"Ever since Sputnik went up," recalls Zigler, decision makers have vacillated between emphasizing cognitive skills "and focusing on the whole child." The skill-and-drill mentality fostered by the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which represents the most recent swing of the pendulum, has reached preschool. Many prekindergartens now stress reading readiness. And because there are only so many hours in a preschool day, they devote less time to encouraging creativity or motivating 4-year-olds to work and play well with others. It is in Head Start that this shift - away from social-emotional development and problem-oriented learning, toward decoding language and numbers - is most fiercely contested. The stakes are high. The outcome will not only mold Head Start but also affect the nature of states' prekindergarten initiatives.
What is not addressed here is the historical precedent for two both models to be used, with the choice depending upon the family income of the children who are to be enrolled. In the early development of the kindergarten, we saw the use of the more harsh and demanding model in the poor urban areas, whereas the caring, whole child approach was reserved for the middle and upper classes.
The neocon traditionalists of today want nothing more than the elite, Protestant, captitalist-patriots of old. They want a controllable work force that doesn't ask questions, they want to maintain white privilege even with the inevitability of an emerging brown majority, and they want these things more than ever. Is there any doubt, then, why this round of back-to-basics appears more like a bare-knuckled assault on the poor and working classes than it does an education reform. The most disturbing part is that many of these "reform" advocates are so ideologically blinded that they cannot see the racism that is at the heart of their social engineering plans. The enraging part, of course, is that the cynical manipulators who are pulling the political strings know exactly what they are doing.