Too much too soon? An analysis of the discourses used by policy advocates in the debate over kindergarten
Keywords:Early childhood education, kindergarten, educational policy, politics of education, discourse analysis, policy advocacy organizations
In recent years, a debate over kindergarten has ensued. We refer to the actors in this debate as developmentalists, on the one hand, and academic advocates, on the other. Developmentalists argue that kindergarten should be centered on child-initiated play and intentional teaching through play, art activities, and hands on activities. Academic advocates argue that young children are capable of learning academic content in kindergarten and that academic instruction is necessary to help some students “catch up” before formal schooling begins. In this paper, we identify the key policy organizations engaged in this debate and analyze the ways they construct their arguments and critique the positions of their opponents. We find that, when discussing their vision for kindergarten, developmentalists and academic advocates share similar goals and views. However, when we analyze the ways the two agendas discuss kindergarten as it is practiced today, clear divisions emerge. Specifically, the agendas use different types of causal narratives to describe the problems with kindergarten and how it got that way. We conclude with a discussion of policy implications and directions for future research.