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Too Little, Too Late

Four-year-old Hazel teaches 21-month old Penny how to draw using colored pencils.

(The views expressed in the following post are mine and mine alone.)

This past week, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled on Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard which considered the role of Affirmative Action in student admissions in college. Essentially, this ruling deemed that the Affirmative Action practices were a violation of the Equal Protection Clause in the Fourteenth Amendment.

Since the Reconstruction Era after the Civil War, there have been various policies at state and national levels that had been intended to provide and create opportunities for minority populations caused by systemic and racial injustices. Affirmative Action, as we recognize it today, is the product of these efforts and has been controversial throughout its existence. The term “Affirmative Action” was coined in FDR’s New Deal programs, prohibiting discriminatory practices in all facets of life including employment, housing, education, banking, etc.

Diversity efforts in higher education (and elsewhere) are valuable. I don’t personally believe that institutions (government, industry, education, etc) should consist of a homogeneous pool of candidates. The diversity of backgrounds within any entity creates a richness of perspectives and if the environment allows people to contribute and invites healthy dialogues and discords, can create innovative ideas that may not be possible without diversity. At a school, the background of leadership and teachers should reflect the demographics and backgrounds of students, at least to some extent; likewise, the backgrounds of private sector companies should include representations of the backgrounds of their targeted customers. In other words, this shared experiential overlap provides an understanding of the needs to target audiences, whether they are students or consumers.

At the same time, I do believe that merit and qualifications are essential and that a box-checking admissions process does not necessarily lead to success for either the institution or the individual students. I do not believe that simply showing up is enough and a participation trophy for all is demotivating to those who really work for it. I personally think we need a collective paradigm shift if we’re truly interested in creating a society that works for everyone, regardless of race.

For all of the arguments back and forth about Affirmative Action and the role diversity efforts should have within academia, I find most of them moot. Frankly, I think that the national conversation about diversity, inclusion, and probabilities for success should be examined at the other end of the educational spectrum- the beginning. All of this college admissions talk is too little too late for shaping the potential of diverse backgrounds when so many kids with enormous potential fail before even starting their K-12 educational journey. I would argue that economic conditions have a greater impact on children’s opportunities for success over the long haul than race, and kindergarten readiness is the biggest monumental step in a person’s education.

The following are a handful of essential skills required for kindergarten readiness:

  • Reading - letter recognition, phonemes, blending, decoding, etc.

  • Writing - ability to hold a utensil (properly), ability to trace, ability to draw both straight lines and curves, etc.

  • Math - number recognition, basic shapes, counting, patterns, etc.

  • Social - taking turns, making friends, sharing, healthy competition (ability to lose a game without a meltdown and ability to win without being a jerk about it), following directions, etc.

  • Personal Skills - toilet training, ability to eat independently, hand washing, etc.

Just to name a few.

The opportunities for kids to learn these skills are available for parents, but they require a nonrenewable resource - time.

Economically speaking, the time (or money, resources, or human capital) spent on one task is the same time (or money, resources, or human capital) NOT spent on a different task. This basic concept is called Opportunity Costs.

In our home, we have been very blessed with the resources that we have available for our children.

In Maggie’s case, our insurance and Maggie’s complex medical history qualify her for a slew of intervention services. She technically just finished kindergarten and compared to neurotypical peers, she’s pretty far from kindergarten readiness on countless fronts, but that’s okay because she’s able to access the therapeutic interventions she needs to move at her pace. For many families, an undiagnosed learning disability or less obvious medical concern can mask the root causes of learning difficulties in school. Without proper interventions in place, these children can struggle with the basics.

In Hazel’s case, she has gone to preschool, ECI (as a neurotypical sibling), ballet classes, children’s events at our local library, Vacation Bible School, and countless playdates with friends. We have had the financial resources to help her explore her interests and the time to support her learning from home. Yet, none of these preschool development opportunities are free. They all cost tuition or time, which is an opportunity that many families simply do not have.

Penny will be turning 2 in October and she will be starting a half-day preschool after her birthday. Prior to that, she has spent so much time playing at the library, singing songs at story time, learning to count in games, and curled up on my lap listening to me read board book after board book. Her vocabulary is growing exponentially every day. But these kindergarten readiness activities thus far do have a cost, and that is time.

But for many families, the essential factors for developing skills may not be there. Parents may be working long hours and may not have time to devote to coloring dinosaurs or unicorns with their preschooler-aged children. They may not have time to do more than drop the kids off at a family member’s home or daycare or wherever. Childcare does not always equal education and there is an enormous gulf that is evident between children who had kindergarten readiness opportunities in preschools, nurseries, library story times, or extracurricular activities like sports, dance, and art versus those who simply don’t.

I don’t believe that there is a one-size-fits-all solution, nor do I believe that parents with means should limit their children’s access to opportunities because they may not be available to others. What I do think is that kindergarten readiness is a better indicator of long-term success than college admissions. I don’t have a solution, but I do think that making preschool opportunities more available to those who have neither the time nor the funds can be a more worthy investment for the long-term success of all students and society as a whole, than simply focusing on racial quotas at college admissions as an indicator of inclusion. Perhaps if this is the approach that society takes moving forward, then a color-blind approach could be a more inclusive and fairer approach for society as a whole, but that will likely take a massive paradigm shift to be reflected in the next generation of learners.


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