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“The Kindergarten Exodus,” New York Times, August 7, 2021



A recent study conducted by Stanford University and the New York Times about the impact of the COVID pandemic on education reveals a maddening picture of how hundreds of thousands of young children from low-income communities throughout the U.S. have been discarded by the savage inequalities so built into the educational system in this country.

The New York Times article detailing this study opens with a story about Solomon, a bright six-year-old African American boy in Philadelphia, who can’t even spell his own name without his father’s help because he was unable to attend any kind of kindergarten program that would teach him that and the other basic skills a child his age should have already acquired.

The study compared school enrollment between 2019 and 2020 and found that more than 340,000 five-year-olds across 33 states went “missing” from kindergarten in 2020—the vast majority from communities where the household income for a family of four was $35,000 or less. In one elementary school attended largely by Asian Pacific Islanders from the housing projects of Honolulu, Hawaii, enrollment in kindergarten was cut in half between 2019 and 2020. What will the fate of those “missing” children be?

The pandemic brought disruption to the education of students of all ages and economic backgrounds in this country (and the world) with the closure of much of the in-classroom education, causing difficulties for millions of students who had to try to navigate their education through remote on-line classes. But the choices facing families with young children from the communities of the most oppressed were particularly wrenching. Parents had to choose between enrolling their very young five-year-old children in on-line classes, requiring hours of parental assistance if they had access to computers and internet at all, while trying to juggle low-wage jobs and other family demands—or giving up their jobs to stay at home with little or no income to feed their children—or scraping together the funds to send their children to some kind of day care or other situation that failed to meet the needs of children who were ripe to begin learning and life-experiencing. Tens of thousands of these parents had no choice but to keep their children out of school—the biggest drops in kindergarten enrollment across the board being in the neighborhoods with the lowest household incomes.

One early education advocate, Patricia Lozano, spoke to the devastating impact of these children going “missing”: “That first year is so important. This learning is crucial to the rest of your education. At that age, their brains are on fire. A year of development at that age is like 10 years for us. We need to start thinking about what will happen next year. How will we help these kids?”1

On top of the grossly disproportionate rates of disease and death from COVID striking people of color and others at the bottom of society; on top of devastating loss of jobs and income in low-income communities as a result of the pandemic—hundreds of thousands of young children in the communities of the most oppressed will now enter first grade struggling to adapt and catch up in under-funded schools that under the best of circumstances do not begin to meet the educational needs of these children. Discarded and handicapped before their lives have barely begun.

But what the New York Times story does not bring to light is any of the truth of how these maddening inequalities they expose are built right into the very functioning of the capitalist system they are dedicated to lauding and upholding. In a piece written in March 2020 at the beginning of the pandemic Bob Avakian painted a vivid picture of how even the attempts to confront a crisis like COVID bring even more suffering and misery to the masses of humanity:

This crisis with the coronavirus has brought into sharp relief the reality that the capitalist system is not simply out of step with but is in fundamental conflict with, and a direct obstacle to, meeting the needs of the masses of humanity. Even as the capitalists and governments representing their interests have been forced to take certain emergency steps that in some ways run counter to the inherent dynamics of their system (such as massive intervention by the government in the functioning of the economy), the ways in which this system constitutes an obstacle to dealing with this crisis continue to assert themselves—including not only such perverse actions as the hoarding by some of vital medical and other supplies, in order to drive up the price, but also the fact that the creation of wealth under this system proceeds on the basis of ruthless exploitation and the impoverishment of masses of people throughout the world, while even in the “wealthier” countries there is significant poverty and large parts of the population live paycheck-to-paycheck and are only one serious crisis away from disaster; the ongoing rivalry between different capitalists (or associations of capital), with their private ownership of the means of production (land, raw materials, technology, factories and other structures) and private, competitive accumulation of wealth acts as a hindrance to necessary cooperation and the production of things that may be urgently needed but are not productive of private profit—and the whole ideology of advancing one’s interests at the expense of others, the individualism that is fostered by this system and is promoted to an extreme currently in this country, runs counter to and undermines inclinations toward cooperation and, yes, sacrifice for the greater good. Despite the dedicated efforts of many well-meaning people, even if the immediate crisis with the coronavirus is resolved, this will be done on the basis of intensifying the contradictions built into this system and the suffering of the masses of humanity who are already exploited and oppressed under this system.

From “The Deadly Illusion of “Normalcy” and the Revolutionary Way Forward


1. “What Happens to Children Who Missed Kindergarten during Covid-19 Crisis?”, Karen D’Souza, EdSource, January 28, 2021 [back]



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