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O P I N I O N
Head Start on Statism
Emily Grant • Who's raising your children? • 2001 Freshman Issue

Almost no politician, liberal or conservative, would dare criticize Head Start, the federal preschool program for underprivileged children. Head Start’s for the children, which makes it close to untouchable. No politician wants to be branded as ‘anti-child’—even President Bush has recently called for a strengthening of Head Start. But Head Start deserves to be re-examined. 
Head Start’s glaring problem is that, after 35 years, it hasn’t done anything. That’s right, nothing. Children enrolled in Head Start do experience gains over their peers, but any gains Head Start pupils have made fade away within two years of graduation. For these results, the government spent $4.4 billion in Head Start Funds in fiscal year 1999. In fiscal year 1998, Head Start served 830,000 children.  

When confronted with Head Start’s lack of results, Head Start’s advocates reply with a predictable refrain: “More money! More time!” Professor Ed Zingler of Yale University, one of Head Start’s co-founders, calls for an expansion of Head Start: “Waiting for children to turn three in order to be eligible for Head Start is waiting too long.” In plainer language, leaving poor children in the care of their parents for too long causes the children to fail. 
Professor Zingler’s remarks reveal the fundamental problem with Head Start—it is based on the idea that poor parents don’t know how to raise their own children. 

Federal law requires that every Head Start classroom with 20 children must have at least one teacher with an associate’s degree in early childhood education. Head Start pays tuition for its teachers, from start to finish, so that they can receive their associate’s degrees. 

Head Start replaces parents who are poor and uneducated with governmentally approved experts—it replaces parental love with theories of early childhood development. Do classes in early cognitive development provide love the children under Head Start’s care? The question about Head Start is, which is better for a child—a parent’s love, or an associate’s degree and approved educational toys? 

Head Start does claim to involve parents—it sponsors classes on early childhood development, and social workers make visits to the children’s homes to help parents “learn about the needs of their children and about educational activities that can take place at home.” But the primary location for education, the program description implies, is in a classroom—parents have a secondary role to teachers. We institute these programs that push parents to the side, and then bemoan the lack of parental involvement in their children’s lives. 
The fact that Head Start only pays lip service to parental involvement can be seen in a 1998 scandal at the Tulsa, Oklahoma Head Start. Twenty children between the ages of three and five received genital examinations, without parental notification. Many of the children were crying and asking for their parents. Head Start administrators sanctioned these exams, although none of the children exhibited any signs of abuse. The parents of ten of the children have filed suit against Head Start.  

In a recent paper, the National Education Association—the country’s largest teachers’ union—published a list of recommendations for early childhood care: high staff-child ratio; small group size; adequate staff education and training; low staff turnover; a curriculum stressing child-initiated, active learning; and parent involvement. Can’t all these conditions be met by home care, rather than an expensive government program that doesn’t work? 

There is no reason to believe that expanding Head Start, or linking it to the public schools, as the NEA has recommended, will do anything to help poor children rise above the circumstances of their birth. What is clear is what won’t work: Committing children at a younger and younger age to the same government schools that will most likely fail them. 

Emily Grant, Editor at Large
 
 

 

   
The Yale Free Press is published by students ofYale University. 
Yale University is not responsible for its 
contents. By the same
token, The Yale Free Press is not responsible for the contents of Yale
University.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

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