Part 1—Obama, Oklahoma and Georgia: In last week’s State of the Union Address, President Obama proposed “working with states to make high-quality preschool available to every child in America.”
When the president made this proposal, he named two states which have been leading the way in this area. Within days, liberal “journalists” were helping us liberals find ways to deny what Obama had said:
OBAMA (2/12/13): Tonight, I propose working with states to make high-quality preschool available to every child in America. Every dollar we invest in high-quality early education can save more than seven dollars later on—by boosting graduation rates, reducing teen pregnancy, even reducing violent crime. In states that make it a priority to educate our youngest children, like Georgia or Oklahoma, studies show students grow up more likely to read and do math at grade level, graduate high school, hold a job, and form more stable families of their own. So let's do what works, and make sure none of our children start the race of life already behind. Let's give our kids that chance.Say what? Oklahoma and Georgia have been making it a priority to educate our youngest children? Obama was urging the Congress to follow the lead of those states?
In yesterday’s Washington Post, Glenn Kessler noted that Obama may have overstated a tad concerning all those alleged studies. But Obama was saying nothing new in citing the work of those red states. Way back when, in 2004, Berkley professor David Kirp had written about “the universal preschool movement” in The American Prospect, one of our own liberal journals.
Kirp had pronounced the heresy then. We’ll offer these brief excerpts:
KIRP (10/17/04): But across the country, the universal preschool movement is thriving. Unlikely champions—among them a conservative Democratic governor, an ex-newspaper publisher, and a billionaire oilman—have become activists. The appeal is partly altruistic (for children, it's the right thing to do) and partly hard-nosed economics (for society, it's a surefire investment in the future).If we liberals gave a flying fig about low-income children, we might have known these noxious facts. But manifestly, we haven’t given that flying fig for several decades now.
What's most surprising is that bedrock Democratic states aren't in the vanguard. Instead, the national leaders are two socially conservative southern states, Georgia and Oklahoma.
The biggest success story is Oklahoma. The Sooner State is better known for its oil billionaires, football dynasties, and religious fundamentalists than for its social conscience. Yet largely because of the behind-the-scenes efforts of passionate bureaucrats, savvy state politicians, and public-spirited business leaders, Oklahoma ranks first in the nation in the proportion of 4-year-olds enrolled in pre-kindergarten classes. What's more, those classes meet stringent national standards for quality.
And so it fell to Motoko Rich to repeat the bad news in last Thursday’s New York Times. In a lengthy report about early education in the various states, Rich discussed the leadership of Oklahoma and Georgia, just as Kirp did a decade ago. And she broke another bit of bad news, while acting like everything is OK:
Good God! According to Rich, Alabama is showing leadership in this area too:
RICH (2/14/13): According to W. Steven Barnett, director of the institute, which is based at Rutgers University, only five states, including Oklahoma and Georgia, have a stated objective of offering preschool slots to all 4-year-olds. While about 1.1 million students across the country are enrolled in federally financed Head Start programs and others attend private preschools, that still leaves millions of children on the sidelines.Later, the news got worse. “Alabama is one of only five states whose preschool program received top marks based on an assessment of its quality standards by the National Institute for Early Education Research,” Rich reported. She noted that only 6 percent of Alabama’s 4-year-olds are currently enrolled in a state-financed preschool. But she ended her deeply unpleasant report in this noxious manner:
The president's plan comes at a time when a handful of states are more aggressively pushing taxpayer-financed preschool.
In Alabama, for example, Gov. Robert Bentley, a Republican, has called for a $12.5 million increase—or more than 60 percent—in the state's preschool budget, with the eventual goal of increasing financing over 10 years to the point where every 4-year-old in the state could have a preschool slot.
RICH: In Alabama, business leaders see the benefits of both educating future workers early and saving future potential spending on remedial schooling or prison cells.The Business Council of Alabama! Meanwhile, for a beautiful photo, just click this. The photo shows Damien Fowler, 4 years of age, “playing a memory game with his teacher.” Warning: The young scholar is receiving his state-financed early education in Mobile, Alabama!
“The evidence is, if we don’t make this investment and we don’t make it wisely,” said Bob Powers, president of a real estate and insurance company in Eufaula and chairman of the Education Workforce Development Committee of the Business Council of Alabama, “we’re going to pay for it later.”
In the hard-copy Times, Rich’s report was accompanied by a graphic listing the eight states with more than fifty percent enrollment in state-financed “preschools.” (Why isn't preschool “school?”) Included were five which worship the devil on the state level: Florida, Oklahoma, Georgia, West Virginia and Texas. Among blue states, only piss-ant Vermont could compete with the Big Red Machines in Florida, Oklahoma and Georgia at the highest levels of participation. Jeb Bush's Florida leads the nation at 78 percent.
(On-line, the Times substitutes this more complex graphic about participation by state.)
As Kirp noted nine years ago, it may be surprising to find red states leading the way in this area. That said, Obama seemed happy to name Oklahoma and Georgia as states which are highly OK.
Elsewhere, major liberals didn’t seem happy with these unpleasant facts. This produced some comical reactions to the president’s proposal.
We liberals could have praised those red states for leading the way in the area. We even could have told some unpleasant truths about “the national movement for universal preschool.”
We could have acknowledged the vast indifference we liberals have shown toward this national movement, toward the needs of low-income children in general. We could have acknowledged that our own tribe’s decades of indifference have failed to pave the way for passage of this proposal.
We could have praised the “public-spirited business leaders” who have played leading roles in those red states (Kirp’s term). We could have pledged better outreach to the nation’s many doubters—to voters who presume that early education will be an expensive boondoggle.
We could have apologized for our decades of silence about early education, about low-income education in general.
About low-income children in general.
Needless to say, nothing like that has emerged from the liberal world’s “intellectual leaders.” Instead, these things have happened:
Our leaders have conned us with stupid reports denigrating Oklahoma’s program. They have let us pretend that our nation’s failure to provide early education is, at heart, a failure of the conservative world.
They have written silly reports in which we're encouraged to imagine that we liberals have fought the good fight in this area. And of course, they instantly fell in line behind Dear Leader’s stupendous proposal—after lifetimes in which they completely ignored the interests of low-income kids.
This week, we’ll show you how some of our liberal leaders behaved in the wake of Obama’s proposal. We’ll show you the way we liberals got schooled about preschool in the process.
As usual, we liberals have been treated like fools this past week. On cable TV, in newspaper columns, our leaders have misled us well.
Tomorrow: Brooks versus Collins (Gail Collins helps us pretend)