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May 18, 2009

New Jersey Republicans and preschool - or how today's American breed of conservatives just seem so ... unconservative

In New Jersey's Republican primary for next this year's Governor race, Chris Christie is facing Steve Lonegan. Christie is the moderate posing as a strident conservative, and Lonegan is the real deal.

Lonegan is catching a lot of attention for advocating a flat tax. But where the right's zealotry is really showing its true, blockhead face is on ... preschool.

You see, the state Supreme Court recently mandated the government to extend state-funded preschool "from 31 urban districts to 84 additional school districts in the suburbs," as conservative columnist Paul Mulshine explains. And Christie seemed to agree:

The Corzine administration argued in court that the money should follow the children, and specifically that preschool money should follow lower-income kids into the suburbs. That was also Christie's rationale: "I've said that the school-funding formula should be that the money should follow the children," he said last week.

This, a foreigner like me may not realise, is bad. Very bad. And so Christie had to backtrack during last week's primary debate:

Christie fielded a question from an irate Republican voter who wanted all public preschool abolished. This is an action that would run directly counter to that court decision Christie was praising the week before, yet Tuesday he said of Gov. Jon Corzine: "He's decided the government should baby-sit children? It's simply wrong."

Mulshine, mind, agrees that preschool is a bad thing: "It is indeed wrong, but again that thought seems to have come to Christie only when he realized how unpopular preschool is with the Republican base."

"How unpopular preschool is with the Republicans." I'd never realised that preschool was on the list of things conservatives hate as well. I shouldn't be surprised, and yet somehow I am anyway.

How can one be against preschool? It has proven to be immensely beneficial for children's educational achievements. Attending preschool makes children more likely to succeed in school later on. Educational achievement makes it easier for youngsters to succeed in the outside world, fend for themselves, get themselves a proper job, make their own way.

This is especially true for children from disadvantaged families. For children who do not grow up in families where knowledge is there to be absorbed and parents are both eager and able to impart it, preschool can make all the difference. It can allow kids to not start primary school with a lag in development that hampers their chances in education from the start.

Responsible conservatives should love this. Promote education, so kids who might otherwise grow up [for galg en rad] instead gain the skills at a young age to succeed in the world on their own. Isn't that the kind of thing a sternly conservative pater familias would intone? Education, education, education, that's what these people need! Don't give them more benefits, make sure they send their children to school! So those at least grow up to be proper, responsible citizens!

A traditional conservative, for that matter, would also insist on respectful deference to the Supreme Court, rather than engage in rousing people against it. Me, I've never been good at deference. But then that alone kept me from becoming a conservative. So it's odd, even after all this time, to see conservatives rail against authority - to the point of turning against the state's highest justices.


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I believe you're confusing conservative temperament ('small c conservative') with the American political bloc known as "Conservatives" ('capital c conservative').

At this juncture the capital c "Conservatives" are not small c conservative.

They're reactionary, except when they're fascist.

Preschool is good and so is education ... but that does not mean the entire community is responsible for providing it to certain individuals. the government is about providing liberty for people to do things for themselves, it is not a trough to come to feed.

In my town there are kindergarten teachers making 6 figures because they have PhD's and are paid based on credentials. I am sure the people that let that system get out of hand used exactly the reasoning you use.

Lonegan ended the goverment-run daycare in his town and the town went berserck. He had it changed to a system run by chrches and it turned out to be nuch better run and cheaper than the government supplied service and the people ended up thanking him.


For conservatives, school = government indoctrination.

Unless it's homeschool or parochial school, it's evil.

but that does not mean the entire community is responsible for providing it to certain individuals.

Ooh, I wonder what individuals *those* might be?

The ones who are poor, perhaps? Minorities, perhaps? The very individuals who, as nimh correctly pointed out, stand to benefit most from widely-accessible, government-funded pre-school EDUCATION: they'll benefit more from, and perform better in, school at every level; they'll then be able to reach for higher goals, achieve more, provide more for themselves and their own families, be happier and more successful individuals, and contribute more to society in general.

