Thursday, August 11, 2011

Parents have a responsibility, too

A letter to the editor in this morning's N&O addresses a seldom-discussed public policy issue: the responsibility of parents to raise their own children. The letter pertains directly to Judge Howard Manning's ruling that the state is obligated to provide preschool for North Carolina's children. Manning's reasoning is that the state constitution requires the state to provide a "sound basic education" for all children, and that, he says, includes preschool that will prepare them for kindergarten.

There's no question that many children arrive at kindergarten woefully unprepared. Ask any elementary school teacher. Over the years, I've repeatedly heard of preschoolers' homes that contain not a single book of any kind. (Of course, there is a television that is on 20-plus hours a day in many cases and feeds a $100 a month cable bill.) Some children arrive at kindergarten having never been read to, having never turned the pages of a book, never learned words by looking at pictures, never pointed at letters and pronounced them, never recognized one-digit numbers or counted. It's tragic and shameful, but is it the state's fault?

The letter writer has a good argument that it's not the state's fault that parents are irresponsible or incompetent. Too many children are born into single-parent homes, and too many mothers are barely out of childhood themselves. Too many do not have good role models as parents, and too many never learned the joys of reading and learning. At least one charitable organization I'm aware of (St. Timothy's Episcopal Church in Wilson is a participant) buys books for children who do not have any in the home, but that's not a total solution to the problem.

It's not the children's fault that their parents are too irresponsible or unprepared to nourish them intellectually and encourage their innate curiosity. Preschool programs can help these children and perhaps turn them away from a pathway toward failure. But it's not the state that set them on a path toward failure in the first place. The problem did not begin in kindergarten or in preschool. It began in the home.

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