Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Kindergarten Kronikles

From Left in the West, via I-forget-where, there is a lively debate in the Montana state legislature over the volatile issue of all-day kindergarten. What, you didn't know this was a volatile issue?

If you read the Billings newspaper accounts (here and here) the lawmaker sponsoring hearings on expanding Montana's public kindergarten program, was utterly taken aback when opponents raised charges of "anti-Christian teachings and a socialist agenda," as well as "a threat to family values" and a lot of other stuff. I share the guy's bewilderment. We sure went from "extra three hours of kindergarten" to "promoting abortion and gay sex" in an awful hurry.

Obviously, the debate is way out of proportion to the proposed policy, entailing a modest increase in the reach of the public school system. (All-day as opposed to half-day kindergarten would be non-mandatory and offered in only a handful of communities.) The point is, the mere idea of the public schools represents to conservatives a whole constellation of bad values: same sex love and sex ed and other offensive examples of government intrusion into private lives. So the family-values crowd jumped on this initiative--well justified and mild as it appears--as an opportunity to air ALL their gripes (or paranoia) about public education.

I can't find a link now, but I believe I read recently that the Bush Administration tried to suppress a study that showed the benefits of federal Head Start programs. That's another symptom of the same problem. Wingers can't conceive of the value of big-gubmint programs aimed at our precious pre-schoolers. And they can't be looking at evidence that conflicts with their theology. Does not compute.

When I was kindergarten-aged, I lived in West Virginia, which at that time had no public kindergarten. My folks sent me to private half-day kindergarten, though they were NOT legally bound to. (This was 1969, incidentally. Smartass.) WV does have K-12 today, but now I'm curious about the history there. Was there a culture-war skirmish over this in WV? (It sure wouldn't shock me to learn there had been. After all, WV closes schools for the opening day of deer hunting season. And I know they've had flaps about teaching evolution.) Have many states had protracted fights over extending public education, mandatory or otherwise, into the years before first grade?

You gotta love the fact that in the outcry that six hours kindergarten = promotion of abortion, the loudest voice belonged to a Montana Republican who happens to be a physician. Would you accept treatment from this man? It puts me in mind of Henry Aldridge, the notorious North Carolina dentist-legislator, who contributed to the abortion debate by stating that it was a scientific impossibility for a female rape victim to become pregnant ("the juices don't flow").

Did one of the wingnuts say out loud that he opposes diversity? I guess it's good that we have states like Montana where they don't bother with code words. On the other hand, supportive as I am of the pro-kindergarten position, it sure is unfortunate that one of the pro-kindergarten people, a school superintendent, was quoted in the news story saying that "we can't control what happens to them before age 5." That language might fuel a couple of paranoid fantasies.

Actually, as a godless liberal social engineer, I can tell you, you can promote promiscuity and socialism among five-year-olds just as much in three hours as you can in six. It's all a matter of scheduling and priorities. Teach Betty Friedan first, then Dr. Seuss only if there's time later. Try making the kids recite "My body, my choice" before they receive their Graham crackers and Hi-C. And don't call them Graham crackers, call them Chomsky crackers.

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