If Mama ain’t reading, ain’t nobody reading

Preschool can’t compensate for poor parenting, editorializes USA Today.

A few small, high-quality programs have shown enduring benefits for at-risk kids. But intensive study of Head Start, the nation’s largest and oldest preschool program, finds that the beneficial effects, which are real, wear off by third grade.

. . . Children are most likely to succeed in school when pushed by parents who provide stability, help with schooling, and instill an education and work ethic. But for decades now, the American family has been breaking down.

Two-fifths of children born in the USA are born to unmarried mothers, an eightfold increase since 1960.

Children born to unmarried mothers usually lose contact with their father by the age of 5, researchers have found. Without a strong role model, boys “are more likely to turn to gangs and crime.”  Single mothers ”

read less to their children, are more likely to use harsh discipline and are less likely to maintain stable routines, such as a regular bedtime.” It adds up.

What if there is nothing the government can do for low-income children to improve their educational performance?” asks David Hogberg. Parents reading to toddlers shows a lasting educational benefit, he writes. “A study in Child Development found that only about half of low-income mothers were reading regularly to their children.”  Is it hopeless?

In Reroute the Preschool Juggernaut, Fordham’s Checker Finn argues against tax-funded preschool for all children and expores which children need it, who should provide it and “what’s the right balance between socialization and systematic instruction.”

About Joanne


  1. Well, hey, we could always prevent middle class, married couples from reading to their children, couldn’t we? Wouldn’t that level the playing field?

    • GEORGE LARSON says:

      We can always confiscate everyone’s children and let the state raise them in orphanages. That would fix everything too. We would create perfect equality.

  2. Of course in all these and similar studies there is the question of correlation vs. causation. For example if parents read a lot to their children does this have much direct effect on the children’s intellectual development or is it just a correlation effect? ie higher IQ parents are likely to read more and their children inherit their genes and thus also have better intellectual development.
    At one time there were studies purporting to show that if young children were exposed to the music of Mozart they would have higher IQs. I believe that it’s generally agreed now that this was a correlation effect not a causal effect. Parents who enjoy Mozart’s music tend to have higher than average IQ and their children inherit genes for higher IQ from them. So their children also tend to have higher than average IQ but this has no causal relation to having heard Mozart’s music as a a baby.

    • Stacy in NJ says:

      I tend to think it’s more about structure and stability in the home and habit handed down through generations. People who come from stable two parent households are more likely to parent and build families in a similar way.

      Single motherhood used to have a stigma attached – particularly unmarried single motherhood. We’ve attempted, for whatever compassionate reason I’m sure, to eliminate that stigma. Now we’re in the process of reattaching it using a different rational. Previously it was “she’s a low-class slut”, now it’s “she’s irresponsible”.

      Unfortunately we’ve lost several generations and will continue to lose more to this social failure.

  3. If illiterates were simply discouraged from reproducing, this problem would be much smaller than it is.

    • Stacy in NJ says:

      Nope. Prior generations of immigrates were illiterate, at least in English, and raised large families of literate and capable children. Heck, some new immigrants (mostly Asian) have the same experience.

      It’s in the culture. Not educational background. Not DNA. Change the culture (norms, values, habits), change the outcome. This is why universal preschool won’t work.

      Beyonce and JayZ could do more to change the outcome more than universal pre-k ever could.

      • Prior generations of immigrates where illiterate, at least in English, and raised large families of literate and capable children.

        As you have so aptly noted, most of those prior generations of immigrants have not shown a multi-generation pattern of academic and social failure since coming here.  Those who have are obviously not going to responod positively to the same-old, same-old.

        Remember, today’s Hispanic gang-bangers raised by single mothers are very likely the grandchildren of the latest generation of cheap farm laborers.

      • Many of the earlier immigrants, from the big waves starting in the late 1900s, may have been illiterate but it was because they were not able to obtain significant schooling in their home countries, not because they didn’t want it. They also had solid, married families. Many, probably most, of the current crop of illiterate “parents” have had the opportunity to attend school -here- but saw education either as not very important or as a betrayal of their ethnic identity., and they come from completely broken households. The horse was led to water but wasn’t thirsty.

        My DH grew up in a city with many new immigrant families, but expectations of a HS diploma were very high. Most sent their kids to Catholic schools, at least at the ES level. Given high academic success and sufficient financial help, most would have encouraged boys to go to college, although grad school wasn’t much appreciated (unless for priesthood). The city did have an excellent tech HS, with programs from cosmetology, secretarial and LPN to auto mechanics, tool&die and sheet metal and families strongly supported their kids’ application (which was competitive and required solid math and verbal abilities). Unfortunately, Stacy’s right; it’s the culture.

  4. There are similar questions about studies purporting to show that breast-fed babies have higher IQ’s than babies fed on formula. In the US breast feeding seems to be more common among more affluent and so higher IQ mothers. Studies of the relationship between mother’s cigarette smoking and children’s IQ level raise the same issue. Are we dealing with correlation or causation?

  5. Stacy – Children who grew up in stable two parent families may be more likely to be parents in such families themselves but again how much is this a causal effect of growing up in a stable two parent family and how much is a correlation effect of having a similar genotype to their parents?

    • Stacy in NJ says:

      But, its behavior that’s changed not DNA. 100 years ago, heck – 50 years ago, across race and class two parent households were the absolute norm. That’s not true today. For blacks single mothers are the norm. It’s social norms or culture not genetics.

      • But, its behavior that’s changed not DNA. 100 years ago, heck – 50 years ago, across race and class two parent households were the absolute norm. That’s not true today.

        That may not be true.  In the last 50 years, there have been 2 and sometimes 3 generations of children raised by single mothers on welfare.  Some, like the notorious Angel Adams, have had as many as 15 children.  The genes of the Angel Adamses have expanded their prevalence in the population over those of responsible people.  If genetic differences underlie the behavioral differences….

        Whether genes or culture, any solution begins with a reversal of the perverse incentives of public assistance.

        • Dear god, I just googled “Angel Adams” and discovered that she apparently gave birth to her 16th child last year. If I were king, she would have been sterilized before now.

        • As long as most children are raised by their birth parents, whether it’s heredity or culture matters little. The parents’ habits are still passed on.

          That’s the first problem. The second problem is that young children are rather easily traumatized to the point that the psychological damage will never be undone – and given the nature of government bureaucracies, it’s not often that CPS can move fast enough to take the kids away from even the worst parents before they are two.

          And of course the third problem is that CPS is usually marginally incompetent. Most social workers are among the stupidest students to finish college, and quite unable to distinguish the science from the left-wing propaganda in their training. (It’s certainly not education.) A few social workers are great, but won’t make much headway against the mass of brainless colleagues and a heirarchy of time-servers and disillusioned ex-idealists. The most toxic parents can pretend to cooperate and to be trying to learn better parenting, and get their kids back, again and again. The only time CPS seems to really be effective is when it’s utterly mistaken, and good parents tell an idiot social worker to get stuffed…

          • As long as most children are raised by their birth parents, whether it’s heredity or culture matters little. The parents’ habits are still passed on.

            All the more reason to intervene before conception.