Of course, this might lead to a smaller pool of low-wage service workers, but them's the breaks.

As for the alternative interpretation of RussOCBJ's comment--which is to say, that a community should not have to pay to educate the individuals (individual children! Little bright-eyed, hopeful, potential-filled children!) who can't come up with the money themselves--well, I guess we could apply that same logic to everything and all be a whole lot FREER, right? I could, for instance, declare that my community should not have to shoulder the costs of building and repairing roads, since when the government builds them, I don't get to have roads that are more to my liking, you know, nice and twisty so as to be challenging for my little sports car (delivery trucks be damned!) or else, all crucifix-shaped and dotted with inspirational Bible-verse signs--the way my church likes to see them built.

Same thing with libraries--why should we all pay for a library that costs so much, what with all those government-required accessibility features for the hearing-impaired and partially blind, not to mention all those up-to-date, politically-correct, non-Eurocentric history books when we can just have my church provide a nice building full of non-Harry Potter books and old-school history tomes dating back to when men were men, and you know, pamphlets and stuff--thing that the church deems appropriate?

Good grief, libertarians are not only boringly dull, they're dull-witted to boot, or they'd have caught on by now.

I've got mine. The rest of you can go to hell.

You have expanded preschool to "education" and have exagerrated things to the point of being ridiculous.

Read Steve Lonegan's Book, Putting Taxpayers First, so you can understand what I am talking about.

You have contracted liberty to mean only those who have deserve to get.

Preschool IS education, Russ. The most important kind, too: every pediatric neurologist and education professional worth his salt will tell you that the earliest years of life are when the brain is forming its neural pathways--creating learning and understanding "habits" if you like--that will guide learning, development, and achievement for the rest of the child's life.

But don't take my word for it: a brilliant Italian physician, teacher and educational trailblazer by the name of Maria Montessori figured this out a century ago, and her methods, which include guiding the young child--even the baby, but especially the three-year-old--to teach himself (something of which I'd have thought Conservatives and Libertarians would approve) and to love learning for the sake of learning, are still used in public and private schools to this day.

Strange, what links and support evidence does Russ have? A book we should read?

Gosh, count me in the umm... Wait, I have no idea what Russ is saying is true.

But I do know that privately run schools don't generally perform better than public schools. And they certainly don't serve everyone.

But hey! You can say this one student or city did better ignoring all the cases where students did worse...

Before counting Christie as a moderate, keep in mind that he managed to keep his job as a US Attorney in Bush's Justice Department. The very same Justice Department that fired people for being too moderate, ethical, or otherwise not being loyal Bushies. He's willing to do pretty much anything to curry favor with the Republican right wing, which places him pretty squarely in their midst, at least functionally if not ideologically. That Lonegan is more extreme is simply an indication of how far right the party as a whole has moved.

I think the preschool debate is a pretty good indication of Christie's overall character.

By the way, the governor's race is this year (2009). NJ has state elections in odd-numbered years. The primary is in June.

NJ has state elections in odd-numbered years

In '93 the ousting of Jim Florio was nationally viewed as something of a precursor of things to come in '94, when the GOP finally took back the house for the first time since the Great Depression.

Only an American conservative would characterize providing education for kids who made a poor choice of parents as "a trough to come to feed."


ltc: hear, hear. Hate-filled monsters, at that.

Oddjob - re conservative vs Conservative, you're right of course. It's just that the chasm between the two, although at least 30 years old now, seems to be growing all the time, and keeps striking me for its ... oddness.

RussOCBJ - You write that providing individuals is not the responsibility of the community, but of each individual himself. But then you praise Lonegan's move to an education system run by churches. That is also a system where the community as a whole takes care of the education of each individual. Except they do so by giving tithes to their church, which then provides the education, instead of the government funding it through taxes - right?

