Canadian early childhood educators (ECE) and politicians could certainly learn a thing or two from Geoffrey Canada. Canada is the New York City education reformer who has been the President and CEO of the “Harlem Children’s Zone” (HCZ) for some twenty years.
While the motto for HCZ is: “From cradle to college to community building,” they actually start before babies are even born with a “how-to-parent” program called “Baby College” for soon-to-be mothers.
Now, just how is Geoffrey Canada’s approach different? Well, as an African American who grew up in poverty himself, he apparently demands results, not only from students, but teachers as well. No ifs, ands or buts. Moreover, it is his expectation that parents, including those who work full-time, will be totally involved in the lives of their children and their school.
So whether we call it childcare, pre-school or early learning, the crux of the matter is precisely where the liberal philosophy intersects with the conservative. As Paul Tough writes in an excellent article in the New York Times:
“What makes Canada’s project unique is that it addresses both problems at once. He keeps the liberals happy by pouring money into schools and day-care centers and after-school programs, and he satisfies the conservatives by directly taking on the problems of inadequate parenting and the cultural disadvantages of a ghetto home life. It’s not just that he’s trying to work both sides of the ideological street. It’s that Canada has concluded that neither approach has a chance of working alone. Fix the schools without fixing the families and the community, and children will fail; but they will also fail if you improve the surrounding community without fixing the schools.” (My highlighting.)
So, with two Canadian Liberal leaders — Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty and federal opposition leader, Michael Ignatieff — either about to jump into childcare and early learning with both feet, or wanting to do so, I decided to take a closer look at what makes a successful pre-school program. And, yes, the one everyone is looking at right now, including President Obama, is HCZ.
Yet, apart from providing childcare so that parents can work, I have heard or read nothing about parent or community involvement in either of the Liberal proposals.
In fact, although both Ontario and the federal Liberal childcare/early learning proposals say they will work “in partnership with parents” to get children “out of poverty,” there are no concrete expectations for parent involvement — which the HCZ has shown is needed to really make a difference in children’s lives.
In other words, the Liberal proposals and plans are completely one-sided and have not included the conservative value of the importance of parent participation and commitment.
Something to think about.