Are Today’s Preschools Fulfilling Their Purpose?

preschool

Figure 1

Elizabeth Brannon, Aparicio AM, Honorbound

Education and intelligence are included in the definition of human capital, a necessary component of our economy. [1] As current academic achievement of children becomes expected at increasingly younger ages, the pressure on preschools to prepare children for future schooling rises. However, some critics view placing children into school environments at such a young age as too strongly enforcing the importance of “work over play” upon young minds. [2] While there are many obvious benefits to sending children to preschool, there are also several downsides that often go unnoticed.

The greatest question is: are preschools doing more help or harm?

Parents and teachers most often view preschools as advantageous because they form the foundation of a child’s education while their brain is still rapidly developing. [3] In addition, preschools provide a safe place that both allows parents to work more without having to find additional childcare and helps the children adjust to being in a school environment. Economics also encourages the idea of preschools because they begin cultivating a child’s human capital at a young age, something that is not guaranteed with nannies or regular day-care services. Economist Charles Wheelan notes, “High levels of human capital create a virtuous cycle; well-educated parents invest heavily in the human capital of their children.” [4] This way of thinking implies that early investment in the human capital of children forms life-long habits that are passed through generations, keeping the labor force stronger over time. So far, these ideas portray preschool as the best possible place for early education, but they do not address the experiences of those who are affected most: the children.

What does a typical preschool day consist of?

Most people would agree that the purpose of preschool is to lay the foundation for academic success and to enrich human capital. Recently, however, more emphasis has been placed on expanding a child’s intelligence rather than any other aspect of their human capital. School systems have shifted the focus of the classroom from “an active and exploratory early-childhood pedagogy to a more scripted and instruction-based model” in the hopes that it will better prepare them for their future years of school. [5] Although these changes may incentivize more parents to enroll their children, they have hidden negative results. For example, preschool teachers consider teaching new vocabulary to be more useful than facilitating and engaging in student discussions. [6] Overall, this formal teacher-student relationship does little to improve a child’s conversational and social skills because the classroom interaction is severely limited.

Who derives utility from sending a child to preschool?

Some concerned parents are actually reluctant to send their children to preschool based on the worry that they will be unhappy working when they could otherwise be playing. [6] In fact, studies show that children who attend preschool typically “lose their enthusiasm for learning” much earlier than their peers who start school later. [7] This decrease in interest fuels the rate of school dropouts, eventually hurting the labor market and creating a vicious cycle of uneducated parents and children. [8] Although sending children to preschool to form early learning habits seems an obvious choice, resulting problems often do not appear until it is too late.

Moving forward, are there better alternatives for developing young human capital without children’s happiness being an opportunity cost?


[1] Wheelan, Charles. Naked Economics: Undressing the Dismal Science. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010, 127.

[2] Christakis, Erika. “The New Preschool Is Crushing Kids.” The Atlantic. December 28, 2015. Accessed June 23, 2017. https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2016/01/the-new-preschool-is-crushing-kids/419139/.

[3] Heckman, James. “Early Childhood Education.” UNICEF. June 30, 2016. Accessed June 23, 2017. http://data.unicef.org/topic/early-childhood-development/early-childhood-education/#.

[4] Wheelan, Charles. Naked Economics: Undressing the Dismal Science. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010, 135.

[5] Christakis, Erika. “The New Preschool Is Crushing Kids.” The Atlantic. December 28, 2015. Accessed June 23, 2017. https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2016/01/the-new-preschool-is-crushing-kids/419139/.

[6] Heckman, James. “Early Childhood Education.” UNICEF. June 30, 2016. Accessed June 23, 2017. http://data.unicef.org/topic/early-childhood-development/early-childhood-education/#.

[7] Christakis, Erika. “The New Preschool Is Crushing Kids.” The Atlantic. December 28, 2015. Accessed June 23, 2017. https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2016/01/the-new-preschool-is-crushing-kids/419139/.

[8] Wheelan, Charles. Naked Economics: Undressing the Dismal Science. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010, 135.

[Fig. 1] Christakis, Erika. “The New Preschool Is Crushing Kids.” The Atlantic. December 28, 2015. Accessed June 23, 2017. https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2016/01/the-new-preschool-is-crushing-kids/419139/.

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