Every other Wednesday in The Kiddy Pool, Erin Newcomb confronts one of many issues that parents must deal with related to popular culture.I barely remember preschool, a program I attended for a few hours a week in the upstairs of the local Methodist church. There’s a family photo of me climbing the indoor monkey bars there, and I recall tiny tables and chairs set with bowls of graham crackers and cups of apple juice. I’m summoning these memories from more than (gulp) thirty years ago, since my own children never attended preschool. From my local friends and neighbors, I know there’s an abundance of options in our area, along with a lottery for free programs, a critical support for many families. I can’t say how much the styles of these preschools differ from my own experience all those years ago, but if there’s one thing that seems only to have grown stronger, it’s the emphasis on early childhood education. Inheriting a world of hatred does not necessitate that we bequeath that same world. We are obliged, instead, to love.It’s easy for me to see now the way my recollections of preschool speak to my class privilege; I doubt my parents considered the educational aspects of the program all that much, given that I had a stay-at-home mother who read to us all the time. Nor was the program an essential stop-gap that allowed my parents more opportunities to earn wages. I’m pretty sure they thought it would be fun preparation for me while giving my mother a break for a few hours. Even preschool education is never ideology-free, nor has it ever been.
So, it’s hard for me not to read Anya Kamenetz’s “How to Spark Learning Everywhere Kids Go—Starting with the Supermarket” without considering the framework of my own privilege. Kamenetz describes supermarket initiatives to spark conversation between children and their caregivers. As Kamenetz writes,
The extra family chatter happened only in low-income neighborhoods. Research shows that’s exactly the place where it’s needed most: Studies have documented a ‘word gap’ that can lead, ultimately, to poor kids starting school months behind in language development.
The process Kamenetz depicts illustrates a way to build and support communities, as well as to empower the adults in children’s lives to teach them. The study is hopeful in suggesting that everyday educational acts can disrupt generational cycles of poverty. And while that’s a broad extrapolation I make from the article, there are seeds of hope sprouting from those supermarket initiatives.That buoyant feeling is harder to sustain when shifting to another recent article from NPR, Cory Turner’s “Bias Isn’t Just a Police Problem—It’s a Preschool Problem.” In this piece, Turner explains how implicit racial bias means that preschool teachers expect more bad behavior from black boys. The Yale study he references looks at teachers’ observations and labeling of children’s behaviors, and it supports trends in preschool education. Turner observes that
according to recent data from the U.S. Department of Education, black children are 3.6 times more likely to be suspended from preschool than white children. Put another way, black children account for roughly 19 percent of all preschoolers, but nearly half of preschoolers who get suspended.
What’s telling about the research Turner reports on is that the teachers aren’t watching “challenging behaviors” at all, but their focus turns toward the black boys as suspect just the same. If there is hope in this piece—and I feel obliged as a Christian to look for hope or to try to generate it when I see none—it is that nearly all the subjects chose not to withdraw their data. Maybe, just maybe, because of that courage we can all look at ourselves more honestly.
As hard as it is for me to consider the reality of a preschool-to-prison pipeline, the fact is that class and racial divisions don’t pick up at a certain point in our lives. They are always-already there for us. That doesn’t mean they need to be always-already there for our children and our grandchildren. Inheriting a world of hatred does not necessitate that we bequeath that same world. We are obliged, instead, to love. And that radical act of loving our neighbors as ourselves means that whatever our neighbors’ class position or racial identity or whatever our own, we are called to love them as ourselves. We are told that all of us bear the image of God, the poor and the rich of every hue. God is in those supermarket conversations, and God is in those preschool classrooms; the challenge may be to see Him beyond our own biases.
Image by Seattle Parks via Flickr.