If You Were President, What Would You Do?

Image result for images of the oval office So, our daughter-in-law asked us last night what each of us would do first if we were elected to the U.S.  presidency.  Cait would take on campaign finance reform. Phil’s immediate concern is income inequality. Dom has health care at the top of his to-do list.

Me? No-brainer:  universal child care.  I am not smart enough to tell you precisely how that could be accomplished, though I do believe Elizabeth Warren’s wealth tax could go a long way toward funding this priority. I can, however, tell you why it must be addressed.

Child Care Is Not A Luxury

When our kids were very young, we were fortunate enough to have one of us home with them. That was because Dom was able and willing to work nights and afternoons while I worked days.  Times–and employment– have changed. In 2020, both parents must hold down jobs,and child care is a fact of twenty-first century life. It’s not a negotiable add-on. It is a necessity. But not all child care is equal.

What hasn’t changed is this: Every parent still wants the best for her children: attentive, educated, nurturing care givers,  safe facilities, administrative oversight. We all want those pint-sized toilets and sinks, the colorful murals, musical instruments and outdoor playgrounds.

What we want may not correspond to what we can afford.

Quality child care comes with a hefty price tag. Annual, full-time spots in well- staffed, accredited centers can run the equivalent of a year’s tuition at a public college . Even with two incomes, the average working family is often priced out.

It Matters to Us All

So what? People want to know why tax dollars should go to child care for someone else’s kids. 

There are lots of reasons. Some are practical and immediate. Workplace productivity improves when parents know their kids are well cared for. Turnover among day care providers is lower in well run centers. Children are safer and healthier in quality facilities; every year, kids die in unlicensed day care centers.

But wait…there’s more

You don’t think the earliest years of a child’s life matter? Think again. High quality child care is a giant step toward future opportunity. Children lucky enough to have slots in the best facilities will enter school already on the road to more academic and economic opportunities. They have already begun to learn how to learn. They see themselves as members of communities with the commensurate perks and responsibilities.  They have consistent care givers in an environment that is devoid of hazards.

Statistically, kids in quality care environments– where there is conversation, where books are available– typically start kindergarten with 1,000 more words than kids who are cared for in under-served environments. 1,000 more words. Literacy experts assert that it requires a minimum of ten exposures to a word before a child “owns” it.  The literacy gap widens annually leaving kids behind before they have a chance to catch up.

Some might say that parents can–and should– make up the difference and that is partially true.  But in our current economy, where parents sometimes more than one job to meet basic needs of shelter and food, that might be a stretch. 

And this is one of the things I like about Elizabeth Warren. She understands the urgency associated with early childhood and Pre-K. It isn’t a luxury. This is the future. It is your future and mine, too, as today’s kids will become tomorrow’s social and economic engines.

 

As I write this, I realize that all four of us were right last night about presidential priorities. Without campaign finance reform, we will choose among only those candidates with enough wealth to participate in elections. Income inequality puts a huge percentage of kids at an immediate disadvantage; more and more of our kids see themselves as the “have-nots.”   And health care? Who wants to choose between paying the child care bill and pediatric expenses?

 

 

Education Really Does Matter

In this week’s NYT, columnist David Brooks describes how Scandinavian countries consistently earn fist bumps for just about every aspect of daily life (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/13/opinion/scandinavia-education.html). Brooks attributes this all-around success to a particular brand of Nordic education.Image result for images of scandinavia

In the Land of the Midnight Sun, education isn’t all about test scores or compartmentalized, content area instruction.  This blue ribbon model challenges all learners to see themselves in increasingly larger contexts, as personal, social and community participants.

Image result for images of college diplomas  In the US, we have come to equate education with career prep. From the earliest grades, we are told that we need to excel in school in order to excel in life. Grades–above all else– are the goal.  We compete with one another for admission to top tier colleges where we battle for academic honors that we take into the workplace with the expectation of monetary pay back so that we might make a dent in the mountain of student loans we have accrued.

That’s not education.  It’s not even vocational training.

Education is recognizing the patterns of history, nature, art, science. Education breeds empathy, and respect for the truth.  Education is learning that you are a player in the world around you, that what you do and say matters. Education reminds us all that we are responsible to each other.

That’s why education matters. When we recoil at the horrors of the Holocaust or marvel at the discovery of penicillin, we are stepping outside ourselves, seeing a broader world beyond our limited contexts. Great works of art, ancient philosophy, poetry all help us to transcend narrow personal experiences . Ironically, education is learning how much more there is to learn. It is finding your voice and contributing to what’s around you. It is finding ways to enrich those communities that depend on you.

So the quality of life we admire in Scandinavian countries–their economic and social success, their personal levels of individual happiness–seems to come from their understanding of their interdependence.