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Eric Mang served as a political aide in the Harris government in Ontario and the Campbell government in British Columbia. His politics have since shifted left. You can read more at www.ericmang.com.

Conservative "values" and the fight against early childhood education

| November 13, 2009

Gerald Caplan recently mused about why Conservatives are opposed to early childhood education (ECE) (The Globe and Mail, October 30).

Conservatives, living up to the tenets of their ideology, fear change and buttress the status quo. They re-imagine school as a scene out of Leave it to Beaver. Students sitting quietly at their desks, questioning authority is verboten and could result in corporal punishment, home for lunch where apron-wearing Mom has peanut butter on Wonder Bread washed down with milk, then back to school where kids learn common sense things like reading, writing, arithmetic and how god created the world.

It's an old-fashioned ideal of school, one of command and control, one that seems like a chipping, fading daguerreotype portrait of children in stockings, bow ties and floor-length dresses, with a furrowed-browed schoolmarm looming at the front of the class. And this antiquated notion can be held by people who were born in the 1980s.

It's because, as a conservative (here, I use a lower case "c" to signify conservative ideology rather than the Conservative party), you think that there is something profoundly amiss with the current education system. One that, as Caplan alludes to, smells of socialism, feminism and radical politics.

When I was a Tory, I remember receiving a call from a fellow ideologue who was enrolled in teachers' college. She was incensed about being given a lesson on labour policies and being part of a union. While teachers do indeed belong to a union, she felt that formal acknowledgement of this fact confirmed radicalism in the pedagogical ranks.

Of course, the most insidious element of ECE for many conservatives is government "brainwashing". Caplan finds this conspiratorial attitude to be baffling; but it isn't once you get into the head of a conservative.

Bear with me. For the next few paragraphs, I'm going to argue against ECE from a conservative perspective.

"State-raised children" are acquiescent kids who mimic politically correct statements. And political correctness is code for "censorship". Political correctness meddles with the way things are. I've always said "Eskimo", "cripple" and "Indian". No one was hurt. What's the big deal? All this political correctness caters to vocal minorities who want to change the way we live. We'll have to learn about other beliefs like Islam and our kids will be taught that other people's religions should be respected and soon, out goes Christmas, replaced with "Happy Holidays". And they'll be taught morally repugnant things like gays are people too and should have the right to be married.

The state will start pounding these ideas into kids' heads early. They won't be taught my values and beliefs. My conservative ideals will be displaced by this hug-your-neighbour, don't offend anyone, political correctness.

My values aren't as important as those of the state and if you put my kid in school at too young of an age, I lose the chance to mold little Billy into a good, conservative-thinking child.

Forget the evidence. Forget the supposed benefits that ECE would bring to children in particular and to society in general. This is a fight for my child's mind and heart.

Of course, not all conservatives are like this, but many are. Many see the state's involvement in the early stages of a child's development as supplanting the authority, and more importantly, the values of parents.

This is an ideological battle for many conservatives and no evidence, no appeal to reason, is going to change their minds. It's the same reason why I cannot understand why someone would want to render a child scientifically illiterate by not teaching them evolution. Evolution through natural selection is a fact. It's the cornerstone of biology, paleontology, zoology, etc. To not teach it should bar, as Stephen J Gould suggested, a child's access to post-secondary education because that child is ill-prepared for higher learning.

But I know that evolution is not judged by creationists and biblical literalists on its scientific merits. It's judged by the threat it poses to values and beliefs. ECE is treated the same way.

While the opposition to ECE is baffling, we can try to understand where those fears are rooted.

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Comments

I'm a politically left, NDP voting, child of a same-sex home, homeschooling parent, who happens to live in a a very "conservative" province.  I must say that I don't disagree with ECE in a formal setting for it educational value, I just think that my kid can learn better from me at home and in the community and daily life.  I teach him about christianity, islam, judaism, wicca, etc.  I happily and expressly teach him that being gay/lesbian is how some people love and that it's no different and I do that by not making it seem different.  I think children are best served to learn and love at home, where they are safe.  I teach my son evolution and we're fortunate to live in a place with a large amount of the world's evolutionary history in our backyard.

However, I find it quite insulting to assume that people who disagree with ECE are conservative or close minded.  Did it ever occur to anyone that maybe we just want to raise our kids ourselves?  I don't want to miss all the milestones nor here about them from some teacher.  I want to see the look on his face when he spells his name by himself or when we do a science experiment and he "gets it"!

I don't keep my kid out of ECE, because I'm conservative, I keep my kid out of ECE, because I'm a free thinking, open minded, attachment parenting woman who believes that little children aren't ready to be away from home for 8 hours everyday 5 days a week.  I think that parents need to be the ones stepping up and teaching their children in their formative years and so did my mother, a lesbian, Liberal voting, stay at home mother! 

Oops, here's yet another lifelong pinko liberal who thinks institutionalizing tiny tots serves our corporate masters a lot more than it does our children.  It may be that there are conservatives out there who believe and behave as you describe - I guess you'd know - but, hey, even jerks can be right sometimes.

I'm pretty far on the left myself, and I believe that the best place for a young child to learn is at home and out in the community with a loving parent. In fact, older children also do well with a loving parent rather than in a classroom with 30 kids. The education system did *not* serve any of our older children well. The youngest was homeschooled all the way through and is doing well.

I believe that the current push for all day kindergarten is more about the needs of the parents (arranging day care around kindergarten schedules can be tricky) than the needs of the children.

Eric, did you consider the results of the Cambridge Primary Review? There are good reasons (rational secular reasons) for delaying formal schooling until age six. The push for full day kindergarten isn't about helping kids. It's about competitiveness and economic growth.

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