Aren't both of these things cases of the community bonding to make sure every member of the community is cared for? So what is the benefit of having churches do it rather than the state? Is it purely a pragmatic argument that churches are inherently better or more efficient at it? Are there actual data on that? Or is the benefit just that this system allows people who don't want to help care for anyone to opt out by not donating to the church? Isn't that just egoism by another word?

Seems like two major problems with this move are:

1. Citizens donating to the education of all becomes framed as charity (you pay to the church if you want) rather than a common responsibility. Even aside from the ethical questions involved in such a decision, abrogating one's responsibility for the community's well-being does not make sense pragmatically. Well educated children mean children who are better prepared for independent and self-sufficient living as adults. Children with fewer educational opportunities will grow up to be much more likely to end up costing the community, through social and unemployment benefits, the costs of crime and social dislocation etc. If nothing else, making sure children get a good education is, in the long-run, a cost-saving strategy, and it is in the interest of the whole country that this is done.

Which patriot would say, no, I don't want to donate to this even if it would pay itself back for the country in the long term - I'd rather save $ for myself now than $$$ for my country in the long run?

2. Citizens of the United States should not be dependent on one or the other religion to access basic services like education. It's a multi-religious state with no state religion. As long as this is the case, people should not be forced to enroll their children in religious education. Considering the scale of communities, abolishing public education would force non-Christian/Protestant children to attend Christian churches.

Moreover, a general moral problem with the argument that it's not the responsibility of the entire community to provide education to certain individuals is that we're talking about children. Children are children, they can't be held responsible for the lacking skills or efforts of their parents. Even if there are parents who are lazy no-good irresponsible whatevers, who don't and won't make the personal investment to give their children a proper education themselves, is it at all ethical to make their children suffer the costs of that? Isn't it a basic christian value to take care of the children, for they are innocent? Even if you think that it should be done through churches rather than public services, don't those church schools also function on the belief that yes, the community is in fact responsible for the education of all?

Abolish a government service, let individuals take care of themselves and suffer the consequences if they don't make enough of an effort - it's not my ideology, but that's still one thing. Abolish it and let children suffer the consequences if their parents do not make enough of an effort - that is just not humane, not christian, not something a conservative with a small c would condone.

John - thanks for the correction of the election year! And good point about Christie's baggage too.


That was a very thoughtful reply to a very dumb argument. Russ in either iteration doesn't make the claim that the 6-figure-earning kindergarten teachers were bad teachers. He just doesn't think teachers should be paid so much, period. He doesn't want pay tied to "qualifications." Does he want the same standard applied to law, medicine, plumbing, bricklaying or any other profession? A partner in a law firm charges more per hour than a junior associate. An MD gets paid more than a nurse, yet they usually do similar work. An apprentice plumber can't charge as much as whatever the next level is, and so on.

Russ similarly doesn't mention whether the city daycare was poorly run, or whether the churches did a good job. Were the churches required to run background checks and meet state-mandated standards for class size and teacher qualifications, or were they able to hide behind their charity status to escape these requirements?

I was intrigued enough by this to try and find some article or, well, anything at all about this. I did find that Lonegan is a relentless self-promoter and is understandably using his tenure as mayor of a jerkwater little town Bogota to sell himself as a gubernatorial candidate. But no mention of this rather big accomplishment. No mention in any newspaper or anything else of city-run daycare being privatized to great success.

Ah well. I dearly hope Lonegan wins the primary. He wants a complete abortion ban and a 2.9% flat tax. That's going to go over really well with New Jersey's ultra-conservative voters.

All 12 of them.

Lonegan would do much better by moving to Pennsylvania. Unfortunately Toomey's already their guy, so he'd have some rough sledding in front of him there, too. (Unless things have changed greatly since I moved away in '95, Pennsylvania does indeed have a (primarily) flat income tax, so he'd by much happier on that score, too.)

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