A bracing article describes that the United States has become “one of the worst countries in the developed world for children under five.”
Published by the Hechinger Report, the article’s headline declares, “What do we invest in the country’s youngest? Little to nothing.”
Hechinger sounds the refrain of “little to nothing” again and again, pointing out that the country could do better.
In fact, the United States has “provided universal public preschool before, for a few years during World War II. That program ended in 1946.”
And in 1971, “a bipartisan bill that would have created universal daycare” was vetoed by President Richard Nixon.
This has hurt the country.
“In 2012, the U.S, ranked 35th among developed economies in pre-primary or primary school enrollment for 3- to 5-year-olds, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), an international economic association.”
And without strong pre-K programs, children can fall behind. Consider the story the Hechinger article tells about one little boy:
“ ‘He was very angry. He was scratching his face, kicking, and screaming,’ preschool teacher Carrie Giddings said of one of her students during his first days in her class at Kruse Elementary School in northern Colorado.”
“The boy’s father had been in and out of jail, Giddings said. She thinks the 3-year-old had witnessed abuse at home before he enrolled in preschool at Kruse. His family was poor. For a while, they had lived with relatives, unable to afford their own place.
“ ‘Everything that could happen to a kid, he’d had it all,’ Giddings said, asking that the child’s name not be used. ‘He was a year and a half behind.’
“A child like this boy will have a tough road ahead,” the article says. “Research has shown that unrelenting stress at a young age, known as toxic stress, causes long-lasting brain damage. The worse the damage, the harder it is for children to pay attention, absorb new information or trust adults — all skills critical for success in school — as they get older.”
High-quality early education and care can help by providing children with protective, stable relationships with adults as well as chances to learn and develop motor skills through play and other age-appropriate activities.
The best way to do this, as Hechinger says, is to “provide free or affordable high-quality preschool for [children] when they are 3- and 4-year-olds… Nearly every industrialized country has recognized that value and begun offering a version of universal public preschool for its children,” but, “Not the U.S.”
Hechinger’s article includes an interactive map that shows levels of preschool quality and access across the country.
A timeline features “some of the biggest milestones in the history of U.S. state and federal child care policy.”
So instead of settling for its “little to nothing” investment, the country could build on the action that cities and states are taking to help more children enroll in high-quality preschool programs.
A substantial investment could turn the United States into a global leader — and dramatically improve the lives of children.
Consider the young boy who struggled in Carrie Gidding’s pre-K class.
He was “able to attend her class for two years.” Then, as a student “at a well-staffed elementary school, he received behavioral therapy to address his tantrums, cognitive therapy to address his developmental delays, speech therapy to increase his ability to communicate and occupational therapy to help him catch up on things like putting on his own jacket.”
Giddings “choked up remembering the transformation of the boy, now 5. ‘Now, he takes deep breaths, gives himself hugs and apologizes to friends,’ she said, wiping away tears.
“Today, the boy can count to 10, recognize his name, join in play with other kids and build a zoo out of blocks, Giddings said. She and his therapists have met with his kindergarten teacher for next fall and told her what to expect and what teaching methods work best for him. Giddings expects him to ‘soar.’ ”
It’s only one story, but it shows that even children with severe troubles and setbacks could thrive if we make wise investments in their potential.