progressive family values

a blog about parenting from the left and beyond

Hitting Like a Grrrl April 26, 2009

I was caught off guard a few weeks ago when my four year old son came home from preschool saying things like, “Mommy, I don’t want to hear that story.  It’s a girl story,” and “I don’t play with girls,” and “That’s a girl toy!”  He emphasized the words “girl” and “girls” in a way that made me cringe…its a particular kind of sneer that I became familiar with back when I was, well, just a girl. Today, I’m not just a girl.  I’m a wife, mother, writer, educator, daughter…but above all, a woman.  And the kind of woman that I’ve become is the kind of woman who is concerned with all women…a feminist.  Maybe it was the first time I heard some boy on the playground sneer out girl like it was a curse word that I began to glean some vague idea of sexism.  I got used to that sneer, even hearing adult men, my peers, chastise one another for their degree of masculinity by using the word “girl” like an epithet:  “What?  Are you going to be a little girl about it Sean?” and “He’s got the handshake of a girl scout.”  But I got a nice, fresh shock when I heard my four year old use the word in such a way.  I must admit, it shook me, hurt me, pained me in ways that I’m not even ready to totally confront.  I felt like I had been slapped.  I was back on the playground in an instant.

Obviously my son didn’t see me as one of these kinds of horrible, stinky, cootie-infested animals because he wouldn’t have said the word “girl” in such a way in front of me.  My son loves me.  I’m not a “girl” to him.  He’s affectionate and loves to kiss his mom, dad and brother just for the heck of it…whenever he’s feeling particularly lovey-dovey, which is pretty often.  He’ll come up and say, “Squeeeeeezy hug!”, bear hug you to near death, then plant a slimy kiss right on your smacker.  It’s pretty cute.  And I love that my husband doesn’t push our son away, make him feel ashamed for kissing his daddy on the lips.  My good man bear hugs our boy right back and then offers up his lips for kissing. Our family (I’m the only woman in the family) is affectionate and we like it that way.  But over the past few years I’ve occasionally received comments that have a slightly critical and/or puzzled inflection about how my son “is so, um, affectionate and sweet.  He’s really sensitive, isn’t he?”  It doesn’t happen often, but from time to time a family member, or a new teacher at his preschool might make a comment, and when they do, they look to me, at me, and seem to suggest that I’ve done something to make my son “like that.”  My son is normal and healthy.  We just allow him to express his full range of emotions…including affection, which is something most American men probably have needed in their lives for a long, long time.

We’ve never intentionally tried to cultivate any particular gender leanings with our boys.  While I am a feminist, I guess I just sort of forgot (maybe selectively) how gender socialization would eventually come to claim my sons.  Sociological theories of gender identity development posit that “gender is a social construction rather than a biological given” (Bussey & Bandera, 1999, “Social Cognitive Theory of Gender Development and Differentiation“).  In other words, biology plays a part in the development of a child’s sense of their gender, but society plays, perhaps, an equal part.  We tell our children what behaviors, appearance, toys and media are appropriate to their sex based on the norms of our society.  Behaviors and appearance that vary from the norm are considered taboo and to be avoided, and there is a large amount of social pressure to conform to these norms.  If, for example, Johnny decides that he wants to watch the Cinderella movie instead of the dinosaur movie, we tend to steer him toward the dinosaur movie, sometimes in subtle ways, and sometimes in not-so-subtle ways.  We might tell Johnny, “Dinosaurs are for boys.  Cinderella is a girl’s movie,” or “You don’t want to watch the dinosaur  movie?  But dinosaurs are cool!”  Subtly implying that Cinderella is not “cool,” or that certain stories and movies are off-limits for Johnny if he really wants to be a boy.  Our fear is that if Johnny watches Cinderella-type movies too often, he will be confused about his gender identity and act more “like a girl,” a negative outcome for the parents of boys concerned with fitting into the norm.

I think of Simone de Beauvoir famously saying, “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.”  What de Beauvoir says is applicable to men too.  When it comes to my feminism, it has been mainly, erroneously, focused on women, not men.  Though lately, that’s been changing.  But back when our oldest son was about 20 months old, I wasn’t really too worried about sexism affecting him.  I went on many a play date where the mothers of toddler boys would say, “There’s just something different about little boys.  He just naturally goes for the cars, trucks and robots.  It’s biology, I guess.”  While I felt skeptical when I heard other mother’s saying such things, I noticed that as soon as my son was finished with his baby toys, he moved very easily, seemingly naturally,  into trains and cars and dinosaurs.  Then again, we didn’t buy him any dolls, or playthings that were particularly domestic (like a toy vacuum cleaner or kitchen set). I remember, though, entering Toys R Us for the first time in years.  I was astonished, perhaps naively, at how gender segregated the toys were.  While the girls’ section was amply supplied with pink kitchen sets and mini baby strollers…the boys’ side had no such boy version.  There weren’t any blue strollers with daddy-n-baby sets.  The girls’ side had very few pink cars, or bulldozers, and not even one policewoman dress-up outfits.  Likewise, the boys’ side had no nurse practitioner dress-up outfits, despite the fact that there are plenty of men who are nurse practitioners, and women who are law enforcement officers, and plenty of dads who push strollers, cook dinner and clean-up around the house.

