Promise of Preschool” Airs
Sunday, October 27 at 12:30 pm on WNET/13
by Merri Rosenberg
this compelling documentary, the film asks the provocative question
of whether the American convention of starting public school
in kindergarten is too late.
surprisingly, perhaps, the inevitable conclusion, after viewing
this one-hour argument proclaiming the benefits of quality pre-school
experiences, is yes.
there are a few arguing against universal pre-school for American
children (notably articulated by a spokeswoman for the conservative
Goldwater Foundation, mostly because the K-12 public school
model, in her opinion, doesn’t have a stellar track record),
most of the experts who executive producer John Merrow gives
air time to in this work are staunch supporters of making good
pre-school available to all.
program is essentially divided into four parts. One shows a
private Montessori nursery school in Manhattan, where–for
a yearly tuition of $15,000–the privileged three and four-year-olds
are exposed to astronomy, art, music, reading, and chess. Another
segment documents what it’s like for children in the impoverished
inner city of Bridgeport, Connecticut, who attend a federally-funded
Head Start program, whose teachers earn, on average, less than
half of the Montessori staff’s $38,000 a year, and where
the focus is on teaching basic skills, like colors, letters,
numbers and shapes.
of the middle section of the documentary highlights the ecole
maternelle system of France, where the teachers all have
master’s degrees in early childhood education (paid for
by the French government), and where all children have access
to the same curriculum, the same equipment, and perhaps most
important, the same standards. And all of it is free for the
Marian Wright Edelman, speaking admiringly of the French system,
says, “In France, the value of children isn’t even
discussed. It’s assumed.”
documentary places France’s system (where the cost of
universal pre-school is about $3,300 per child) in sharp contrast
to the inequitable patchwork that characterizes America’s
offerings, where it’s painfully obvious that the offspring
of educated, affluent parents who have access to the best preschool
education available start kindergarten with an undeniable advantage
over children who live in inner-city poverty, or rural isolation.
the documentary also focuses on Georgia’s experiment to
provide universal pre-school to four-year-olds (at a cost of
$4,000 per child, paid for by the state; Head Start spends about
$7,000 per child), an endeavor that former governor Zell Miller
developed as a keystone of his administration.
hard to watch this and not come away thinking that our system
is flawed from the beginning, that given the higher standards
and expectations required of our children at ever earlier ages,
it’s more than a pity to waste those years between three
and five. Anyone who works with elementary school children should
make it a point to watch this documentary.#
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