Learning the Value of Pre-school Through the Intellectual Debate of Four Year Olds

By Dr. Robert W. Simmons III.

After a long day of meetings, returning many emails, and preparing to get on a cross-country flight to Denver, Colorado, I slowly walked into my daughter’s pre-school classroom to gather her up and head towards home. With her four month old brother in the stroller, and extra drool emanating from his lips (my grandmother would call it syrup), I noticed my daughter actively engaging in a discussion about the importance of not killing bugs. Certainly my wife and mother-in-law would disagree with such assertions as they routinely give me specific directions on the location of the latest bug to draw their ire. Listening very intently to the conversation between my daughter and a collection of other children between the ages of three to five, I quickly realized that each of the students had different answers in their highly intellectual conversation. Some children argued that the bugs weren’t bothering anyone, and others felt that if we killed the bugs their families would miss them.

After compiling all of their answers I quickly realized how special it was to see this group of young children posing a scientific question and attempting to provide an answer. Looking back on their conversation, and the countless number of schools that I have been in doing research or just visiting, I realized that their conversation could not have been possible without their daily adventures in a high quality pre-school program. Watching my daughter interact with these children, and taking time to listen to her musings about the price of gas, and other points of analysis about the world, I have to give a big thank you to her pre-school teachers. In fact, I have to give a big shout out to ALL pre-school teachers.

But here is where my heart sinks, and my excitement over my daughters experiences seem to be irrelevant—what happens to African American children who don’t have access to a high quality pre-school experience? Since learning is a cumulative process whereby new knowledge either affirms previously held beliefs, generates new questions, or unsettles previously held misconceptions, wouldn’t it seem fair to provide every child with access to a high quality pre-school experience. Having spent my entire professional career in schools, and my recent years wearing the hat of a parent, I’m convinced that a high-quality pre-school experience can aid children in developing their sense of curiosity in the world.

It is through their curiosity that we can hope and pray that our children will discover cures for diseases, solutions to our numerous environmental issues, and pick up the torch of justice and equality. As these goals are attainable for all of our children, please ask yourself the following questions:

1. Am I doing all that I can to ensure that children in my community to have access to a high quality pre-school?
2. Do I have the resources to set-up a scholarship or fund the attendance of a child in my community?
3. Am I willing to work with community organizations, local churches, and public/private/charter schools to develop a no-cost alternative to the costly for-profit pre-school programs?

It is not my intention to shame those parents, like my wife and myself, who have provided their children with access to high quality daycare and pre-school programs. It is my intention to challenge our community to take on this issue in the same way that our ancestors fought for us to have access to a university education, voting rights, and other similar social issues that impaired our ability to fully participate in our democracy.

Dr. Robert W. Simmons III, Assistant Professor at Loyola University, Maryland.

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