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Early Childhood Education From A Military Perspective
A lovely piece ran in our local Virginian Pilot today about early childhood education. It was written by a retired Vice Admiral and applied his own brand of "military logic" to the arguments against state funding of early childhood education. It was so refreshing, I had to share it:

A Military Perspective On Preschool

As a retired military officer, I am concerned with the debate about whether to fund the proposed expansion of the Virginia Preschool Initiative. I am concerned because opponents are often vigorous, employing one of two tactics, neither of which seems defensible.

One of these tactics is political - the attempt to stir partisan opposition to the proposal solely because it is championed by a governor from the opposing party. This tactic, of course, is contrary to a military way of doing business, where decisions are based on reason and empirical evidence rather than political motives.

The second tactic is the "yes, but" approach, as in "we think expansion of preschool is a good idea, but it's too costly," or "but there are too many practical barriers to overcome," or similar yes-but evasions.

To a former officer, "yes, but" has the ring of excuse-making or lack of commitment to the objective, both of which must be overcome to stay on course.

So why should you care what a retired sailor like me thinks about preschool?

You should care, because the military cares, and deeply, about this topic. So deeply, in fact, that starting nearly two decades ago, the Department of Defense launched a services-wide initiative to increase the availability of high-quality early education programs for its youngest dependents.

The military took up this mission to ensure that children of military parents would start kindergarten ready to succeed. Military leaders championed the cause, funds were allocated, programs were made available so all parents could afford high-quality programs.

The effort proved so successful that government and private-sector policy experts began lauding the military's initiative as a model that should be emulated in the civilian sector.

Why such a strong commitment by the military to quality early education and school readiness? Quite simply, the decision was prompted by the following circumstances:
* A large number of military spouses working outside the home
* Half of today's service members have one or more children under age 5; this amounts to nearly 500,000 across all the branches

But there was another commitment, a common-sense one: to do the right thing for children and their parents in uniform.

So, from the perspective of an observer who has seen how this can succeed, I must now ask why some Virginia decision makers seem so reluctant to follow the lead of their military counterparts.

To borrow a naval phrase, we need all hands on deck. Vote to use the lessons learned in the military as a shining example. Access to high-quality, affordable child care for all should be expanded in our state so that all our children have a fighting chance to succeed.

Jim Metzger
Vice Admiral, USN (ret.)

There was a political rally for Obama in Virginia Beach here this evening. Unfortunately, what with the kiddos and all, I didn't think it was a good idea to attend. (It's T's Navy Reserve weekend, so I'm on my own with the kiddos.) I hear it was a good time with lots of noise and lots of people. I have to admit it's kind of nice to hear Virginia's primary described as "pivotal" even if it is the local paper doing it. I'll just try to forget that we were all but ignored before the Wednesday after Super Tuesday and enjoy it while it lasts. I know all the politicians will evaporate from the Commonwealth after Tuesday's election.

Speaking of politics, the D.C. Metro Moms (and all of their sister sites) are writing about politics and voting today. Head on over and check it out. I'm sure there will be some entertaining and controversial pieces going up throughout the day.

I have some pictures from the zoo up on Lawyer Mama Dabbles. You can see what a hellion my Holden is when allowed to roam free from the confines of his stroller....

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Blogger Scout's Honor said...

Wow! That's an amazing letter. I couldn't have said it better.

Universal pre-school is so important to readying our children for school and the 21st century. Our kindergarten expects kids to be sight reading upon entry. Today's kindergarten is not the kindergarten we went to.

My Eldest was fortunate enough to take advantage of our post (Fort Wainwright, Alaska) pre-school when my husband was on active duty in the Army. Fabulous pre-school. Amazing and highly trained teachers. State of the art facilities. Banging bargain. Never let it be said that the military doesn't take care of the children. We had so many opportunities as a military family. The Vice Admiral knows of whence he speaks. :)

Blogger Julie Pippert said...

That's a great letter, thanks for posting it.

Our Barack rally is tonight.

Blogger Mayberry said...

That's fantastic. I'm so glad he took the time to write -- I hope it changes a few minds.

Blogger Defiantmuse said...

