David Brooks (“When Families Fail,” NY Times Opinion, February 15, 2013) acknowledged the biggest elephant in the room when he wrote about the need for preschool for all kids:

“This is rude to say, but here’s what this is about: Millions of parents don’t have the means, the skill or, in some cases, the interest in building their children’s future. Early childhood education is about building structures so both parents and children learn practical life skills.”

Great start. About time someone brought this up.

He’s right, of course. Lots of kids grow up in families that do not have the background, training, skills or even commitment to help their kids succeed in an ever-increasing complex world. Unfortunately, as much as I admire Mr. Brooks and his honest and usually spot on perspective on various social issues, his solution to this core issue in addressing the education of our most vulnerable, is dead wrong:

“It’s about getting kids from disorganized homes into rooms with kids from organized homes so good habits will rub off. It’s about instilling achievement values where they are absent.”

There is no evidence, zero, that the idea of “kids on kids” good habits “rub off,” especially for their parents and families. Research consistently affirms that our most vulnerable children, those from families dealing with poverty, violence, racism, isolation, fatherlessness (and the list goes on), perpetuate what they receive from home. Where there is a cycle of violence, or poverty, for example, the child learns to expect that life is violent, and that acheivement is difficult if not impossible.

To expect “values” from “organizaed homes” will even begin to seep in and influence those homes desperate for guidance and support through 4- and 5-year-olds is the worst form of societal abandonment. It is the message that says, “Just observe us, you who are ‘disorganized.’ Receive by watching us the values you need to make sure your kid has the best chance at a successful life. As we model health, we know you’ll ‘get it’ and change your ways.”

Again, I’m grateful David Brooks brought it up. Families are the key to helping kids succeed. I am all for making preschool a national agenda, but without creating a system that brings families and educators together in partnership, it won’t make a dent.

We need to rediscover our cultural commitment to our young – to ALL our young – that we had a century ago. As Compayre & Frost put it in 1907 (Horace Mann and the Public Schools in the United States, Pioneers in Education),

“Successive generations of mankind taken collectively constitute one great community. All the wealth which this community possesses it owes to all its children with a view to providing them with an education adequate to protect them from poverty and vice, and prepare them worthily to perform their civic and social duties. The successive holders of this wealth are merely its trustees, bound by the most sacred obligations to execute their mandate faithfully; and to divert this wealth from its true object, the education of the young, is a great crime, indeed a greater one, than similar breach of faith with contemporaries.”

Published on Friday, February 15, 2013 @ 12:00 PM CDT