Plato wanted the children of the ruling class to be parented in common. Today’s would-be education reformers seem to be on the same path, hoping to expand the public school system from 7 year-olds (the current age of mandatory enrollment) down to 6-year olds.
In addition, there’s a great effort, starting from presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama on down, to greatly expand the depth and scope of government involvement in early children’s lives. In Kansas, Gov. Sebelius favors expanding preschool services to all children, at least on a voluntary basis.
Some preschool experiments cited by officials such as the Kansas governor take children from as young as infancy and put them into programs funded by taxpayers. Sometimes the money even goes directly into the budgets of government agencies, such as school districts.
There are several problems with this idea, however. The experiments used to justify universal preschool have serious methodological problems that call into question the value of expanding them to the entire population. In addition, the problems with K-12 education don’t occur in the earliest of years, but instead start showing up in middle schools and high schools.
So why the fascination with the early years? One reason may be that it’s easier to expand the current public (government-run) education system than it is to reform it.
As appealing as the logic of universal pre-K may be, there’s a final reason to cast a critical eye on it: putting all or even a majority of very young children into government-run programs threatens the balance of responsibilities among important institutions such as family, religion, business, and government. Some level of government is required, but too much distorts a society.
Read more on this topic in a new report issued by the Flint Hills Center for Public Policy. It’s called (PDF) Plato’s Republic on the Plains: Should Kansas Really Embrace State-Financed Early Childhood Education?