Missouri and other states will soon jump head first into a new national education approach called PK-3 which begins with a voluntary, full-school-
day prekindergarten for 3 and 4 year olds. This is not a new idea. Our school district and many others have experimented with the early learning program as a way to bring young kids into the learning process before kindergarten.
Virtually all studies show that this early capture of these minds does wonders as the youngsters enter the mandatory kindergarten program. A massive study showed substantial, long-term improvements in learning skills and social skills for those who took part in the 3 to 4-year-old school program.
I don't question the survey results. I'm certain that kids will do better in school if they are provided a program at this early age. And, I'm equally as certain that their social skills, discipline and respect will improve with more exposure to a formal education at this early age.
But it's what educators try not to say that means the most to me. The program's success is based primarily on the benefits to the low income, minority and non-English speaking youngsters. It's this group of students - growing every day - that needs the formal exposure to a structured school environment at the age of 3. And that's because they get none of the important social skills at home.
Proponents of PK-3 point to the achievements of those who are involved in the program, the reduced crime and drop-out rates and other factors as the selling points for the program. And I can't argue with their assessment.
Yet it's a sad indictment on current parenting that says we need to take a child barely out of diapers and put them into a formal education program. The primary purpose of this program is not necessarily to jump-start the reading and math skills. The primary purpose is to provide social skills and a respect for authority into these kids. That is what is lacking on the home front.
Too often, current parents fail their children. They produce offspring that mirror their accomplishments and attitudes toward society. Don't we all do that? But those attitudes are reflected once that child arrives in kindergarten. Let's face it, some kids are lost from day one.
So we now look to government - once again - to provide tax funding for millions of more youngsters to teach them what they should be learning at home. We have accepted the fact that they will not receive these important lessons at home so we look to the schools to become our surrogate parents, to teach right from wrong, respect for others, discipline and self-esteem.
Maybe our only answer is in a program such as PK-3. It certainly couldn't do worse than we are currently doing. But I'll always remain saddened by the realization that too many parents provide too few lessons that are the foundation for life. And thus we turn to the government - through our schools - to do that which we all should be doing on our own.