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September 17, 2013

Is 7 too late to start learning?

Should Indiana children wait until they are 7 years old before they step into a classroom?

That’s a question that state Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane thinks is worthy of a vigorous debate in the next legislative session.

Lanane, of Anderson, called a press conference Thursday to announce a plan, backed by Indiana Senate Democrats, to create a universal early childhood education program in Indiana and lower the state’s mandatory school age to 5 from 7.

But he didn’t capture as much attention as he’d hoped, for a couple of reasons: One, because the day’s news was dominated by another Associated Press story alleging wrongdoing by former state schools chief Tony Bennett. Two, because the Senate Democrats’ call for the state to invest millions of dollars into educating some of its youngest citizens is an idea that’s been floated — and failed – before.

Lanane, though, is an optimist. Soft-spoken, thoughtful, and low-key, he’s somewhat of a heretic in this current brutal age of partisan politics. When asked about the timing of his announcement, he explained, “We find these ideas take a while.” By that, I’m assuming he means public-policy ideas that have some complexity to them.

The right age for children to start school and the role the state should play in funding early childhood education seems worthy of the “good, old-fashioned legislative debate” for which Lanane has called.

It’s a debate going on right now in England, only turned upside down: Some education reformers there want to push up the mandatory age that children start school, from where it currently is, at age 5, up to age 7. Their argument: Early schooling is causing “profound damage” to children because it robs them of their time to play and be creative by forcing them into too much rigor and regimen too soon.

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