A few weeks ago Nobel Prize winner James Heckman released new research showing that the “return on investment” would be high if we were to put our children into preschool starting from infancy.
This scares the hell out of me.
Heckman played an important role in the establishing the common notion that public pre-school for 3-4 years olds will more than pay for itself over the long term, that graduation rates and college success will be higher. He may be right, but pre-school is no substitute for an engaged parent.
The notion that state rather than parents should raise children has long been the topic of dystopian science fiction. This is because it puts education and basic values at the mercy of politicians who must be considered in this realm … frankly … stupid.
And stupidity feeds on itself.
Evolutionary psychology tells us the most robust society arises when the children get the best qualities of two loving parents, providing quality and diversity of skills and values to children competing for mates and resources in a vibrant society. Coincidentally (?), this is also the view of the Catholic Church.
Yes, this means in most endeavors we have winners and losers, the winners are rewarded for productive efforts. However, the losers in our society do not fare so badly and always have other opportunities to compete where they can win. But the pressure to win has to be maintained if we are to grow as a culture.
The latest fad of “participation trophies” does nothing to help society and indeed does damage by subsidizing losers (if you know my writing at all you know the adage “whatever you subsidize you get more of”). If the political leadership allows an error as basic as this to occur, are we going to allow them to raise children from birth?
And yes, schools are currently heavily influenced by Democrats, but Rebublicans would fare no better, because of one simple concept from evolutionary science:
Parents care for their own individual children above all else. They don’t have to be fair to other children when it comes to giving their own children the best advantages possible. Parents will go to extraordinary lengths, including giving their own lives, to protect their own child. Every child deserves this kind of love, and when each parent has this relationship with their children, the children get the best possible lives.
The state just cares about the average, as does Heckman and his economic research.
Successful parents teach their children how to live in the world, qualities such as responsibility, work ethic, how to compete (i.e. how do your mom and dad interact with the world), and perhaps most importantly, how to marry, have a family and raise the next generation. The first five years are critical in the formation of a child’s attitude and personality. Pre-school from birth undermines the transfer of cultural skills from parent to child.
Heckman’s Nobel Prize was in micro-economics and data modeling, not in psychology or sociology. Yet he is one of the most influential economists in the worlds and has focused on children’s education.
His research suggests changes in society without considering the far reaching consequences of what will be destroyed in the effort. It is kind of like saying increasing your intake of lima beans is good for you, and then taking the next stept of saying we should only eat lima beans.
However Heckman’s concept may indeed help in bringing up children from low income, welfare bound society, where the family is broken and the father is non-existent. The values taught to these children are not sufficient to make them successful, they do not have parents who’s culture passes along those skills. Their success rate in being self sufficient and productive in society is exceedingly low.
Heckman should just come out and say it – some parents are not fit to raise their own kids.
A program to assist children in these circumstances might not be a bad thing, but a pre-school curriculum may not be the right answer. I might be in favor of a program where retired mothers come in to babysit and take care of these children. Then the values and culture of that older generation would be transferred to a new generation.
Humans must be raised by other humans. Humans CAN NOT be raised by a “system.”
Author’s note: Perhaps I should also talk about how much television children watch, and the influence of R rated material on younger children. But that discussion is for another day.