Kathleen McCaffrey, Associate Editor
Ideology: Libertarian | Writing from: New Jersey

During Barack Obama’s campaign, he advocated universal preschool for children in the United States. While I don’t appreciate many of his policies, I do think this one might be beneficial to the United States in the long term. That is, of course, if a variation of the Perry Project is applied to impoverished, high-risk children within the program around America…

During the early 1960’s, 123 children between the ages of 3-4 were put into a special preschool program in the Perry Elementary School District near Ypsilanti, MI. The children were from poverty-stricken families, had low IQ’s and were considered at “high risk” for a life of crime. The program was unique in its approach to learning, taking the findings of Jean Piaget as the basis for building upstanding citizens.

The Perry Program “emphasizes an active learning approach (learning through active and direct child-initiated experiences rather than directed teaching), in which children are encouraged to engage in play activities that involve making choices and problem-solving. The goal of the curriculum is to promote a child’s intellectual, social, and emotional learning and development. The curriculum does not include defined subject matter, but instead teachers listen closely to what students plan and then actively work with and question them to extend their activities to developmentally appropriate experiences.” Furthermore, “The teachers conducted daily two and one-half hour-long classroom sessions on weekday mornings for children and weekly one and one-half hour-long home visits to each mother and child on weekday afternoons during the course of a 30-week school year. The home visits were intended to involve the mother in the educational process and to help her to provide her child with educational support and implement the curriculum within the child’s home.”

The results of the project, when compared to the control group within the experiment, were impressive. “Thirty-five percent of the control group were considered frequent offenders (defined as five or more arrests), compared with only 7 percent of the program group. In addition, 25 percent of the control group had been arrested for drug-related offenses, versus 7 percent of the program group. The control group also averaged more months on probation (6.6 versus 3.2 months). From a socioeconomic standpoint, “Fifteen percent of the program group werw receiving public assistance, versus 32 percent of the control group. … Twenty-nine percent of the program group had monthly earnings of $2,000 or more, versus 7 percent of the control group (36 percent versus 11 percent, respectively, when comparing only employed members in each group).” On an academic scale, the Perry Preschool Group outperformed the control group as well.

The Jesuit’s have a motto, “Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man.” Models like the Perry Preschool show that those who are born into a disadvantaged situation need not be destined for a life of crime or misfortune. Perhaps widespread application of programs like this within America’s most impoverished areas could lead to a better country.

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