Can you imagine if there was a city that, with no mandates or laws or legislation from a higher authority, decided to commit part of their budget to Early Childhood Education? To open schools with a child centered focus for zero to six year olds?
And when federal and state legislation does get passed, mandating education for children from three to six, the city lets these federal schools open but continues their commitment to this child-centered education in their own schools? Although money is coming in from the state and the country, the city continues to commit money to its city-run preschools?
Oh, and the commitment from the city is 16% of the budget.
There is so much to be inspired by in Reggio Emilia, Italy; but the most inspiring thing for me is the commitment they have to high-quality early childhood education for every child in the city. We were lucky enough to hear about the history of education in Reggio Emilia from an array of people, from city officers to a man from the ministry of education and primary school teachers. The community respects what the municipal schools do, they have supported them for a long time, and continue to respect and support them. In fact, the community is interested in primary school children being able to get the same research-based, emergent education experience in primary school.
I wish I could think of somewhere in the states that did something like this. I'm not sure if I have expressed this here before, but for me, Head Start is not a commitment to high quality education for EVERY child - it is a commitment to children from low-income families in places where there is a Head Start facility. I student taught in a Head Start classroom on the Lower East Side in Manhattan, with knowledgable teachers. Just because a family has money and can send their child to Preschool doesn't mean they will; and just because they send their child to preschool doesn't mean it is a high-quality one. I appreciate the city of Reggio Emilia's real, true commitment to education. They are a mixed community -- 20% of the population are non-Italians. But the children and their families are welcomed into the schools with open arms, and a promise for a free education that will help children to be independent thinkers and problem solvers.
The fact that no one is in a "fancy" preschool in this city also tells us that children are more mixed in the classrooms - economically, culturally, socially. I think this is always a positive. In the states, you might not go to PreK, or you might go to a Head Start program, or you might go to daycare, or you might go to a private preschool, or you might go to public PreK. There are differences in who will be in those environments; and because of a commitment the city of Reggio Emilia made when they were small, each child gets an equal education, starting at birth.
I think that all children in the US are entitled to high quality education, but the problem comes from our lack of a definition for "high quality". I could continue to go on about the ideas that I believe make up high quality education, but perhaps that should be shared. I hope you will all contribute, no matter where you teach or what you believe. I think it is also interesting to hear from people who are not early childhood educators. What do you believe? What are we commiting to when we say "high quality"?
I'll start. Please use the comments to continue!