I am actually disturbed by the idea that children need to be "ready" to begin school. Isn't that the point of school - to teach them? And doesn't it all begin in kindergarten? No, not anymore. I guess that's what this is all about. You need school to begin school. i.e: preschool. I don't know. I guess I just have a completely different viewpoint on the entire thing. I don't think 4-5 year olds need to be doing much more than playing and figuring things out in their own time, at their own speed. I'm much more into alternative schooling techniques (like Waldorf and Reggio Emilio) even into the later elementary years. But if you're trying to raise overachievers who, at age 5/6/7/8 will be thinking about which ridiculously overpriced university they can get into so they can have a prestigious degree (though they'll probably still end up waiting tables)then by all means, get them reading by the time they can speak. It just all seems so....forced. As though you're pushing your children into the rat race before they're barely out of diapers. But I'm also someone who is very against our educational system so excuse the rant that I'm sure most people disagree with.

Blogger Lawyer Mama said...

OK, Blogger ate my damn comment and it's my blog. ARGH!

Anyway, DM, I don't necessarily disagree with you about what kids should be doing at 4 and 5. Unfortunately, the reality of Kindergarten right now is scary. I was shocked to hear that many are expected to be reading. Hollis won't be starting Kindergarten until he's almost 6 (even though he could start a year earlier) because I think it's ridiculous to expect him to be reading AND sitting nicely at a desk all day at 4 or 5. I know my kid and it 'aint happenin'.

Hollis is in preschool 2 days a week now but not because we think he's missing something educationally. He's a really introverted kid and he needs to be exposed to new situations and people a lot. We can already see the improvement in his comfort level around new people.

He loves preschool, but we chose ours very carefully. It's more child-directed (although not Montessori) with lots of play and little "formal" education.

I see state funded preschool as something that will help kids who might otherwise fall through the cracks. The overachievers (and, yes, I'm one of them) will generally pay for preschool. Many kids will learn what they need to know at home through play and reading and interacting with parents or a quality daycare provider. But not all kids have homes like that. That's where state funded preschool comes in. I see it more as trying to level the playing ground a bit.

That being said, some kids are really ready for actual school at an early age and thrive. I loved school. LOVED it. Not because of the social stuff - that was just stupid and annoying - I just loved learning new things in a formal environment. It was perfect for my learning style in some ways. And luckily, I was a people pleaser so I didn't act up when I was bored. I just entertained myself. But not all kids are like that. I have a feeling neither of my boys will be like that. So I think it's all about knowing your children and figuring out what's best for them.

Blogger Robert said...

I know it's more of a Marine thing, but I'd say Hoo-A to that letter. I completely agree that early childhood educational expansion is a good investment. Spending more on education may help reduce future costs in other areas.

Blogger Alpha DogMa said...

I support universal access to preschool. I don't support universal preschool. One is about levelling the playing field for children from all income brackets. This is so important because statistically the lower the income level, the greater a child needs to exposed to preschool. The latter is about denying children the leisure to learn and grow at an unhurried pace.

Kindergarten in Canada (at least from my research and exposure) is not nearly as academically rigourous as in the US (from what I gather from blog reading), BUT the curriculum and expectations make it equal to the Grade 1 class I attended in 1979. The plus side of this is that learning disabilities and behavioural issues can be detected and remedied early. But I think we are fast tracking our children to failure. Early childhood education studies show that mastery of academic concepts in young children does not lead to long term success. In fact it can have quite the opposite effect if a child decides that learning is something you do for the external gratification of adult approval and NOT for personal satisfaction.

That being said, I was impressed by the letter and by the military's attitude to access which seems to empower their members with access but not dogma. Not that I have issues with dogma.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello! I'm a Lawyer Mama too! I have a three year old (as of yesterday.) He attends preschool three days a week while I work part time. His school is mixed age classrooms, but they are already doing screenings for kindergarten readiness. My husband rolled his eyes. However, the reality is that there are a lot of children who not only slip through the cracks, but others that would benefit from early intervention. I am a dependency lawyer (represent kids removed for neglect and abuse) and I can tell you the number that have to repeat kindergarten is astounding. I often think of the money that would be saved later due special education, etc. if a little more money were applied "up front" in preschool. Great to find your blog!

As a huge preschool advocate, I have such strong feelings about this. The letter he wrote did not suggest an "academic" preschool. ALL research I have read, and I have read A LOT, points to developmental preschool being the way to go, meaning learning through play. These kids tend to do much better in elementary school, particularly around 3rd or 4th grade when learning because a bit more independent.

My kids aren't in preschool to learn the alphabet. They're there for countless intangibles and we're lucky we can afford it. So unfair so many kids can't afford it, and I'm all for state-funded preschool as an option for those who want/need it.

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