During the summit, authors Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn were interviewed in the presentation, “Actions Speak Louder Than Hashtags.” In it, and in their books, they talked about why the American Dream might not be all it’s cracked up to be. However, they did provide the viewers with a few suggestions on how to change that.
People often wonder why it has become so hard to move up economically in the world. If it’s possible for 1 in 7 people to move from the lowest class to the highest class in places like Scandinavia and the UK, why can only 1 in 12 people do so in America, this “land of opportunity?” One of the factors Kristof and WuDunn pointed was that in several European counties, early childhood education is provided to everyone, whereas in the US, we act as if education doesn’t matter until you’re in high school. However, to put it bluntly, this is not true at all.
As Kristof and WuDunn explained, children’s plasticity is highest when they’re young. In other words, and their brains are more malleable, which means they retain more information and pick up new, complex concepts easier (think languages, reading, and some basic math). As you can imagine, learning these things early makes it a lot easier to deal with more advanced things later, and ultimately you become more likely to do well in school–and in turn, the world.
This fascinated me, and I wondered: is there anything else early childhood education does for you, other than eventually leading to an impressive paycheck? I did some of my own research and learned that…
Early childhood education increases kids’ self esteem, social skills, motivation, and cognitive ability. They’re more likely to attend and succeed in college, and less likely to commit a crime or get arrested. Even more interesting is that the advantages children gain in preschool stay with them all the way through their educational career. They will always stand out among their student peers, because they had a leg up on them from the beginning.
What’s coming into focus, and what President Obama keeps repeating to no avail, is that we are investing our money for education in the wrong places, and in the wrong people. And with the evidence that more than half of our nation’s kids don’t have the adequate math, reading, or behavior skills to profitably start kindergarten, or our slipping international ranking in college attendance, this is becoming even harder to contest. The national government has doubled the amount spent on Pell grants in the past year, but this doesn’t do much difference if it doesn’t bridge the simple gap in education which preschool fills. Economists like James Heckman (winner of the Nobel Economics prize) also point out that it is much faster and cheaper to teach a six-year old a new skill than it is an eighteen-year old (remember: plasticity).
Since 2013’s Economic Report of the President last month, Obama has reissued his call for universal early childhood education, generously citing Heckman’s research. Although it won’t happen overnight, I do believe our country is headed in the right direction with this, shall we say, preschool promotion. If America really is the land of opportunity, than kids should have every opportunity available to them–especially something as fundamental as education.
Council of Economic Advidors. Economic Report of the President, 2014.
Eduardo Porter. Investments in Education May Be Misdirected, 2013.
James J. Heckman. Schools, Skills, and Synapses, 2008.
President Barack Obama. State of the Union Address, 2014.