SCHOOLED ABOUT PRESCHOOL: But Oklahoma just can’t be OK!


Part 3—The cable talker’s tale: If we decide to “make high-quality preschool available to every child in America,” as Obama proposed last week, would that help low-income kids succeed?

You’re asking an excellent question! Head Start’s record doesn’t seem all that great. To see David Brooks quote a know-it-all from Brookings, click here.

That said, the states which are taking the lead in this area are going beyond the Head Start model. They’re putting full-fledged, certified teachers into their “preschool” classrooms—and they’re paying them full teacher salaries. Last Thursday, Motoko Rich offered this profile of one state’s high-quality program as part of her report in the New York Times.

Thank God for states like this one!
RICH (2/14/13): 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, but only 6 percent of 4-year-olds there are enrolled in a state-financed preschool.

To receive state money in Alabama, a preschool must employ teachers with bachelor’s degrees in early childhood education or child development, keep class sizes under 20 children, and follow a state-approved curriculum.

At one of the state-financed sites on Wednesday, the Nina Nicks Joseph Child Development Center in Mobile, Tina Adair, the lead teacher in a class of 18 students, most of whom come from low-income families, helped Amiyah Wilson, 5, copy the words “Happy Valentine’s Day” onto a card for her mother. Elsewhere in the classroom, Donovan Smith, 5, and Henry Hinojosa, 5, used a scale to compare the weights of two loads of blocks.

Ms. Adair said that the children had plenty of time to paint, sing or play with dress-up clothes and toy trucks. But she said they were also preparing for kindergarten and beyond through letter and number games, science experiments and writing.
If you click that link, you will see Damien Fowler, 4 years old, “playing a memory game with his teacher.” This young scholar deserves a full chance to compete with his middle-class peers, to succeed and serve his community when he’s a little bit older.

Will his preschool experience—in Mobile, Alabama!—actually help him get there? If you watch The One True Liberal Channel, you haven’t seen your favorites asking such questions in the week since Obama’s proposal.

Here’s why:

Just in case you haven’t noticed, The Official World of Certified Liberals quit on black kids a long time ago. On the cable channel designed for our pleasure, it would take an act of God to make the snarking millionaire hosts dirty their quality hands with such topics. (More on this problem tomorrow.)

In fairness, Lawrence O’Donnell is currently featured in a promotional ad in which he emotes about low-income schools. That said, have you ever seen him devote a segment to any such issue on his nightly program?

We haven’t seen that either!

Will a year of school at the age of 4 help young Damien Fowler? Manifestly, The Certified Liberal World doesn’t much seem to care. At the end of last week, conservative columnist David Brooks published a serious column about Obama’s preschool proposal. His liberal counterpart, Gail Collins, offered her latest slacker effort, rewriting part of an earlier book—a book which offered this appalling account of the liberal world’s performance in this area over the past forty years:
COLLINS (2009): Although Jimmy Carter did bring Democratic control back to the White House [in 1977], with Mondale as his vice president, the new administration had little interest in creating expensive new governmental programs. Brademas, who had become part of the Democratic leadership in the House, was busy on other projects. And, as Jack Duncan said, nobody really “wanted to go through that again.” Although Congress would keep fiddling with preschool programs to help poor children, there was never another serious attempt to create a national answer to the problem of who took care of the kids in an economy that now depended on women to work.

“I still hope we can get ourselves organized,” said Mondale recently, not sounding all that hopeful. “I tried everything.”
Carter entered the White House in 1977, six years after Nixon vetoed a day care proposal. And good God:

Thirty-eight years after Nixon’s veto, 32 years after Carter took office, Collins quoted Walter Mondale. Mondale said he still hoped that we liberals could get ourselves organized! According to Collins’ book, there hadn’t been a “serious attempt” to address the issue of preschool in all the years since Nixon issued his fiendish veto.

Last week, Collins blamed the whole thing on Nixon. In this skilled way, she let her readers blow right past The Culture of Liberal Indifference. It can’t be that our tribe doesn’t care about children like Damien Fowler, age 4. According to Collins, the fault has to lie with President Nixon—with that fiendish veto from 1971!

