Angie Sullivan Takes on an Alt-Right Preschool Critic

The United States is not known for its stellar record on preschool.  We’re in the bottom half of the Economist Intelligence Unit’s “Starting Well Index,” which benchmarks 45 nations on the quality, availability, and affordability of preschool.  This, in spite of a robust research base and growing consensus on the value of early education for children and society. large img_upside-down-girl (B&W)

In The State of Preschool 2015, a yearbook published by the National Institute for Early Education Research, at Rutgers University, Nevada ranked 40 in access for four-year-olds and 39 in state spending.

Angie Sullivan, a passionate activist, teaches young children—first- and second-graders—in Las Vegas, where she has taken on such explosive issues as immigration reform, the corporatization of public schools, and the Common Core State Standards.

In her post, below, a version of which I first read in an email sent to the members of Nevada’s Assembly and Senate, children’s advocates, and others in her ever-expanding listserv, Sullivan writes about Victor Joecks, whose bombastic critique of government-funded preschool hit a nerve.

 

By Angie Sullivan

It takes a special kind of person to pick on a three- or four- year old.  Victor Joecks is that person.

Joecks formerly worked for the Nevada Policy Research Institute, a local alt-right think tank that regularly publishes articles attacking teachers and public schools. He’s now employed by the Las Vegas Review-Journal.  Owned by billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, it was the first major newspaper to endorse Donald Trump. 

Over the past six years, I’ve gone toe-to-toe many times with Joecks, who has zero background in educational pedagogy.  He would not last in a public school classroom for a day, let alone a year. He knows nothing about helping a wide variety of students reach their potential.   But this does not stop him from spewing his propaganda, as he did recently in his column at the Review-Journal.

Joecks starts his article like this:

 A mega corporation is using skewed research to sell its product to gullible parents. The conglomerate claims to help kids, but its product actually has no effect — or a negative effect — on children’s cognitive skills and social behaviors.

This is how he expects to begin a serious discussion of early childhood research?  Joecks equates nonprofit public schools with corporations, which sell products. But education is a service, not a product.  And he insults parents.

“It’s time to fire up the outrage machine,” Joecks urges—captured in a video that accompanies his column—“ complete with congressional hearings, attorney general lawsuits and shocked, shocked politicians hamming it up in front of TV cameras. This company should be shamed, stigmatized and sued.”

You would think he was discussing a bank that foreclosed on homes—or a dirty politician.  He’s actually shaming women, the majority of those who teach young children in preschool programs.

The entire piece is erroneous and foul. Lies, mingled with truth. Preschool is ineffective? My expertise is early childhood.  I have studied at three universities.  I have applied evidence-based practice for more than three decades. Every piece of research I have ever read over my career supports developmentally appropriate early intervention.

Picking and choosing the project you want to bolster your arguments without looking at the entire body of work will lead you to false conclusions. Extracting bits and pieces from research to justify false conclusions is not valid analysis.  Joecks really has to stretch to find a right-wing think tank to provide the data for his rants:

…today’s politicians fail to mention that researchers described the participating children as being at risk of “retarded intellectual functioning.” The children received extensive services, including home visits, and had mothers who stayed at home.

This is like a business claiming a mass-market product will make your child smarter, but putting in the small print: Results only applicable to left-handed, brown-haired 2-year-olds born on Jan. 15 weighing 33.4 pounds.

Besides being utterly offensive, this is direct fear-mongering and waving of “red meat” to the alt-right base.  The logic is crazy.

In the Clark County district, where I teach, Nevada’s Zoom initiative was enacted by the legislature in 2013.  Deemed highly effective for boosting academic success in another article in Nadelson’s newspaper,  the program has provided intensive services to English Language Learners.   Students are doing extremely well in prekindergarten and upon entering kindergarten, with speaking and listening skills greatly improved.  We can see the results in our annual standardized assessment.

Please do not listen to Victor Joecks.  I’m going to print out his article and put it in a special place until I see something worse to replace it.   It is going to be a long time before I see anything this vile.

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