Dreamin’ of a Lasting Resolution

Time to Make Universal Pre-K a National Reality


February 2023

BY TIM MUNKEBY

There it was, January 2, 2023. As I sat in my old man recliner, sipping rum and eggnog, listening to Neil Young’s Dreamin’ Man album, it was time to decide upon a New Year’s resolution. At 75, this one might be my last, so it needed to be worth making.

Maybe one that involved more than a personal pique. You know, something like world peace.

But forget that. There’s never been peace in the world, even biblically, when there were only two of us—so what are the odds with millions? No, I needed a truly meaningful resolution, but something realistic seeing that most are gone with the snow (actually, the stats say, gone in the first month). Anyway, I decided at this point in my life that “I yam what I yam” so the Popeye in me will not be relegated to the club with the other abusers of resolutions.

I needed something more “universal.”

The term “universal” tweaks a nerve. I’ve been getting more and more frustrated with the seemingly nonstop whining I hear in the media about poverty, wage disparities, violence and guns, and achievement gaps—as if there’s no solution to these issues.

But there is, indeed, a solution: Universal Pre-K for heaven’s sake! And make that FREE Universal Pre-K (or pre-school for all).

Every child deserves a fair chance at success in life. Can you argue? If every child in the world was prepared for school, and properly educated, maybe we’d have, if not world peace, perhaps peace here in the United States.

Maybe. If an example is set.

So, I decided on a truly significant resolution for 2023: to help my state—Minnesota—follow through with our governor’s goals. That leader, Tim Walz, has said he wants to make Minnesota the best state in which to raise kids. Now that’s s a resolution!

He’s also vowed that he wants to end child poverty. There you go! Also worthy and, actually, part of the same resolution.

So, I say now, just do it! No more lip service. If the powers that be make a resolution, it should become a reality. They should be held to it.

 

 

Think how cool: Minnesota establishes a template for educational fairness and excellence that can be used all over the U.S.! Can anybody argue reasonably that every child, no matter where born, in what economic predicament—poor or rich—should have a fair chance at success? Too expensive, you say. Really, if you don’t see that investing in our children is less expensive than dealing with the societal and economic cost of dealing with everything you’re whining about, you need to be educated.

The Head Start Foundation estimates that every $1 invested in helping low-income children access high-quality early-learning programs yields up to $16 in societal benefits. In other words, it’s not that we can’t afford to establish free Universal Pre-K, it’s that we can’t afford not to.

Although it’s obvious that the direct need for Pre-K is with kids born into poverty, it’s also apparent that values like respect, kindness, empathy and tolerance to diversity needs to be taught early to every kid.

My cousin’s daughter teaches primary school in a fairly up-scale suburb. She’s considering quitting due to increasing behavior problems in her classes. My neighbor has a second grader in the same school. I asked her if her daughter comes home complaining about issues at school. The mother said no, but that it’s because her daughter takes Spanish immersion program classes. She agreed that the classes taught in English were terrible—that when she’d recently visited her daughter’s class it sounded like chaos in the non-immersion classroom next door.

What the hell?

I have a granddaughter, Sylvie, the same age as the neighbor’s kid and also in Spanish immersion classes, but in a different school district with a very diverse student population. So, I asked her about behavior issues.

Sylvie told me there was one boy who didn’t listen and that he’d been removed from class a few times. I asked her about the English language-taught classes, and she smiled. She said they were loud and always filled with yelling. Then she blushed and hesitantly held up her middle finger to show how she and her classmates were often greeted by the other kids. I asked her parents, who are heavily involved in their daughter’s classes, about this alleged chaos and they concurred.

I’ve read about teachers who are afraid of their students, of being attacked by them. And now, of course, about the recent Virginia case involving a six-year-old shooting his teacher-not with a spitball slingshot, but a pistol!

Holy shit.

Not only do poor kids need to be prepared for school, it appears we need to prepare ALL kids, regardless of where they live. If parents, regardless of economic status, aren’t able to read to their kids and teach them necessary societal values, somebody has to.

Teachers need to teach, not discipline and babysit. Parents send their unprepared and disruptive children to school and then complain about “poor” teachers. Total bullcrap!

 

 

I was a high school teacher and coach in the 1970s and ‘80s, and In my 10th year of teaching, I was asked to consolidate my creative writing classes and take over a sophomore“skills” English class that had driven the previous teacher to a nervous breakdown. These were kids with behavioral or learning issues, or both.

On my first day I gave them a writing assignment that, I explained, was to assess how I could help them. I told them it was mandatory, and to not bother coming back to class if they didn’t complete it. In fact, I told them that if they didn’t do their assignments (I had been told they hadn’t been), I wasn’t going to pass them.

In response, one kid yelled out “F*** you!

Now, up to that point in my career not one of my students or athletes had ever said anything like that to me. I took the kid by the arm and escorted him to the hallway, much more gently than I would have liked, and told him he was no longer allowed in my class until he showed respect. Told him to go to the principal’s office, knowing I’d be seeing him and his parents there the following day.

