Preschool Will Make My Child a Success. Should I Be Glad?

Family Matters on 08.19.11
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Photo: US Embassy Manilla/Creative Commons.

My daughter starts preschool next week. So my ears pricked up with interest when NPR's Planet Money reported that preschool may be the best job training program there is. (Remembering, of course, that preschool should not be like regular school!) As Blythe also reported here on Parentables, one long-term study suggests that quality preschool can increase earning potential and college admissions, and decrease the risk of substance abuse and criminal behavior too.

Wow, I thought. I really am investing in my child's future. Then I patted myself on the back and started wondering whether I should also invest in some of those genius-baby DVDs that teach your kid quantum physics or complex algebra.

The truth is that studies like this make me nervous.

Focus on Job Prospects Obscures Broader Lessons

On the one hand, it is fascinating to learn how very early formative experiences can help shape a child's future for decades to come. Everything we do know will have an impact on how our children develop, grow and see the world around them. (Who knew that we should look out for problems like depression from infancy onwards, or that fighting with your spouse can cause kids sleepless nights later?!) On the other hand, do we really need to start thinking about preschool like a job training program? Isn't there enough pressure on our little ones and their parents already? (In the same week NPR aired a piece on how preschool interviews cause major anxiety for many parents.)

But looking closer at the study (not the headlines that report it), i started to realise that this is not about preschool as a job training program. The earning potential or college admissions records of preschool "graduates" was not the purpose of preschool, but rather an outcome or side effect of a broader, deeply important educational lesson - namely how to live and work with other people.

Peace Starts with Preschool?

From conflict resolution to waiting your turn to nurturing curiosity, the lessons of preschool are not directly about prepairing your kid for college or a Fortune 500 career, but rather helping them grow as individuals and empowering them to navigate a rewarding, fulfilling path through life. I'd be willing to bet that the same kids that did better at work, college or staying out of jail, also simply lead happier, more fulfilled lives - and treated those around them with more kindness and respect.

Studies may show that preschool helps you earn more. But they may also show that it is the best path to building a better world or improving interpersonal relationships too. Maybe if those of us in the media had all gone to better preschools, we'd learn to focus on the things that really matter....

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