Preschool… Welfare

(connect the dots)

My daughter starts preschool in two weeks and we went by her classroom today for her to get a taste of it. They are in the last week of summer-preschool and, despite the diversity of the area, my daughter was the only non-Chinese kid in the class today, bar one girl with parents from Africa. It took me awhile before I decided that white people and indigenous people probably don’t send their kids to summer school except to make up for failed classes during the school year. So summer-preschool is probably not even an option to the rest of the kids in the neighbourhood.

While my daughter was playing, I noticed that the schedule for the class is mainly just playing anyway. The ‘academic’ curriculum, according to the teacher, is mainly learning the alphabet (something I taught the girl before her second birthday) and beginning Mandarin (about which my immediate thoughts were, pretty cool, but what about numbers?).

Despite the lack of academic pursuits at preschool, I recognize the importance of the kids just interacting with each other. As an avid listener of the NPR Planet Money podcast, I have been made aware of a recent study on the effects of preschool on the children of lower income families. Money quote:

At age 27, the boys who had – almost two decades earlier – gone to preschool were now half as likely to be arrested and earned 50 percent more in salary that those who didn’t. And that wasn’t all. At 27, girls who went to preschool were 50 percent more likely to have a savings account and 20 percent more likely to have a car. In general, the preschool kids got sick less often, were unemployed less often, and went to jail less often. Since then, many other studies have reported similar findings.

After visiting the school, we went for a walk to one of the local parks in the gentrified section of Strathcona where I caught up with a friend I haven’t seen in a few months. She asked me if a federally funded daycare would be something I would be interested in. I said I wasn’t sure if it would benefit me, in particular, but I didn’t get a chance to say that I’d rather see money go to compulsory preschool for the reasons cited above.

While at the park, I noticed the diversity of the neighbourhood in full view. Most of the kids at the park were white or native and the socio-economic status of each added more to the diversity. While that section of Strathcona seems mainly to be made up of yupsters and bo-bos because of the price of real estate in the area and its proximity to the edgier parts of downtown, there are plenty of people who visit from the public housing nearby, some housing co-ops, and others who embrace their wealth.

As we were leaving for lunch a woman from the last group whose daughter had been playing with mine nodded over to the edge of the park. Two attendants were approaching a young man, clearly under the influence, who was removing his shirt.

The woman, who was wearing Jackie-O sunglasses with “Dior” written on the rims in large letters, said, “Yesterday they got their welfare checks.”

“Oh yeah, it was Welfare Wednesday yesterday,” I said.

“They get their checks and spend it in one night. Not that there’s anything else to spend it on, I guess. This is often the rowdiest day of the month.”

“Right. My daughter did seem fascinated by a cop frisking and arresting someone just over there,” I pointed to the far end of the park. Another friend had said she’d seen three arrests this morning, as well.

“I have to say,” the woman continued, “that McLean Park has been very tame this summer. A few years ago it was not a park to bring the kids. But as families have moved in, it’s been a great place to come. This is rare.”

I have mixed feelings about this sentiment. Obviously, a safe place to bring the kids is of high priority to us. But as it is, with the gentrification of the neighbourhood, where a mother can wear such obviously expensive eyewear in a place that previous generations of immigrants attempted to escape, may either scatter the less safe activities throughout the city where they cannot so easily be contained or concentrate the activities in the less gentrified sections of town (which are becoming much smaller by the month) without actually solving the problems.

To wit, yesterday, at the height of the welfare check cashing there were two concentrations of people just a block from our house. One was a block party sponsored by one of the Christian missions. They were cooking burgers and corn and giving people rides to the Superstore so that people could buy food with their welfare money. Just across the street was what looked like a competing party. It was the largest concentration of drug dealers I’d seen since I’ve moved here. When we walked by, no one yelled “Kids” and some even looked as if we were intruding on their turf.

Today, as we walked by the same block, the Christian party was gone and only two dealers remained where there had been perhaps 7 or 8 before. The demand had likely not dissipated and the supply had surely not as well. Rather, the currency with which to maintain the curve had dried up. Such is the nature of the Thursday after Welfare Wednesday.


About azlewis

I'm an academic living in the poorest neighbourhood in Canada. I also teach at a local seminary.
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