Early Childhood Education: Part of the Struggle for Social Equity

“One might expect an early childhood educator to be the first to say that preschool can be the answer to all of our nation’s problems, that it can be both an anti-poverty vaccine and an antidote to centuries of racial inequality. But I won’t.” So writes Amy Rothschild, a preschool teacher in Washington, DC and former All Our Kin volunteer, in her recent article, “Where the Promise of Preschool Ends,” featured on Dissent Magazine.

In the wake of the police shooting of Michael Brown and the subsequent protests in Ferguson, Missouri, Amy pushed back against the idea that universal preschool will, by itself, eradicate inequality. The sight of toddlers holding signs saying “My Friends Deserve to Live” and “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” reminded her that early education was only one component of a broader struggle for social equity. She told All Our Kin, “As an early childhood educator, I know that early education is undervalued in society. The idea that it is just ‘day care’ is still prevalent. Early childhood educators and advocates often find ourselves in the position of having to strenuously argue for the benefits of early childhood education. We rarely get a chance to step back and remind voters and policy-makers that early childhood education is just one part of building child and family friendly policies.”

Although we are delighted that an increasing number of policymakers recognize the value of preschool, we must not shy away from advocacy around issues that may be more politically risky – racial profiling, juvenile justice, policing. Racial inequality affects all young students of color, even those who have the opportunity to attend a quality preschool program; the exceedingly high rates of suspension for Black preschoolers attest to this fact. After they leave school, people of color face institutionalized racism in housing practices, the criminal justice system, and employment prospects. They often have to piece together multiple part-time jobs with no benefits in order to provide for their families, and their irregular job schedules make it difficult to find reliable, high-quality child care options for their children. (Read more about how modern scheduling practices wreak havoc on low-income families here). When parents are forced to make sacrifices because of these economic realities, they are publicly criticized and, in some cases, incarcerated. Media narratives demonize hard-working Black women and cast suspicion upon their ability to raise their own children.

Racial inequality affects our child care providers, as well as the children in their programs and their parents. All Our Kin’s network of child care providers consists of mostly Hispanic/Latino and Black women, and we recognize that they are not always given the respect or wages they deserve for the critical work they do for our nation’s young children. Race and gender intersect in ways that make it difficult for them to access important resources, but they are dedicated to giving young children positive learning experiences and healthy, safe environments in which to learn and grow. We know how important it is to remember the barriers that they face as we train, support, and sustain them in their efforts to grow successful child care businesses and build stable lives for themselves and their families.

While Amy was at All Our Kin, her mentors helped her to “think early on about the ways that many different social policies are related, for example, policies about welfare benefits affect whether or not parents will stay home with their children or seek work outside the home. It’s all part of a bigger puzzle.” We cannot lose sight of these interconnections, or rely on one-dimensional solutions to national struggles. Instead, we must advocate for two-generation policies, solutions that work towards equity for parents and children alike.

You can read the full text of “Where the Promise of Preschool Ends” at Dissent. Amy’s previous writing at All Our Kin includes “Ready for School? A Tale of Two Realities,” (originally posted at EdWeek”) and “Nursery Rhymes and the Anti-Bias Classroom” (originally posted at Teaching for Change). Amy first became involved with All Our Kin as an undergraduate at Yale, where Janna and Jessica teach a seminar for undergraduates on child care, society and public policy. Currently, she teaches four- and five-year-olds in Washington D.C.

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