My son has a slightly older cousin who he idolizes.  If cousin liked dinosaurs, our son liked dinosaurs.  If cousin liked Transformers, our son liked Transformers.  I didn’t see any problem with this.   It seemed natural enough for our son to look up to his older, cool cousin.  I didn’t think about the toys themselves…only that our son wanted to be like his cousin.  We just sort of went with the flow…he had Thomas the Tank Engine toys, mini soccer balls, Star Wars action figures, Pokemon, every Matchbox race car you could possibly imagine, cowboy hats and play cap guns, puzzles, robots of every kind…his closet was full of boy stuff, and I say that without a sneer.  He had all kinds of boyish movies in his collection; his favorites being Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Power Rangers, Cars, Shrek, Toy Story (I and II) and Transformers Animated.  We signed him up for soccer class through the city recreational program.  He wrestled extensively with his dad.  We paired him up with other little boys to make friends with.  We dressed him in very boy-oriented clothing…shirts with guitars, baseball bats and skateboards, pants and long shorts, race car shoes, baseball caps…a wardrobe mainly made up of four colors: blue, green, black and red.  My son has never been deprived of stereotypical models of American manhood.  And he’s got active male role models in his life: a guitar-playing, WWII trivia-loving, teacher dad, two grandpas (both who served in the military during wars), and my husband’s band mates (one married, one not).

But then our son went to preschool and began to make friends with a group of boys in his class.  Being slightly on the anti-social side in middle and high school myself, I suppose a part of me really wanted my son to fit in with the kids at preschool.  I encouraged him to make friends and play with the other boys in the class, and I saw preschool as an opportunity for my son to learn about sharing, community, leadership, empathy, discipline…and other relatively benign virtues.  It became clear, very quickly, that there was one little alpha-pup that boy-o-mine latched onto immediately.  Alpha Pup was the leader of a mini-gang of preschool boys who went around the playground imitating the Power Rangers, making potty jokes and generally proclaiming that certain things were for “girls” (with a sneer).  I have to admit, I was taken aback by how early and immediate this kind of socialization begins.  At first I sort of went with the flow, trying to convince myself that it was all just a “normal” part of his process of becoming a boy, but then I started noticing that Alpha Pup got in trouble more often than the other boys, and on a regular basis.  I felt guilty for encouraging my son to befriend someone who seemed to get him in trouble so often.  Alpha Pup hit, swore, taught boy-o-mine to give us the bird!  All at the ripe age of FOUR.

When I went to friends and family about this issue, many just brushed it off as “boyhood.”  But I couldn’t shake the image of my kid flipping me the middle finger.  In fact, it’s not just my friends and family who dismiss my concerns about the social environment that we’re raising our boys in.  There’s a new breed of scientists who increasingly believe that the differences between boys and girls are more biological than social.  Over the past few years there have been a rash of books that attempt to address the “problem” of the “boy brain.”  Says Peg Tyre, in her 2006 Newsweek article “The Trouble with Boys,” “Thirty years ago feminists argued that classic ‘boy’ behaviors were a result of socialization, but these days scientists believe they are an expression of male brain chemistry.”  It’s that old nature vs. nuture argument all over again.  What frustrates me is that researchers, parents and scientists seem to want a definitive answer to that old battle…and there isn’t one.  It seems obvious to me that boys are driven both biologically and socially.  Isn’t that obvious?  It seems obvious to me that girls are driven both biologically and socially.  To underplay the role of socialization in the process of a child’s development is to be ignorant…no matter how many PhDs or children you have.  For example, while human beings across the planet share a particular biological design, we seem to all behave in different ways, with different social norms that pertain to sexual norms.  Diffrent cultures set down a wide array of different social norms for members of social groups, despite the fact that a great majority of us were born with two arms, two legs, a brain and a vagina or a penis.  I have to ask, why tell my son to watch the dinosaur movie instead of Cinderella if it’s all biology?