In such ways, our pseudo-liberal pseudo-leaders supply us our tribal comfort food. So too with Rachel Maddow’s pseudo-report on last Thursday’s pseudo-program.

Uh-oh! In his State of the Union Address, Obama named two red states which are leading the way in this area—Oklahoma and Georgia. In her report in last Thursday’s Times, Rich made matters that much worse, mentioning Alabama. Beyond that, she included a graphic in which Texas and Florida rank among the handful of states which are providing state-financed preschool to most of their 4-year-olds.

States which are bright red on the state level seemed to be leading the charge!

A serious progressive might have wanted to praise these states for their efforts—might have wanted to examine the reasons for their apparently admirable efforts; might have wanted to use this apparent point of agreement as a way to build wider political movements, in which red and blue can agree about something, perhaps move forward from there.

A serious progressive might have wanted to do that. That said, did we mention the fact that Maddow’s show appears on The One Liberal Channel?

For the record, Maddow has never displayed any interest in the needs of low-income children. The topic has always been MIA on her program, as it is on all the programs on The One True Channel.

That said, Maddow did devote a segment last Thursday to Obama’s preschool proposal. As she started, she piggybacked on Collins’ column. Presenting a photo of Walter Mondale, she too invited us to recoil from Nixon’s demonic action:
MADDOW (2/14/13): This man [Walter Mondale] was the Democratic nominee for president in the year 1984. He served as vice president in the late 70s. And in the very early 1970s, as you see him here in all his early 1970s glory, he was a senator. Senator Walter Mondale, Democrat of Minnesota.

Mr. Mondale entered the U.S. Senate at the beginning of our national war on poverty under LBJ. Senator Mondale outlasted President Johnson in office, but he kept working on that basic idea, of using public policy to help out the least well-off among us.

By 1971, he succeeded in getting passed, with big bipartisan support, a bill that would have created a day-care system essentially in this country, universal preschool for American kids. The tuition was on a sliding scale so everybody could afford it. Senator Mondale got his bill passed and it went to the guy who was president by then. It went to Richard Nixon.

And Richard Nixon vetoed it, even though it passed with lots of Republican votes. President Nixon said the idea of preschool for everyone had, quote, "family-weakening implications." He said, quote, "The child development envisioned in this legislation would be truly a long leap into the dark for the United States government and the American people."

[Visibly disgusted] “A long leap into the dark.”

Forty years after President Nixon said no to preschool for all American kids with the weird leaping-in-the-dark analogy, President Obama is trying to bring a version of that idea back with a plan for early education for all Americans. But this time, the president has wind in his sails blowing in from an unlikely source. It’s blowing in from a really, really red state—from maybe the reddest of all red states.
Like Collins, Maddow skipped right past that forty-two years of liberal indifference and lethargy. Conflating day care with early education, she let us ponder Nixon’s veto without giving us time to wonder why nothing has happened in the four decades since.

But after repeating Collins’ tale, Maddow did cite that troubling fact. A really, really red state—maybe the reddest of all the red states!—has been leading the way in the drive for early education.

That reddest of red states is Oklahoma. As her segment continued, Maddow pretended to explain the paradox: How could such a bright red state be a national leader in an area so dear to us liberals—an area where we liberals were in the vanguard 42 years in the past?

Maddow spent a good deal of time explaining away this puzzle. To watch her full presentation, click this. We’ll offer an overview here:

Fully acknowledging her source, Maddow worked from a recent report about Oklahoma on the NPR program, This American Life. In December, the program offered a lengthy report purporting to explain how Oklahoma became a leader in preschool.

In our view, the December report was misleading. Maddow doctored it further, giving the impression that Oklahoma became a national leader in state-financed preschool without ever quite understanding or realizing what it was choosing to do.

In our view, This American Life obscured the actual history, in part by failing to mention actual dates as it told its amusing story. The program conveyed the clear impression that Oklahoma’s preschool program has been achieved by stealth, with a few clever Democratic legislators smuggling provisions into some bills which their hapless Republican counterparts never bothered to read.

