My wife is starting to gear up her search for a preschool for our son. I think there is a lot of peer pressure on moms to get their kids started in the education rat race early on. I’m not sure the pressure on dads is so quite so bad, though I must admit, it is starting to hit me too.
No mom wants her child to be the laggard. No dad ever believes that his child will be the laggard. Dads understand the value of a head start, but the typical father is confident that his child will catch up to all the kids who got a head start on him within the first few laps.
There is a core cockiness in a dad that tells him that his kids don’t really need the extra help that other people’s kids do. A little voice inside says, “I never went to preschool, and I turned out fine.” Well, maybe he did, or maybe going preschool would have given him the extra little boost he needed to really understand the definition of the word fine.
I find myself conflicted between my own core cockiness about my son and my understanding that there are no actual test scores or other hard data supporting this cockiness. Every confident dad can’t be right. There are definitely kids out there in desperate need of extra help, regardless of how high up over his belly Dad pulls his belt when considering his brilliant seedling. This fact is the pin-prick hole in my own cockiness. It lets in the peer pressure to formally educate at once.
It is true that I never went to preschool, but neither did any of my peers. Entering kindergarten, no one was behind because no one was ahead. We were clean slates, basking in our own ignorance. My slate is much dirtier now, but sometimes I still like to bask in my own ignorance. It’s what a boy does. Sometimes my son and I just sit together and bask in our collective ignorance, and wonder if preschool is really right for either one of us.
For his part, my son is eager to go to school, if for the wrong reasons. I told him that he would go to school to learn to read. “No,” he said. “I think in my school we’ll just play all the time.” That’s okay. Kids are allowed to have the wrong reasons sometimes. And there’s nothing wrong with a three-year-old wanting to play, as long as somebody understands that he needs to learn to read on his breaks from playing.
I’m beginning to believe that there are two types of parents who send their kids to preschool. The smaller group are the ones who buy into the preschool-as-a-stepping-stone-to-Harvard ideal. Since I don’t think the right preschool is going to get my son into Harvard, I belong to the second, larger group. This group is made up of parents like me who don’t want to feel guilty about their kids starting off kindergarten behind the Harvard-bound children.
As a ticket into Harvard, I think preschool is worth nothing. As a salve for assuaging the guilt and fears of a parent, it is worth maybe half of what it costs. Since my son has two parents with guilty consciences to soothe, I guess it adds up to what it should.
Here is what the balance sheet looks like:
|Cost of preschool tuition||First step to Harvard = 0
Soothing Mommy’s conscience = .5 x tuition cost
Soothing Daddy’s conscience = .5 x tuition cost
The fact that I have holes punched through my natural fatherly cockiness actually makes preschool a better value for me. If that cockiness were in its original, unblemished state, the value of soothing Daddy’s conscience would only be something like .25 x tuition cost. This would make preschool more costly than the total of its value.
The odds say my son will probably not attend Harvard. I don’t think anything he does at age four will change that. If he grows up into a well-balanced, happy person, I don’t really care about Harvard. I just don’t want him to be subject to the same weird looks I get when I say, “I never went to preschool and I turned out fine.”