Answer: because it isn’t all biology.  And if that is the case, then socialization is very important to the shaping of a child.  I have to wonder, ask, explore this (and many other) questions because my own child’s selfhood is at stake.  I’ve gotten some pretty intense reactions to some of my questions.  The idea that a feminist would try to actively shape her child’s (particularly a boy’s) worldview as feminist brings about the following responses: scoffing, throat-clearing, eye-rolling, laughing, the statement “You are sick,” and one face slap.  Yes, a face slap.  Yet, rightwing Evangelicals fight with tooth and nail to raise their children the way they see fit, and seem to believe pretty firmly that socialization has a very important influence on the development of the child.  I am about to write something that I hope I never write again; I couldn’t agree with the Evangelicals any more.  They are right.  I understand why very religious parents want to control and shape the kinds of things that their children are exposed to.  It is a parent’s job to show children the correct (right or wrong, appropriate or inappropriate, fair or unfair) way to behave in relation to other people.  For me, it’s not the Christian ideology that forms the basis of my moral compass…it’s feminism.  It’s an extremely subjective call to say that feminist principles and mothers have “hurt” children, or even devleopmentally disabled them.  I suppose I could say the same about Evangelical principles and mothers who selectively eliminate aspects of a curricula (Darwin’s theory of evolution, certain parts of history, the Big Bang theory) to fit the Christian ideology.  But I wouldn’t do that, because I respect a parent’s right to raise their children the way he or she sees fit, even if the principles that parent uses to guide him or her are different from my own.  This is America, isn’t it?


Gloria Steinem, My Hero, on Sarah Palin September 15, 2008

I love Gloria.  She just rules.  I just don’t think I could have said it anywhere close to better than she did in this LA Times Op-ed piece:

Palin: wrong woman, wrong message

Sarah Palin shares nothing but a chromosome with Hillary Clinton. She is Phyllis Schlafly, only younger.
By Gloria Steinem
September 4, 2008
Here’s the good news: Women have become so politically powerful that even the anti-feminist right wing — the folks with a headlock on the Republican Party — are trying to appease the gender gap with a first-ever female vice president. We owe this to women — and to many men too — who have picketed, gone on hunger strikes or confronted violence at the polls so women can vote. We owe it to Shirley Chisholm, who first took the “white-male-only” sign off the White House, and to Hillary Rodham Clinton, who hung in there through ridicule and misogyny to win 18 million votes.

But here is even better news: It won’t work. This isn’t the first time a boss has picked an unqualified woman just because she agrees with him and opposes everything most other women want and need. Feminism has never been about getting a job for one woman. It’s about making life more fair for women everywhere. It’s not about a piece of the existing pie; there are too many of us for that. It’s about baking a new pie.

Selecting Sarah Palin, who was touted all summer by Rush Limbaugh, is no way to attract most women, including die-hard Clinton supporters. Palin shares nothing but a chromosome with Clinton. Her down-home, divisive and deceptive speech did nothing to cosmeticize a Republican convention that has more than twice as many male delegates as female, a presidential candidate who is owned and operated by the right wing and a platform that opposes pretty much everything Clinton’s candidacy stood for — and that Barack Obama’s still does. To vote in protest for McCain/Palin would be like saying, “Somebody stole my shoes, so I’ll amputate my legs.”

This is not to beat up on Palin. I defend her right to be wrong, even on issues that matter most to me. I regret that people say she can’t do the job because she has children in need of care, especially if they wouldn’t say the same about a father. I get no pleasure from imagining her in the spotlight on national and foreign policy issues about which she has zero background, with one month to learn to compete with Sen. Joe Biden’s 37 years’ experience.

Palin has been honest about what she doesn’t know. When asked last month about the vice presidency, she said, “I still can’t answer that question until someone answers for me: What is it exactly that the VP does every day?” When asked about Iraq, she said, “I haven’t really focused much on the war in Iraq.”

She was elected governor largely because the incumbent was unpopular, and she’s won over Alaskans mostly by using unprecedented oil wealth to give a $1,200 rebate to every resident. Now she is being praised by McCain’s campaign as a tax cutter, despite the fact that Alaska has no state income or sales tax. Perhaps McCain has opposed affirmative action for so long that he doesn’t know it’s about inviting more people to meet standards, not lowering them. Or perhaps McCain is following the Bush administration habit, as in the Justice Department, of putting a job candidate’s views on “God, guns and gays” ahead of competence. The difference is that McCain is filling a job one 72-year-old heartbeat away from the presidency.

So let’s be clear: The culprit is John McCain. He may have chosen Palin out of change-envy, or a belief that women can’t tell the difference between form and content, but the main motive was to please right-wing ideologues; the same ones who nixed anyone who is now or ever has been a supporter of reproductive freedom. If that were not the case, McCain could have chosen a woman who knows what a vice president does and who has thought about Iraq; someone like Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison or Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine. McCain could have taken a baby step away from right-wing patriarchs who determine his actions, right down to opposing the Violence Against Women Act.