In fact, the legislation under which Oklahoma is currently functioning was passed in 2003. At that time, the legislation was widely discussed in the Oklahoma press—and since that time, ten long years have passed.

Everyone in Oklahoma knows what the state is doing. In our view, the report on This American Life strongly tended to obscure this rather obvious fact. In our view, Maddow obscured the matter further, omitting parts of the source report which noted the way Oklahoma’s business community had pushed for preschool over a long period.

If you watch the Maddow segment, you will be treated to an amusing story. You’ll also get misled about the history of Oklahoma’s program. And at the end of her story, you’ll hear some familiar happy talk:
MADDOW: What Oklahoma kids got [they got] by stealth. And now Oklahoma loves it.

Oklahoma loves it because kids in Oklahoma just a few years into this started making truly long leaps in their letters and their spelling and their problem solving. Oklahoma kids made truly long leaps. Black kids, white kids, Native American kids, Hispanic kids. Everybody. It really worked.

And yes, it costs money to do this. But the academics who track this stuff say that the earlier you invest in a child’s development the more you get back. They say that this is among the smartest money you can spend in public policy. And that was President Obama’s case this week.

OBAMA (videotape): We know this works. 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.

MADDOW: We know this works. Specifically, we know this works in the reddest of all of the red states. We are not used to policy being extrapolated from Oklahoma to the whole country. And I do not mean to offend Oklahoma with that statement. It just doesn’t really happen.
As we noted yesterday, Obama seems to have overstated the evidence about the proven effects of early education in his State of the Union Address. In that highlighted passage, Maddow massively overstated the outcomes which have been observed in Oklahoma.

But this is what liberals have always done, all the way back to the mid-1960s. Uncaring people like Maddow feed their acolytes happy talk about the easy miracle cures which are right there for the taking. This sends us liberals off to bed feeling warm and fuzzy inside.

In this case, Maddow performed another tribal function, making it sound like Oklahoma got its preschool program by mistake (“by stealth”). Before she brought on a significant guest, she closed her own essay like this:
MADDOW (continuing directly): But could this be the time with this Democratic president saying, “Hey, you know what? Georgia and Oklahoma are doing it right. And the whole country should follow their lead.” Could it work?

After all, Richard Nixon is not going to veto it this time.
After giving the impression that Oklahoma stumbled into its program, Maddow offered a muffled shout-out to the pair of red states. She then blamed Richard Nixon again. In this way, she ended her tale on a pleasing note.

Might we expand this story? All the way back in 2004, Berkley professor David Kirp described Oklahoma’s leadership role in The American Prospect, one of our liberal journals. Kirp mentioned the amusing early episodes in which some stealth legislation was passed. But he told a much larger story about why Oklahoma is so darn OK in this particular area.

“The biggest success story is Oklahoma,” Kirp dared to write. “[L]argely 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.”

Nine years ago, Kirp told a fuller, more accurate tale. Last Thursday night, some nine years later, we liberals got clowned. It was Richard Nixon’s fault—and Oklahoma didn’t know what it was doing!

We happily swallowed our comfort food, drank our warm milk, nodded off.

Tomorrow: Why don’t we R-bomb ourselves? Decades of blatant indifference.

If you want to check the sources: In Oklahoma, people actually know that the state is funding preschool education. The current program has been in place for ten years. It’s absurd to pretend Oklahoma is providing preschool because of something that happened by stealth—because of legislation no one understands.

In our view, last December’s report on This American Life tended to obscure the real history. Last Thursday, Maddow’s report dumbed things way down from there.

Those are our views. Now, you can form your own:

To review last December’s report, click this. To watch Maddow’s segment from Thursday, click here.

Kirp told the tale in 2004. His headline in the Prospect said this: “You’re Doing Fine, Oklahoma!”

To read Kirp’s ancient report, just click this. Warning! Kirp wasn’t feeding us comfort food to make our tribe seem even greater.


  1. As an aside, notice the extent to which MSNBC has been taken over or given to the Obama administration. It is Obama and how great, great, great is Obama and should Obama be on Rushmore all the time now. Really, the Rushmore discussion was there.


