Books, and Compassion, From Birth
By GINIA BELLAFANTE
Last year, when I was visiting a public school in Sunset Park in Brooklyn for teenagers with boundless difficulties, my host, a poet who teaches at various city schools, mentioned a student who had become pregnant. Hoping to start a library for the child soon to arrive, the poet told the young woman embarking on motherhood that she would like to give her some books — books of the kind her own grandchildren growing up in a very different Brooklyn had by the dozens.
The offer was met skeptically. “I already have one,” the girl said.
That punchline sounds a little too good to be true, but I can't find evidence online that it's lifted from an old joke, so maybe it's for real.
The successful fight for universal prekindergarten in New York City, a feat the White House called remarkable last week, will allow the city to add 21,440 classroom seats for 4-year-olds this fall and 20,000 more in the fall of 2015, according to the Education Department. As ambitious and important as this initiative is, it cannot, by design, solve the problem of the high school student who thinks one book is enough, and does not yet understand the extent to which parents are obliged to serve as instructors and educators, expanding vocabularies through talking and reading — through exposition and illumination — long before the advent of formal schooling.
... we should concentrate our energies on helping the most vulnerable parents and children beginning at, or before, birth.
How about 9 months and 1 day before birth, as in: Don't Get Pregnant!
Programs for 4-year-olds and even 3-year-olds, as Mr. Whitehurst put it, “come too late.”
This is hardly a revelation, and yet there has been a squeamishness on the left to create sweeping policy out of the kind of intimate intervention implied, a fear of the judgment and condescension ferried in exporting the habits of West End Avenue to Central Brooklyn or the South Bronx. No one wants to live in a world in which social workers are marching through apartments mandating the use of colorful, laminated place mats emblazoned with pictures of tiny kangaroos and the periodic table.
No, it's much better if the Central Brooklyn teenage mom drops her child off at Mayor De Blasio's pre-K and then heads home for a nap so she'll have the energy to hit the clubs again tonight to make another baby.