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The Dead End of Head Start

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Head Start is the only one of Lyndon Baines Johnson’s welfare programs that works, or so we’re told. The New York Times calls it “the Great Society jewel.” And our Republican president, George Bush, asked for “record spending” on Head Start in his new budget. He even crawled around on the floor at a Head Start center, talking on a play telephone in a falsetto voice to a group of bewildered children.

As a cynic (i.e., someone who understands the welfare state) might realize, however, Head Start is no exception to the Great Society rule. Reams of studies show that the kids who go through this expensive program perform no better afterward than their peers, either in discipline or grades. In fact, Head Start is a glorified baby-sitting service for welfare mothers who want to slough off their responsibilities to their children.

At best, Head Start improves nutrition with a snack and meal the children might not get at home. The other supposed benefits of the program either don’t exist or quickly fade.

Nor is this anything new. A 1969 Westinghouse Learning Corporation study showed no difference in behavior or educational achievement between Head Start kids and other underclass children. Sixteen years later, the federally sponsored CRS Synthesis Project found almost the same thing. There was only one long-term gain: immunization shots. (The CRS study also cited increased use of welfare programs by the children’s parents, but it’s hard to see that as a sign of success.)

Another massive study — by two Howard University graduate students — admits the failure of the program, but blames racism. Why? They claim that white Head Start administrators cannot understand black learning patterns. A study by J.S. Fuerst of Loyola University looked at a seven-year Head Start program, much longer than the usual, and also found that the gains dissipated, with less than half of the boys even finishing high school.

Only one study seems to contradict these conclusions — the Perry Preschool Project in Ypsilanti, Michigan. Among the 58 children studied, we’re told, many got better grades, were less promiscuous, and committed fewer crimes than expected. But although it’s touted by Head Start proponents, the Perry Preschool Project wasn’t part of Head Start. It was a hugely expensive social-science experiment whose results have never been replicated.

Liberals love Head Start because it was the first program to “empower” the black underclass. But, as with all its progeny, it has only resulted in more welfare and government] dependency.

Hillary Clinton’s Children’s Defense Fund has a fallback position, however. Head Start is a success because it provides governmental jobs for blacks. But are governmental jobs anything to crow about?

Head Start now eats up $2 billion a year — about $3,000 per year per child, or nearly $9,000 over the usual three-year period. Thanks to the president and Congress, spending will rise to $7.6 billion in two years, meaning — in the way of all welfare programs — more spending per child with even fewer beneficial results.

Worse, the government now wants to expand Head Start to middle-class children. The public schools are bad enough — governmental social therapists now want to mold our kids from their earliest years into an antiparent and antienterprise atmosphere.

Long ago, the welfare state usurped the educational authority of parents (which ought to be absolute), fatally weakening families. Now it wants to raise our kids as well. No wonder the president told the Head Start kids on that play phone: “Hello, this is your mother.”

Conservatives recommend enterprise zones and school choice to solve the problems of the inner cities. But as Jeffrey A. Tucker as demonstrated, enterprise zones reject the rigors of the free market by pouring governmental subsidies and privileges into designated inner-city areas. School choice is just another welfare entitlement to private schools at the expense of taxpayers; moreover, it will put the curriculum, disciplinary code, and admissions policy of private schools taking “choice” students wider the thumb of the federal Department of Education.

Isn’t it time, after decades of proven failure, simply to junk Head Start — as well as LBJ’s entire Great Society? America’s 20th-century experiment with the welfare state desolated our cities, created a permanent underclass of promiscuity, illegitimacy, welfare, and crime, and gave us children and adults full of race hatred instead of the social discipline and work ethic necessary to civilization.

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    Llewellyn H. Rockwell Jr. is founder and president of the Ludwig von Mises Institute in Auburn, Ala., and vice president of the Center for Libertarian Studies in Burlingame, Cal. He is the editor of six books, including "The Irrepressible Rothbard", and author of thousands of articles appearing in journals, magazines, newspapers, as well as a commentator for radio and television. He is editor of the famed daily newsite, Lewrockwell.com.