Alaska's children deserve more preschool opportunities

John Havelock

As just about everyone has heard by now, Charles Murray, the implacably conservative sociologist, has written another book, "Coming Apart," expanding on ideas that gained him notoriety with "The Bell Curve." In the new book, he joins the consensus that the spread in American society between the rich and the poor is steadily and dangerously expanding. But instead of blaming this increase on an economy redesigned to produce such a result, he says it results from the values of the sixties infecting the lower classes. We no longer value the two parent home, work ethics, etc.. The hippie philosophy has taken over with destructive consequences.

Among these new outcomes based, in essence, on moral decline is a drop in IQ of lower class children. The "Best," with higher IQs based on carefully nurtured families, short on divorces, parents in the same home, attending church regularly, are natural winners. The "Rest," well, they are in tough shape. The answer to their deplorable circumstances is to follow the right (Right?) leaders to moral reform, maybe giving the next generation a chance.

Others suggest that the dramatic decline in the tax rates of the wealthy, the doubling up of the banking and finance sector as a percentage of the national economy followed by hundreds of billions in bailouts may have something to do with the problem. You may have noticed that thousands of people of low estate attend church regularly but benefit only their souls, while many of the rich spend Sundays watching football from $500,000 boxes.

But it remains true that IQ has a lot to do with a person's chances of becoming healthier, wealthier and sometimes wiser than the average. As Murray notes, many studies show that early childhood education boosts IQ, even though IQ was supposed to be a measure of innate intelligence.

Those to the left of Murray have long been advocates of Head Start, a federally supported program giving a few disadvantaged children the benefit of a year of school before kindergarten. In some, usually more prosperous, communities and through a few of the better child care services, two years of quality preschool education is provided. Studies from Left and Right confirm Murray's finding, that early education aids IQ, and the child's prospects in society generally.

There is agreement on this point across the political spectrum. While a very few children, born into disadvantage, can at least mitigate some of that disadvantage through Head Start, it is the already advantaged that get the most benefit from enrollment in high quality, private, preschool programs. Behind them, a sea of children of moderate advantage to disadvantaged status, are not getting a quality preschool education.

The cure seems obvious as does the source of our past dereliction. When the delegates to Alaska's constitutional convention met back in the winter of 1955-56, this information on the scope and impact of education was not available. At that time, the measure of what society needs to give to its children to get on in the world was a 1-12 education. At-home mothers took care of the early years. That model is still around but rare. Now it takes two salaries to sustain a family. Even when wealth permits staying home, female liberty (another of those deplorable values of the sixties) suggests that a woman have the option to enjoy the advantages and self-fulfillment that the workplace can offer.

So the Alaska convention mandated that every child was entitled to a free public education, thinking if not saying: 1-12 or K-12. What all this suggests is that the public should finance an additional two years of pre-school. A bill in the current legislature may be a beginning. Senate Bill 6 adds on one year of public school starting with 2013-14 at an estimated cost of $41.8 M per year. We seem willing to spend a hundred times that on dams, et cetera. Do we give a damn about the future of Alaska's children?


John Havelock, a former Alaska attorney general, served on a special commission to study education finance for the late Gov. Wally Hickel.