When Toddlers Save the World (or — It Was Dr. Mustard, in the Study, with a Lead Argument)

THOSE OF YOU who know me only through these sometimes-prickly writings of mine — which is to say you don’t know me at all — may be surprised by my claim that I’m as a rule a docile and muted and even agreeable fellow. I’m provoked now and again — and the yearly occurrence of Black Friday is one of those occasions. I don’t much care for this late, absurd, and phony non-event, which promotes the rotten and rot-inducing ideas that our highest calling subsists in being a consumer, and that everything depends upon one’s subservience to this duty.

It is against this background of the economy’s recent to-the-exclusion-of-all-else status that I read of a document which promotes the sending of two year-olds to school so that they may enjoy the benefits which, it is claimed, are likely to follow. Here are a few, as reported by Teresa Smith in the National Post:

[Kerry McCuaig, one of the lead authors of the study] pointed to considerable research which shows children who attend a sound early-childhood program perform better on standardized tests throughout their education. They also are more likely to graduate from high school, paving the way for a post-secondary education and a higher earning potential.

Yes, of course I’d expect someone whose crib notes are literally that to do well on the standardized test. When I was in university an exam was a matter of cramming and regurgitation, both of them skills early acquired. The paving bit is a touch lazy (although we all know how important infrastructure is to the economy), for notice we’ve thereby moved from the realm of science to prosaic metaphor. My question is Does a test really pave the way to anything but more tests and more regurgitation? Let’s grant wholly that the “children who attend a sound early-childhood program” from age two will go on to college or university and a higher paying job (which note, by the way, is a non-sequitur). There’s more on offer for our consumption.

Drink this in, comrade:

McCuaig said the workforce needed to teach more children is already trained and ready to go. She said teachers are working in other fields because, as it stands, it’s difficult to make a living teaching young children in this country. “These people tend to be underpaid for the work that they do, so the idea is that, when provinces actually address early-childhood education in a concerted and systematic way — with an influx of funding and well-planned child-centred programming — people will go back into the early-childhood education field because that was their first love — they just couldn’t make a living at it,” McCuaig told Postmedia News.

Another benefit of these programs, were the provinces amply to fund them, is the jobs for ECE (early-childhood education) graduates that would result. From here the picture only becomes brighter:

“Teachers aren’t the only members of the workforce who would benefit, said McCuaig. An earlier school age for Canadian kids would go a long way to helping the 70 per cent of Canadian mothers who work outside the home, she said. “We rely on those mothers and their labour — if they didn’t work, the economy wouldn’t work — so we also need to take care of what happens to their kids while they’re at work.”

I don’t know this McCuaig person, but when I was an undergraduate student at Brock University I noted that the thickest, most uncreative and superfluous category of person stuffing the space within the academy was the Early Childhood Education student. Many were lovely, pleasant, and well-meaning. But not only could they not think outside the box, they could hardly spell box. While most of the rest of us in the humanities and social sciences were at least in theory expected to craft discursive critiques of complex ideas, it was quite normal and quite enough for the ECE student to submit a project consisting of pictures cut from the pages of magazines and pasted to bright coloured Bristol paper. (I am not making this up.) On days I was feeling especially dour, I would go out of my way to walk through the Education corridors — where the year-end assignments would be on proud display — for the never-failing comic value of the trip. Even then, the ECE program was faddish, formulaic, and unrigorous. What a dim wad these students composed, with few exceptions, and McCuaig appears to be among them. In any case, the argument as presented is worse than weak.

Think about it this way. In the nation’s media the idea is now being floated that two-year olds might successfully be pressed into the business of saving the economy for you and me, mate. How does that make you feel? And how stupid and selfish and base must one become that such proposals be seriously entertained on these poltroonish terms. I expect you strive to be better than that. Otherwise one should at least have the courage to scrutinize his motives and recourse to such conveniences. Has it occured to you also that something is very wrong with “the economy” if these days not only one parent but two must work — and, by the way, do please consider feeding the problematic toddler to the exacting Global Economy as well? That’s paving the way, alright. What road is this — and where is the nearest exit?

Anyone who takes refuge in this offer of a win-win is making a devil’s deal. I recognize and appreciate the real-world character of the temptation. In Canada there was only a decade ago consideration of a decent public child care system. Such a thing is a clear and compelling necessity, and the failure to achieve it in Canada discloses the political class’s indifference to the needs of families and in particular of mothers. This constitutes an instance of first-order political evasion. This new plan, to put children as quickly as possible into school, relies upon a desperate and even cynical sleight of hand which offers a public child care system under a false pretense.

Well, why not a program for one year-olds, and at some later date something for zygotes? The man behind this ‘it’s all over at 5’ magical sort of thinking, Dr. Fraser Mustard, has many worrying that the race may be lost as early as kindergarten. This, I submit, is an idea certain to accomplish far more damage than good. It’s the sort of idea one would commit not to believe in even if it were known to be true. True or untrue, the idea compels me to declare Bullshit. If people need jobs, and mothers need day care — as it is clear that they do — then these matters of policy ought to be addressed candidly, under their proper designations. The now well-embedded practice of burdening children with our anxieties and fears of failure must end, and the wishful and bogus claims which are brought forward to obtain our support should be repelled in the most impolite and blunt manner possible.

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