and “allowing any family to participate, regardless of income. Legislators won’t ‘say anything negative—in a public manner anyway. Because they’ve got too many [middle-class] families… utilizing the program.’”
This strategy not only depends on lying to voters, but it hurts the same poor kids supporters claim to care about, because it sends limited tax dollars to kids who don’t need it, depriving kids who do. Researcher Bruce Fuller “has put out a series of reports about the de Blasio program, finding, among other things, that new pre-K seats have been disproportionately concentrated in affluent neighborhoods. He estimates that 12,000 children in poor neighborhoods still lack any access to a public pre-K program.”
So if government preschool programs don’t actually reach or improve the lot of poor kids, why are people telling us they do when they know the opposite is true? What is really going on here? We’ll let de Blasio himself tell you.
De Blasio’s Crusade Is Deeply Anti-Mother
In the Atlantic profile, De Blasio says he wants parents to believe that “institutional preschool is superior, socially and academically, to homecare.” He hopes to take this message nationwide:
‘I want to keep proselytizing to all my fellow parents,’ de Blasio said. ‘Because this is an irreplaceable opportunity to foster your child’s development at a point where it’s literally without parallel. If you can reach them at the age of 4, you can do extraordinary things that you just can’t do even a few years later.’ And he isn’t content with one year of free pre-k, either. ‘Over time we want to see anything we can do to reach the children even younger.’ (emphasis added)
This is precisely the opposite of what research and common sense is good for children, families, and society. The number one most important thing that sets up a child for a good life is living in a stable, affirming home environment with both his biological parents. A deep bond with his parents is crucial to a child’s entire future, and research shows it is much more beneficial to a child than preschool. Children need to be closer to their parents, not more distant, to develop the emotional stability that is the foundation for later learning and life happiness. Anything that harms this bond is detrimental to children and thus society.
The only “irreplaceable opportunity to foster your child’s development” is not placing him in a tax-funded center with other children as early as possible, but giving that child the gift of luxuriating in lots of warm, affirming time with his very own mother and father. So not only is de Blasio deeply ignorant of child development, he wants to use deception to inflict his deep and dangerous ignorance on the entire country.
De Blasio’s stance is also deeply insulting to parents in general and mothers in particular. He is literally telling mothers that other women can mother their children better. Yet his marquee program itself belies that premise. The typical woman studying to become a preschool teacher, the Atlantic article says, is a poverty-stricken mother in her 20s or 30s, “sometimes living in public housing. These women work full-time as teachers in low-income neighborhoods while studying for a master’s degree in early childhood education at night and on the weekends.”
The article reports these women find the very low academic requirements for preschool teacher certification “daunting.” Yet de Blasio wants us to believe it’s better for children to be one of eight (the usual preschool child-to-teacher ratio; sometimes it’s 12 to 1) assigned to this overwhelmed, underprepared fellow mother than to be one-on-one with their very own mothers? That’s preposterous, contrary to all the research on child development, anti-child, anti-family, and deeply misogynistic.
Set Us Free to Meet Our Families’ Needs Our Own Ways
This all suggests de Blasio aligns with feminist thought leader Simone de Beauvoir, who insisted “No woman should be authorized to stay at home to raise her children. Society should be totally different. Women should not have that choice, precisely because if there is such a choice, too many women will make that one.” Well, she’s wrong, and insultingly so. Women should not be forced into life arrangements social theorists dream up for them. I thought feminists called that the patriarchy and were against it, but whatever. Women’s behavior shows they also think de Blasio and Beauvoir can stick it where the sun don’t shine.
Despite decades of messaging telling women we are fools for choosing to sacrifice money and respect to care for our own children most of the time, most mothers still want to do so. Large majorities of mothers want no or part-time marketplace work, and even higher percentages of the general public support that disposition. Do you know what would respect women and their families? Looking for ways to support their desires, ideas, and preferences, rather than telling them what we ought to think and want for our families.
Our knowledge economy is an excellent fit for the work-at-home lifestyle many mothers want. But government preschool programs are not built for flexible knowledge work like this. They’re built for a midcentury corporate behemoth-style marketplace, the kind of “Mad Men” economy where you get on the escalator at the bottom and emerge with your pension and gold watch 40 years later. Restricting childcare options through single-payer does injustice to other arrangements families may wish to construct for themselves, such as mom working mainly in afternoons, two days a week, weekends only, or whatever else.
The nation’s largest government preschool program, Head Start, for example, incentivizes preschools to run on a constricting, 9-5, Monday-Friday timeframe. That wouldn’t work at all for my friend, a nurse, who works three 14-hour shifts a week. De Blasio’s program likewise pushed full-day, which prompted protests from New York City parents who liked their part-time preschool and wanted to keep it. Tough beans for them, I guess.
Tough beans for families who have different ideas about things as minute as kiddie snacks, too. To get de Blasio’s preschool funding, “Participating schools agree to adhere to a 120-page book of guidelines, with city and state regulations on everything from the amount of juice (4 ounces) and sodium (1,700 milligrams) allowed per child per day to the number of minutes of daily free play (140) and screen time (no more than 15).” Well, that would end my solution to bad mornings with my preschoolers, where we enjoy tea and cookies while reading Beatrix Potter. No fun for you, kiddos! No autonomy for you, mommies! Nanny De Blasio knows better!
These kinds of programs provide factory-style child care in a flex-work economy. Government preschool is a hotel solution in an AirbnB world, a boxy, antiquated-on-arrival Boomer kind of program for a flexible, streamlined, millennial world. It locks in the old economy and makes it harder for the new one to continually emerge.
Democrats Are Out of Ideas, So They Lie to Us
That is a huge economic problem besides a huge social problem, because the number one way to increase families’ incomes enough to better afford child care or anything else they want is not to stick more of their and their kids’ money in the leaky bucket called government and pass it around in a circle as it slowly drains out, but to accelerate economic growth. This in turn lifts salaries, makes home and college debt cheaper, feeds the stock market healthily (not economic steroids called quantitative easing), and so forth. We get economic growth through freeing people to continually recreate what they make and how they make it, not by micromanaging.
The reason we are talking about doing the exact opposite of what would really give all families a lift is that, just as Hillary doesn’t have proposals to measurably improve K-12, Democrats have proven they do not know how to spark economic growth. Their pet programs and policies, in fact, strangle it. They cannot get over this cognitive dissonance because they’d have to acknowledge that hooking people on their own money minus the cream skimmed off for bureaucrats is counterproductive. That would destroy their entire political model, in which they promise us our kids’ money in exchange for votes.
Besides being deeply insulting, deliberately separating families from their children and property (tax dollars) under deceptive pretenses is immoral, and a transgression of the American social compact. American citizens are pledged government by consent, not government by coercion, manipulation, and trickery.
Given that we have $19 trillion in national debt, $3 trillion in state and local government debt, and between $87 and $222 trillion in unfunded liabilities for our current social welfare programs, to think of adding another is absolutely insane. De Blasio’s program itself is only not bankrupting the city because his state is bailing it out. That is no model for a national program, even if government preschool programs were proven effective (which they’re not).
We cannot get out of this hole by doubling down on socialist or fascist policies. Our only hope is in setting people free to grow our economy in ways that help them create and fund their own child-care arrangements and everything else they need. We can and ought to respect them that much.