I don’t hate preschool. In fact, I love it. But I do hate ‘preschool’. It is a bad name for the place I work and places like it. The name doesn’t say anything about what the institution is except for this: it isn’t real school, but it is on the path to real school. This is at best inaccurate, but at worst it expresses an unkind and problematic way of characterizing childhood itself.
It is inaccurate because preschool is real school. I don’t feel like doing the thing where I quote the Webster’s definition of school here because I’m a little lazy, and I think we all agree that school is a place where people get together to learn stuff. The discussion about which things children ought to be learning is huge and I’ll address it in later posts (sneak peak: they should be learning social/emotional skills and bolstering all areas of development through play). Some may say that the kids in my class are not learning what children their age ought to be learning. That is not the same, though, as arguing that they are not learning anything. They are indisputably a group of students learning things with the guidance of teachers. That’s school, right? Someone might argue that it is pre-school because we are learning the skills that you need to do other learning, but that does not make sense. How is learning to learn not, itself, learning? It’s like people being ‘pre-engaged’, which always bugged me. Those couples are, what?: committed to being committed in the future? I can’t fathom how that is different from being engaged (though I suspect it involves different jewelry).
The bigger problem is not the inaccuracy but this sadly pervasive attitude that it conveys, “Children, you are a pre-person. You are not living real life. Your job is to make yourself into the person you will be later, when things start to really matter”. Can you think of a more demeaning thing to suggest to someone? What is it about kids that makes their lives not ‘real life’? That they are physically smaller? That they lack the knowledge and skills of others? That they haven’t been alive as long? Is it because they are not earning money? Because they don’t know what it is to really worry or suffer (they do, by the way)? If so, at what point is one big or smart or old or rich enough for their current life to be ‘real life’?
Every child is a whole real person. Each day their experiences are just as valid and meaningful and real as any adult’s. Their job right now is to be exactly themselves as they are right now. They should be learning and growing and developing skills and hopes for the future, and so should we.