Palin’s value to those patriarchs is clear: She opposes just about every issue that women support by a majority or plurality. She believes that creationism should be taught in public schools but disbelieves global warming; she opposes gun control but supports government control of women’s wombs; she opposes stem cell research but approves “abstinence-only” programs, which increase unwanted births, sexually transmitted diseases and abortions; she tried to use taxpayers’ millions for a state program to shoot wolves from the air but didn’t spend enough money to fix a state school system with the lowest high-school graduation rate in the nation; she runs with a candidate who opposes the Fair Pay Act but supports $500 million in subsidies for a natural gas pipeline across Alaska; she supports drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve, though even McCain has opted for the lesser evil of offshore drilling. She is Phyllis Schlafly, only younger.

I don’t doubt her sincerity. As a lifetime member of the National Rifle Assn., she doesn’t just support killing animals from helicopters, she does it herself. She doesn’t just talk about increasing the use of fossil fuels but puts a coal-burning power plant in her own small town. She doesn’t just echo McCain’s pledge to criminalize abortion by overturning Roe vs. Wade, she says that if one of her daughters were impregnated by rape or incest, she should bear the child. She not only opposes reproductive freedom as a human right but implies that it dictates abortion, without saying that it also protects the right to have a child.

So far, the major new McCain supporter that Palin has attracted is James Dobson of Focus on the Family. Of course, for Dobson, “women are merely waiting for their husbands to assume leadership,” so he may be voting for Palin’s husband.

Being a hope-a-holic, however, I can see two long-term bipartisan gains from this contest.

Republicans may learn they can’t appeal to right-wing patriarchs and most women at the same time. A loss in November could cause the centrist majority of Republicans to take back their party, which was the first to support the Equal Rights Amendment and should be the last to want to invite government into the wombs of women.

And American women, who suffer more because of having two full-time jobs than from any other single injustice, finally have support on a national stage from male leaders who know that women can’t be equal outside the home until men are equal in it. Barack Obama and Joe Biden are campaigning on their belief that men should be, can be and want to be at home for their children.

This could be huge.

Gloria Steinem is an author, feminist organizer and co-founder of the Women’s Media Center. She supported Hillary Clinton and is now supporting Barack Obama.

Thank you so much Gloria for clarifying those points for me, and for many other voters.


Come to Long Beach, Sarah Palin! Check Out Our Ports!!! September 12, 2008

I last posted about my annoyance with Sarah Palin’s insinuation that small towns are the only towns that matter, and today I’ve had my worst concerns confirmed.  It seems further that Sarah Palin would have the urban residents of Los Angeles and Long Beach suffer health problems so that her rural Alaskan residents can have cheap goods.  I guess we just aren’t as important as Alaskans.

The LA Times just published a story about Sarah Palin’s recent letter to Governor Schwarzenegger asking him to veto Senate Bill 974, which would charge $60 per 40 foot container moving through the port of Los Angeles (including the ports in Long Beach), using the approximately $400 million annually generated for pollution-reduction projects.  As a Long Beach resident I take issue with politicians from other states urging our Governor to go against the wishes of the citizens of this state.  Especially politicians who apparently don’t really know what a city looks like.

The ports in Los Angeles and Long Beach are busy…and that is good for everyone…but the pollution created by such business is not good for everyone.  Recently NPR did a story on the negative health effects of the pollution in the Long Beach port.  You can read it here.  There is a very good reason why our lawmakers, particularly Alan Lowenthal (who offered to amend the Bill by cutting the fee to $30 for the loading of goods from one container to the next without the use of rail or truck, roundly rejected by Palin), want to tax these containers…because the residents in these areas are feeling the effects of the pollution created.  The residents have spoken to their respresentatives and Bill 974 is their answer.

I’ve seen the effects of the pollution firsthand.  People who live close to the ports often have severe allergies and asthma.  Of course, they put up with these ailments because the rent in the area is so cheap.   There are families who live in these areas…families with children as small as Palin’s little Trig.

Why should Long Beach and Los Angeles families pay with their health because Alaskans want to live in rural areas and get cheap goods?  Build your own port!  Live closer to the coast!  Come check out Long Beach, Sarah Palin!  If you want to live in a rural, small town, there’s a price to pay too.  Maybe you all can use those nice oil dividends to pay for your pricey goods.  Palin doesn’t seem to have a problem taxing industries for the sake of the citizens in her state…why should we do something in California that Palin would never do in Alaska?

I’m very curious to see how Schwarzenegger handles this one.


Palin’s Myth of Urban Immorality September 4, 2008

Filed under: blogging,Culture,Palin,Politics — bleedingheartmama @ 5:32 pm
Tags: ,

Sarah Palin did a good job last night. She came out swinging and, as a liberal, that makes me nervous. She’s a surprisingly good speaker, considering that her usual audience is much smaller. I’m liberal, but I try to stay open-minded. A lot of what Palin addresses, I’m just not decided on yet…take Alaskan oil drilling. I think Palin and the Republican party might have something there…there is something to be said for using our own resources, rather than expecting developing nations to ruin their ecosystems and deplete their resources.