And so, there we were the next rainy morning: me, the principal, the kid, and his parents. Mom started right in whining about me manhandling her darling, innocent child. I looked at Dad, standing there with his arms crossed over his chest. I asked him if he allowed his son to tell him to get f***ed. His eyes and mouth opened wide. “Absolutely not,” he responded. Me either, I said, as I looked at the kid, who was trying to melt into his chair.

“I’m sorry. Don’t worry, it won’t happen again,” Dad insisted.

It didn’t.

And everyone turned in their assignment.

One kid’s paper was so bad I couldn’t even read it due to his severe dyslexia. “The” was spelled “Eht.” But I could tell he was bright. And with time and a little resourcefulness he eventually won the National Council of English Teachers’ Award and a scholarship to Harvard.

My point: if teachers are left to teach, remarkable things can happen. It’s best for the student if it’s a collaboration between teacher and parent, or teacher and caring adult. But if no caring adult, then the school must provide an advocate, which would happen if we had free Universal Pre-K.

My wife and I read to our own children, and they were expected to respect others, including their teachers. Ditto with their children. All my grandkids attended pre-school, educational camps, and so forth. And all did, and are still doing, very well in school: we’ve got two college graduates, four currently in college, an ‘A’ high school student, and four excelling in Spanish immersion classes.

Their parents were able to pay for it all. But not everybody else can.  Especially those living in poverty. That’s why it needs to be FREE Universal Pre-K, to be fair and just.

Let’s say you’re running a 100-yard dash. You have shoes that don’t fit and have no laces. (You’d be surprised, even appalled, at what kids living in poverty or on the street wear on their feet to go to school.) The runner next to you has sprinter’s spikes on. Is this fair? And then you see some participants have a 30-yard head start. You realize you’ll never catch up. You certainly can’t win. Why not just drop out?

The late South African bishop and theologian, Desmond Tutu, created a perfect analogy: We’ve got to stop just pulling people out of the river. We need to go upstream and figure out why they’re falling in, in the first place. The current dilemma regarding the expensive “fix” we need for failing to effectively deal with juvenile offenders is a good example. If you go “upstream,” you’ll understand where their problems began: they were “failed” long before they were ever offenders.

There are kids living in poverty or on the streets who have never even seen a book. At the same time, many economically well-off families don’t read to their kids or even read books themselves. Still more reasons why we need Universal Pre-K. In fairness, all kids need to be prepared for school.

We are losing teachers, a tragedy that demands our attention because, apparently, parents aren’t preparing their children and that makes teaching effectively much more difficult. Again, teachers want to help kids learn, to teach, not babysit.

 

 

I’ve written many articles over the years promoting early childhood education, especially for kids living in poverty. How do we break that cycle of poverty and education gap? Once again: FREE UNIVERSAL PRE-K! But we’re nowhere near “universal.” Like with climate change, words and warnings just blow in the wind.

So, I wrote a novel, in which readers can ‘experience’ the lives of Wanda, a single mother living in poverty, her baby son, Marshawn, and an advocate, Ryan, who ensures Mashawn is read to, and prepared for school. As the 19th century American poet and editor James Russell Lowell once said: “One thorn of experience is worth a whole wilderness of warning.”

My dream is that my novel, called The Advocate, helps Minnesota Governor Walz’ resolution to make Minnesota the best state to raise children in a reality—and in every state.

I think (or hope) it’s an effective book. A middle school teacher wrote this critique: “The Advocate is a book I finished in one day because I simply could not put it down. The characters were people I knew. I could feel myself sitting in the house with them, at the meetings. As a single parent, the support the ‘advocate’ offered the mom and child made me both envious and charmed. The book is so well written you live the story, not read bit.”

A career inner-city youth worker provide this review: “The Advocate is an exciting adventure capturing the essence of cultural characteristics and sometimes invisible sources that define the lives of millions.”

The more people that read my book, or one that’s like it (although my publicist searched and said there are no other “novels” in print that she could find), the more likely free Universal Pre-K becomes a reality. I implore you to help. And I assure you that this isn’t about an old guy trying to make money by selling books. It’s about much-needed, much-overdue change.

I would like educational organizations, religious groups, or other entities to utilize The Advocate in order to further spread the word and make a bigger difference. With that in mind, I’ve arranged for 30 percent discounts on any order of 10 copies or more, if ordered through my website www.timmunkeby.com. Enter this promo code: “advocate 30% off”.

My ultimate plan is for The Advocate to become the first in a series, which will follow the character Marshawn from cradle to career.

It’s now February 2023 and I’m still in in my old man recliner, still listening to Dreamin’ Man, and still determined to make my New Year’s Resolution come true. Let’s resolve together to make Universal Pre-K a reality, and the country a better, fairer one.

 

Tim Munkeby is a member of The Reporters Inc. Advisory Committee, a former teacher, and the founder of Munkeby Kramer Financial Inc., a financial services firm in the Minneapolis, Minnesota area. In addition to The Advocate, he’s written three other books, all available at www.timmunkeby.com. Tim can be reached at

 

 

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