- The Washington Times - Friday, June 22, 2001

How many D.C. school teachers does it take to educate a 2-year-old? One. All D.C. teachers are wet nurses. If you failed to find a morsel of humor in that joke, you are not alone. More importantly, it wasnt meant to be funny although one outrageous legislative gesture now under consideration would surely turn D.C. Public Schools into the laughingstock of the nation.

D.C. Council member Kevin Chavous, whose meretricious education committee has proven to be a jump off point for many things unexpected, has outdone himself. I mean what Mr. Chavous is proposing is at once ridiculous and downright cruel.

He wants to lower the compulsory age for public schools from 5, which is the universal age for kindergarteners, to 3 years old. That´s right. Mr. Chavous wants you to place your impressionable toddlers in the hands of D.C. Public Schools.

Now, don´t start laughing yet. Give him the benefit of the doubt, won´t you? Not that his arguments are substantive or even logical. But, hey, he had to say something since it´s his hare-brained idea.

So, here´s what he told The Washington Post. (Frankly, if I could´ve stopped myself from laughing I would´ve called him to get a direct quote.) "It would force the school system to take charge and responsibility for every 3- and 4-year-old in the city to make sure they are prepared for kindergarten," Mr. Chavous said.

Now, that is a sidebuster in and of itself. What´s even funnier is the superintendent and the president of the school board think he´s on to something. Even the so-called "experts" (i.e. the unions whose support he would desperately need in the 2002 mayor´s race and the early child-care specialists who could talk him up big-time to potential supporters) like his idea which, if carried out, would make the District of Columbia the only school district in all America that mandates 2-year-olds have formal schooling.

Seems to me someone should have asked Mr. Chavous a series of serious questions. I mean, won´t Big Bird end up in the unemployment line? "And what, Mr. Councilman, shall happen to Big Bird?" "Don´t you suspect he might be forced into into the unemployment line with the Teletubbies (although the purple one is so PC these days he probably could go solo)? "And precisely when did this brilliant idea strike you?" "Before or after Mr. Rogers decided to hang up his sweater for good?"

As you can see, Mr. Chavous has some serious deliberating to do some of which won´t be until this fall, when he schedules public hearings. In the meantime, though, on-the-record commentators ought to be mindful of the havoc the proposal would wreak on an already dysfunctional school system which, until a few years ago, did not know how many students were in its classrooms.

Consider the facts of the legislation, which appears innocent enough. Parents would be forced to send their 3-year-olds to school each and every day. However, if little Shakeeta doesn´t turn 3 until, say, New Year´s Eve, then you would in fact be sending a 2-year-old to school. Now, how many adults, let alone school teachers, would want to put up with a roomful of 2-year-olds for six hours a day, five days a week, and nine consecutive months? Most important of all, how many of those adults and teachers would you really and truly entrust their care and nurturing to?

Indeed, ask Mr. Chavous who cared for his precious sons when they were preschool age. Rest assured, they weren´t nursemaids on the public dime. There are so many terrible consequences of trying to deliver formal education to the "terrible twos" it is impossible to list them all in my weekly real estate allotment. But let´s, at least, raise a few issues, such as the gender and fiscal realities. Would it be at all improper to suggest, dare I say mandate, that the teachers for these tender young ones be female and heterosexual? That male or homosexual or transsexual or asexual hermaphroditic applicants need not apply? Can you imagine the outcry if one parent, just one parent, believed that his precious Joshua or beloved Melissa or sweet Cecily had been touched in the wrong way?

And what about special education programs? Who out there thinks the District has the instructional and organizational capacity to not only transport toddlers to and fro but provide them the specialized curriculum they deserve? And what about costs? Mr. Chavous, who is the chief cook and bottle washer of the school system´s fiscal affairs, envisions a pilot project in 2003 and full access the following year. It would be the first such universal and compulsory program in the nation, and the cost of implementing it for an estimated 10,000 eligible children would be a whopping $52 million.

Frightening as well is the fact that the school system´s master facilities plan, which calls for rebuilding nearly 150 schools over 10 years and which was only recently finalized after two very long years of hard work by parents and other stakeholders, would have to be ripped to shreds. To be sure, Mr. Chavous is proposing to do what Head Start hasn´t done in 30 years. But like Head Start, his plan portends to play a very crude joke on parents and taxpayers. His plan, when you think about it, is no more than a little rattle of a promise making an awful lot of noise in a very big box.

If this Mayor-in-Wanting, as one Washington scribe calls him, is that desperate to cook up quick and fast support (and the requisite media attention), he´d be far more successful calling a news conference and announcing legislation to introduce vouchers to D.C. Public Schools.

E-mail: dsimmons@washingtontimes.com.

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