But there was something else that Palin said that shocked and angered me…

Said Sarah Palin:

“A writer observed: ‘We grow good people in our small towns, with honesty, sincerity, and dignity.’ I know just the kind of people that writer had in mind when he praised Harry Truman.

I grew up with those people.

They are the ones who do some of the hardest work in America … who grow our food, run our factories, and fight our wars.

They love their country, in good times and bad, and they’re always proud of America. I had the privilege of living most of my life in a small town.”

I grew up in a small town too. But I don’t live in one now…and for very good reasons. The kind of small town that Harry Truman came from is very different today, and even very different than the one I grew up in in the mid-80’s, during the Reagan years.

It may be true that many small-town Americans grow our food, and even some run our factories…but people who live in the city fight our wars too. People who live in the city work hard too. It IS a privilege to live in a small town. Many people who live in the city can’t afford to live in those rural communities. That’s why they are in the city…for the jobs. Many live in cramped quarters because they can’t make a living in those rural towns. There are factories in small towns and in big cities. Big cities are where those products made in factories are sold and distributed to the world. Big cities are where you can see the ingenuity, the ambition, the hard work and the industry that America is famous for demonstrated in the daily comings and goings of every resident.  We are a busy, industrious country and there’s no better place to witness that than in the city.

Palin would have us believe that people who don’t live in small towns aren’t patriotic, don’t work hard, and don’t fight our wars. She’d have us believe that small-town people are somehow morally better than “city folk,” as if all small-town residents spend their entire lives in small towns, as if “city folk” didn’t come from small towns, as if living in the city taints you and makes you a bad person. Well, there is more crime in the city, isn’t there? I mean, don’t people in the city do bad things?

In the small town that I grew up in, a man was murdered during a drug deal, there was prostitution, there was drug smuggling, there were gangs. There were also class divides and corruption of city officials. There were illegal immigrants, and just about every farm employed them, along with the restaurants and businesses in town. Not everyone was religious, but the good people who went to church were often at cultural war with those who didn’t share their brand of faith. There were also many wonderful things about that small town…it was beautiful, many people truly were hard-working and up-right people. (Then again, that small town was in rural California, and according to many conservatives in other states, California isn’t really in America, or on this planet.)

When I moved to the city to go to college, I met the love of my life and we stayed. It just seemed right that we settle where we fell in love. It felt like home to us. I’ve lived in the city now for about ten years, and I find that many of the hard-working and up-right people I knew in my small hometown are here in the city with me too. My neighbors love our country just as much as the Americans who live in those little towns in Alaska and the Heartland. On holidays the American flag flies proudly from our lawns and flag holders. We have families and jobs. We get married and go to church. Young men and women straight out of high school enlist in the military. City people even pray.

Cities are a part of America. Cities provide our military with enlisted men and women. Cities facilitate industry. Cities provide jobs for millions of people. American cities are part of what make this country great. I’m sorry, Sarah Palin, but small-town America isn’t the only America. Think of the Big Apple. Think of the port of Los Angeles, shipping and bringing in all those goods from the coast to the center of America. Think of the gorgeous majesty of San Francisco. Think of the rich history and legacy of cities like Chicago and Detroit. Think of the home of our president, Washington D.C. Sure, there are downsides to these places, but I think Palin is overlooking some of the reasons why cities are so attractive to millions of Americans. Small-towns aren’t without their share of problems. Oh, and one more thing…people vote in cities too.


Why Preschool Should Be a Part of Public Education September 3, 2008

Found this terrific and comprehensive article about why we should make preschool a part of public education!  I’m so happy!!!  As educators, my husband and I have had many long discussions about why it is so important that we include preschool education in our current public education system.  This article from will help explain why…

Preschool Comes of Age: The National Debate on

Education for Young Children Intensifies

Educators rave about the benefits of early childhood schooling. So, why don’t we support it more?

by Michael Lester

Early this year, two dissimilar governors delivered two similar messages.

“Effective preschool education can help make all children ready to learn the day they start school and, more importantly, help close the enormous gap facing children in poverty,” announced New York’s Eliot Spitzer. He boldly promised to make a high-quality prekindergarten program “available to every child who needs it within the next four years.”

Across the continent, California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed legislation expanding preschool opportunities in low-performing school districts and providing additional state dollars for building and improving preschool facilities. “Preschool gives our kids the strong foundation they need to be successful in school and in life,” said Schwarzenegger.

Spitzer (a Democrat) and Schwarzenegger (a Republican) may not agree about a lot of things, but here’s one area where they concur: Preschool education can perform miracles. Children who attend prekindergarten programs have bigger vocabularies and increased math skills, know more letters and more letter-sound associations, and are more familiar with words and book concepts, according to a number of studies.