    1. Glenn Greenwald couldn't have put it any better.

      Oh, in fact he did, in today's US version of Guardian.

      I'm sure your failure to attribute this to his column was just an oversight.

    2. No, that was on MSNBC and that is what MSNBC is. Watch and be amazed.

    3. The program in question was Sharpton's, by the way. While the NYTimes tells us of the comings to MSNBC, including Obam's newest guy, the Axman. I just read the Greenwald post, which was terrific.


    4. On the one hand, I hope that this Rushmore talk is the sign of a top in the market for Obama worship, which is utterly irrational given the profound depth of mediocroty, even less than medicroty, that has been the hallmark of his time in office. On the other hand Obama, as laughably as is the notion, could serve as a "left wing" counterweight to the cult of Reaganism that controls the Republican Party. For me, it's a tough call, because Obama deserves lots of things, but becoming some kind of symbol of the left is about last on the list, but at the same time, having Reagan as the only recent president people are willing to hold up as an icon is revolting and destructive. What a fucked world we live in, when such are our choices.

  2. You're long on criticism and short on what you think should actually be done. Even when MSNBC talks about education they don't do it in the accepted "Howler" way, so in your eyes they're wrong. Don't make the perfect the enemy of the good.

    1. Yes, MSNBC talks about education stupidly, very, very stupidly and that is bad and not good or even fair.

  3. I read that report in the America Prospect, I didn't see much that contradicts what was said on "This American Life". The article even says that the universal pre-K was done by stealth and on-the-sly, the same things you criticize "TAL" and MSNBC for saying. It didn't become law until a Democrat was governor because the ultra-right-wing opposed it, there was nothing about the nefariousness of the left you're always talking about.

    I've figured out that what you really hate about Maddow is when she gets snarky, it allows you to ignore everything else she says and does.

    1. "The One True Liberal Channel."

      Of course, Somerby doesn't stoop to the level of employing snark.

    2. It sure looks personal, doesn't it.

    3. And maybe this is why, unfortunately for all of us, extremely valuable posts like the one yesterday on Michelle Rhee gets all of three comments.

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  5. If there wasn't concern about whether right wingers so prominent on the national stage would blow up the program, then why did the promoters have to work "behind the scenes"? That sounds more like "stealth" than TDH is willing to admit. It's hard to believe the advocates in Oklahoma weren't profoundly concerned about how to manage and marginalize the crazies.

    The reasons why the issue died for 42 years is a lot more complicated than liberals' indifference. In fact, for most liberals it had nothing to do with indifference but was all about gaining the power to move public opinion and do something about it -- and recognizing that, unfortunately, promoting the issue prominently was guaranteed to lose many more votes than it would gain.

    For 30 of those years we had Republican presidents who were hostile to the welfare state in general, especially to the extent it was led by the Federal government. We had Democratic presidents who believed they had to show skepticism if not hostility to the welfare state. Democrats had control of the Presidency and Congress for a total of ten of those 42 years, only four (1993-95 and 2008-10) since 1980. Clinton at least thought he had to stage his Sista Souljah moment and declare "the end of welfare as we know it" to get elected in a time when the prevailing sentiment was that "government is the problem." Even Obama decided he couldn't raise the issue until after being re-elected.

    When TDH has his standard narrative to promote, it wouldn't occur to him, either, that for Republicans historically there is a gigantic difference between a welfare program run by the state -- especially when it is sold as giving the state a competitive advantage -- and one promoted by the Federal Government. It's a real stretch to say that doing it "by stealth" is suggesting it was some kind of accident stumbled into by red state rubes.

    The history here is beyond stupid. That's what happens when you have a pre-determined narrative. Maddow's report was perfectly fine to anyone not determined to parse every word to give positive statements -- praise for Oklahoma, praise for the program, pleasant surprise that it happened in a state where we "coastal liberals" wouldn't expect it -- a peculiar negative cast.

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  8. The record here is beyond ridiculous. That's what happens when you have a pre-determined story. Maddow's review was completely excellent to anyone not identified

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