Race, Education, and Social Mobility: Why Pre-K Matters for Children of Color

What do you think of when you think about preschool? Naps and snacks and playing on the playground? Storytime, lunch, and coloring books? Do you think of it as an important educational milestone or as a free-for-all for little ones?

If you are like a lot of people, you probably don’t place as much value on early childhood education as it deserves. You likely grew up in a time when Kindergarten fulfilled many of the needs that are now reserved for preschool.

In the last couple of decades, Kindergarten has changed. Dramatic play centers, costumes, and puppet shows have been replaced by rigorous learning, testing, and academic work. Kindergarteners today are expected to do far more than you probably were.

Because of this shift in elementary school, early childhood education is now wildly crucial for academic success. This is because preschool is all about learning how to learn and how to function in a school setting. It is where kids will develop their attitudes toward school and teachers and where kids practice social skills. 

It cannot be emphasized enough that small children’s “play” is essential to their learning. It is how they assimilate new information and try and figure out where they fit in this big world. Kids running around in costumes are not simply enjoying revelry.  Playing dress up is all about becoming creative, considering career paths, working on self-awareness and body awareness, and much more.

Children of color

Kids from minority homes may start out with certain factors stacked against them. They might not live in a home where English is the native language. They may not have access to quality learning materials and books. Their parents may work longer hours or have less education themselves. Preschool attendance is also correlated with parental education level. Parents with higher education levels themselves are more likely to have their children enrolled in an early childhood program.

Compared to their Caucasian peers, Black and Latino children are about a year behind their counterparts in math and reading.  They often enter Kindergarten at a considerable disadvantage. This gap can cause lifelong disparities.

Research has provided evidence that prioritizing early childhood education has lasting intergenerational effects on minority communities. It can help rectify inequities in society by giving children of color a “leg up.”

Becoming Socially Mobile

Being socially mobile is essential for minority kids because they must have opportunities to change their communities if real cultural change can be expected.

There is an unfortunate bias in America that stereotypes black children as being troublemakers. This also has grave effects on their education. Black boys are overwhelmingly more likely to be punished in preschool… and beyond. 

According to a recent report, black children make up about 20 % of preschoolers, but almost half of all out-of-school suspensions. Similar disparities across age groups. Another study showed that black male children are often punished more harshly because they are perceived as being much older than they actually are.

If we have hope for children of color to have upward mobility in society and find equity in our culture, then we must work diligently to see to it that they have access to education at all levels. However, a preschool with its foundational nature just might be the most important.

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