Nationwide, almost two-thirds (64 percent) of children attend preschool center in the year prior to kindergarten, typically at age four. On any given day, more than 5 million American youngsters attend some prekindergarten program.

And a preschool day is not just advanced babysitting for busy parents. Kids also practice many key components of the school day, including the importance of routine. That’s key for early learners. “They understand carpet time, clean-up procedures, how to share crayons, or even getting their pants on and off without the teacher’s help; that’s big,” says Steve Malton, kindergarten and first-grade teacher at Parkmead Elementary School, in Walnut Creek, California. “Little kids have only only a certain amount of what’s called ‘active working memory.’ If a large portion of their brain is figuring out what they’re going to do next, there’s less room there to spend on learning.” Result: Preschool has a huge impact on their ability to keep up in class.

Too Much, Too Soon?

So, what’s not to love about preschool? Plenty, say critics. “Young children are better off at home,” says Michael Smith, president of the Home School Legal Defense Association [1]. “We are in danger of over-institutionalizing them. A child will develop naturally if the parents give the child what he or she needs most in the formative years — plenty of love and attention. In this way, the brain can develop freely.”

As soon as the subject of schooling before K-12 comes up, another concept quickly follows: testing. That gives some parents the jitters. “The only way for school programs, including preschool programs, to show accountability of public funding for education is through testing,” says Diane Flynn Keith, founder of Universal Preschool. “The only way to prepare children for standardized testing is to teach a standardized curriculum. Standardized preschool curriculum includes reading, writing, math, science, and social sciences at a time when children are developmentally vulnerable and may be irreparably harmed by such a strategy.”

That’s part of a broader test-them-sooner move across many grades. One pushdown from No Child Left Behind, for instance, is that highstakes testing now begins as early as the second grade. “It’s not the same kindergarten we went to,” says Don Owens, director of public affairs for the National Association for the Education of Young Children [2] (NAEYP). “It’s not the same kindergarten it was ten years ago. Kindergarten used to be preparation for school, but now it is school. That’s why school districts and boards of education are paying attention to what happens before the kids arrive at school.”

The result is a desperate tug-of-war between prekindergarten advocates and critics, with the under-six set placed squarely in the middle. In 2006, for instance, the Massachusetts legislature passed, by unanimous vote, an increase in state-funded high-quality prekindergarten programs. Governor Mitt Romney promptly vetoed the bill, calling preschool an “expensive new entitlement.”

On the national stage, Oklahoma is the only state to offer publicly funded preschool education to virtually all children (about 90 percent) at age four. But twelve states — Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming — provide no preschool services at all. “There is not enough support for preschool,” explains David Kass, executive director of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids [3]. “It’s very expensive, and most parents cannot afford it.”

The three costliest states for private preschool are Massachusetts (where preschool runs an average of $9,628 per year), New Jersey ($8,985), and Minnesota ($8,832). In Rhode Island, the average yearly tab for preschool ($7,800) represents 45 percent of the median single-parent-family income. In California, part-time private preschool and child-care programs cost families on average $4,022 statewide. By comparison, the average full-time tuition at a California State University campus was $3,164.

“America is forcing its parents to decide between paying for early education for their kids and saving for their college education,” says the NAEYP’s Don Owens.

That’s when the subject of state-sponsored preschool comes up. Over the past two years, the total state prekindergarten funding increased by a billion dollars to exceed $4.2 billion. But those numbers are often inadequate. After Florida voters approved a preschool-for-all initiative similar to a voucher program, the state legislature appropriated about $390 million — or roughly $2,500 per child served. Reasonable budgeting for preschool, however, should parallel that for K-12 schools. “If you’re a state like Florida spending $9,000 per student on a yearly full-day program of K-12, your costs for a half day of prekindergarten should be somewhere around $4,500, not $2,500,” complains Steve Barnett, director of the National Institute for Early Education Research [4].

That pattern is true nationwide. In 2002, average state spending was at $4,171 per enrolled child, but that figure fell to $3,482 in 2006, according to the NIEER’s 2006 State Preschool Yearbook. Some states spend even less: New Mexico provides $2,269 per child, and Ohio budgets just $2,345. Compare those amounts with the national average of $10,643 for each child enrolled in K-12 schools.

Barnett says Florida and other states are creating a dual system consisting of high-quality, expensive preschools in private settings and underfunded public schools for low-income families.

Preschool Comes of Age

Credit: Veer

The Survey Says . . .

While the battle over funding continues, it’s difficult to dispute the positive effects of preschool not only in better learning in kindergarten but also in long-term educational value. Furthermore, key research findings indicate that those who go through prekindergarten programs are more likely to graduate from high school and make higher wages as adults.

The research recited in support of preschool education usually comes from three long-term studies of low-income families. In the Abecedarian Project [5], launched in 1972 in rural North Carolina, fifty-seven infants from low-income, African American, primarily single-mother families were randomly assigned to receive early intervention in a high-quality child-care setting; fifty-four children were assigned to a control group. Each child had an individualized prescription of educational activities, which consisted of “games” incorporated into the child’s day and emphasized language skills. The child care and preschool were provided on a full-day, year-round basis.

Initially, all children tested comparably on mental and motor tests; however, as they moved through the child-care program, preschoolers had much higher scores on mental tests. Follow-up assessments completed at ages twelve, fifteen, and twenty-one showed that the preschoolers continued to have higher average scores on mental tests. More than one-third of the children who attended preschool went to a four-year college or university; only about 14 percent of the control group did.

Another important research effort was the High/Scope Perry Preschool study [6], which began in Ypsilanti, Michigan. From 1962 to 1967, 123 three- and four-year-olds — African American children born into poverty and at high risk of failing school — were randomly divided into one group that received a high-quality preschool program and a comparison group that received no preschool.

These children were evaluated every year, ages 3-11, and again three times during their teens and twice in adulthood. The latest results of this High/Scope study were released in 2004. By the time members of the preschool-provided group reached age forty, they had fewer criminal arrests, displayed higher levels of social functioning, and were more likely to have graduated from high school.

Meanwhile, Chicago’s Child-Parent Centers [7] (CPC) have been around for forty years, and more than 100,000 families have gone through the federally funded program, which still operates in twenty-four centers. Parents are drawn into the program with classes, activities, and their own resource room at each school site.

A longitudinal study by Arthur Reynolds, a researcher at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, looked at 1,539 Chicago students enrolled in CPCs in 1985 and 1986 and tracked their progress through 1999. He found they were much more likely to finish high school and less likely to be held back a grade, be placed in special education, or drop out than 389 youngsters who participated in alternative programs. Intervening early improves student achievement and has a cumulative effect: The longer students were in the CPC programs, the higher their level of school success.

Other shorter-term studies — and there are many — argue these kinds of benefits are not limited to at-risk children but extend to middleincome kids as well. But when a family’s budget is tight, preschool becomes unaffordable. Less than half of low-income toddlers attend preschool, but half of middle-class four-year-olds and three-quarters from high-income families (earning $75,000 or more) attend preschool.

That enrollment gap can have immediate academic consequences, say educators, who note that the lower the family income, the more pronounced the benefits of preschool. “I’ve worked with a lot of kids and know the achievement gap starts before kids are even in kindergarten,” says Kimberly Oliver, a kindergarten teacher from Silver Springs, Maryland, and 2006 National Teacher of the Year. (See “Kimberly Oliver [8],” September 2006.)

Learning While Playing

Many educators appreciate the wide range of positive influences preschool seems to germinate. Debra King, a preschool teacher for thirty-five years, has run the Debra King School, in San Francisco, for nearly half that time. “There’s been a big push lately to make preschoolers ready for academic learning, to teach children the alphabet and how to write their names,” King says. “Many children are developmentally ready to learn these things, but I think socialization skills are more important. I believe that playing with blocks, dolls, and toys, scribbling with crayons, painting, communicating, storytelling, and music — that’s readiness for school. There are a lot of different things to learn to be successful in the world.”

That’s an important insight. “The original preschool was a place for socialization, but, increasingly, today it has become necessary because of working and single parents,” explains David Elkind, professor of child development at Tufts University and author of The Hurried Child and The Power of Play. “And that’s muddied the waters, because people think it needs to be an educational thing. We got it turned around and are learning the academic things before we learn the social skills that are prerequisites for formal education.”

Elkind believes phonics, math, and book reading are inappropriate for young children. “There is no research supporting the effectiveness of early academic training and a great deal of evidence that points against it,” he says. “The age of six is called the age of reason because children actually develop those abilities to do concrete operations; brain research substantiates this. Take reading: A child needs to be at the age of reason to understand that one letter of the alphabet can sound different ways. That age might be four or it might be seven. They all get it; they just get it at different ages.”

Elkind argues that toddlers need to learn only three things before entering kindergarten, and they’re all socialization skills: listen to adults and follow instructions, complete simple tasks on their own, and work cooperatively with other children. “Children need to learn the language of things before they learn the language of words,” he adds. “They are foreigners in a strange land, and they need to learn about the physical world, they need to explore colors, shape, and time, they need to find out about water and the sky and the stars, and they need to learn about human relations. Much of this learning comes from direct experience.”

Sharon Bergen, senior vice president of Education and Training for the Knowledge Learning Corporation, counters that curriculum and fun are not mutually exclusive: “Children are capable of a lot of development earlier than we thought,” she says. “But we don’t want their time to be overly structured. We still want kids to have a good, fun, joyful childhood.” With prekindergarten education, many people think, we can have it both ways.

Michael Lester is a writer and editor. He recently launched a site about fatherhood, Dad Magazine Online, at [9].


Palin’s Daughter is Pregnant?! September 1, 2008

Filed under: blogging,Culture,motherhood,Palin,parenting,Politics — bleedingheartmama @ 7:18 pm

What kind of an example are we setting for teenagers across the world when we endorse a candidate who couldn’t seem to model the very morals and socially conservative platform that she hopes to sign into law for everyone else in the nation?  What conclusion can kids come to except, “What’s good for Bristol Palin must be good for me.”

This ticket is becoming too much like a Jerry Springer episode.


What’s Wrong with this Palin Picture?

Many of the pictures I’ve seen of Sarah Palin, Republican vice presidential candidate, on the internet have been very close to cheesecake shots. In fact, I’ve seen already some air-brushed pin-ups of Palin in a thong bending over a football. I’ve also seen her hot-to-trot head shot baring her shoulders, and I’ve seen her up-do’s, the Vogue cover and family photos with the Alaskan landscape beautifully rolling itself out behind them. There’s no doubt she’s a beautiful woman. Very photogenic. Her family looks like a happy and healthy one. But pictures can be deceiving.

She’s being marketed as a perfect mother, qualified statesman and the dressed up version of those bikini-wearing, machine-gun toting babes who smile at us from websites like I’m wondering today, how that represents middle America exactly. Yes, it may be that Americans living in the Heartland want the right to tote guns and consider themselves pro-family, but how many middle American women would leave their three-month child with Downs syndrome home with Daddy (or nanny?) to campaign on the road…even for the vice presidency? Where are the family values there? I know we need women to represent in politics, but this seems to fly in the face of all the “family values” rhetoric that has been slung at working mothers for the past few decades…basically as a backlash against the women’s movement, and the idea that women can work and have a family.

Don’t get me wrong…I believe that women can work and have a family, but we need the rest of society to get in line with that idea, mainly so that women, like Sarah Palin, can spend the time with their newborn babies without having their careers penalized. I’m all for the ‘whole package’…husband, family, career…I think we can do it. But when we have groups of Americans (mainly conservatives) slandering women who work (whether they have to or not), and then Palin, who presumably represents these Americans, on the campaign trail with such a small baby…well, I have to ask, where are the critics now? Working women, like Sarah Palin, need support…both from their families and from institutions…in order to make the ‘whole package’ work.

We need government institutions and individuals alike to support paid maternity and paternity leave for all mothers and fathers of babies under one year. I think it’s wonderful that Palin is working and has the support of her husband and family (and maybe even a nanny, that remains to be seen), but not all American women have that kind of support. Not everyone has the family structure and support that Palin does.

Take me for instance.

My mother helps my sister to raise her son alone. Like Palin, when my sister found herself pregnant, but in a less than ideal situation (Dad wasn’t really around to help and wasn’t sure he wanted to participate), she decided to have the baby anyway. As a result, our whole family had to woman-up (as I call it). We rallied around her. We babysat while she finished her college degree. We took turns shuttling my nephew around town. After college my sister moved back in with our mother and went to work, and now my mother and our other sister help offset the outrageous cost of childcare. When I decided to get married and have children of my own, I had to take time away from my career as a college instructor and writer to stay home with my children. That also meant that there was one less babysitter for my sister. While I wanted to be close to the kids for the first year anyway, even if I hadn’t wanted to stay home for the first year, I had to because my family was centered around helping my sister…and rightly so since she needed the help more than I did. Our entire family makes do. I make enough at my job to necessitate working to help pay the bills (our mortgage being increasingly difficult to cover), but the childcare that we must pay for in order for me to work is just insane.

Nevertheless, you can see the difficulties there. You can call me a “whiner,” but I’m not whining. I think we are lucky, because I’ve heard from women in much more difficult and desperate situations.

I hope that when Palin’s riding that anti-abortion platform in the next couple of months that she thinks of the consequences of reversing Roe vs. Wade. How will all these women support their saved babies? With divorce rates settled around 50-60%, how will all these single mothers work and raise their children without affordable childcare, health benefits and government institutions that help single mothers and fathers afford food, shelter and utilities? I hope Palin thinks about all those dreaded taxes and government institutions that the country will need to help support the families that are created with such legislation.

I also wonder how good it is for Sarah Palin’s little child to have his mother campaigning at such a critical juncture in his life. Before we all start calling Palin “one of us” let’s think about what our lives are really like as mothers. How much is her life like ours? Clearly, she’s a politician first and foremost, and her other roles take a backseat. That’s fine with me…but how do social conservatives feel about that? I’m just wondering out loud.