Times have changed since the 1800’s, and we haven’t.
Please stick with me as I present a crazy idea about children under six that will really make your head spin. I will start with the recognition that what I’m going to propose is so extreme that at 73 I will never see it happen, but it should. Discuss this idea among yourselves to see how close we can get to it. Maybe my grandkids generation can pull it off, but the time to start movement toward it is now.
In the early days of America’s westward movement, Dad worked the land and Mom stayed home and raised the children. It was decided that when the children reached about the age of six, they would enter a group learning environment called school.
In time, Dad found employment in the city, but Mom was still home, and the school system continued to be sufficient. Then, before we knew it, many Moms were working outside the home. We were introduced to a whole new set of problems that, as a society, we still haven’t come close to solving. The need has been exacerbated by the explosion in the number of one-parent households.
Child care became a new industry. Our children up to age nine or ten need a haven when they are not in school and no parents are home. This industry took a wide variety of forms—grandma, Aunt Minnie, neighbors, child care centers, and homes where the resident has opened a child care business. Some of these facilities are held to various standards, but many are not.
Today there are tens of thousands of people and places that offer one form of child care or another. Some relatives and friends do it for free, but for most venues there is a charge. The cost and quality of these options is all over the map, not only from format to format but within a given format.
Some places are safe, but the children are not exposed to developmental activities. I call that a TV, a Pepsi, and a Twinkie. Others are safe and offer age-appropriate activities and nutritional meals. Some are neither safe nor developmental nor healthy. Some facilities are licensed by the state and are held to specified standards. A relative few are even accredited. But anyone can open a rogue facility where they are held to no standards.
In most states, you can pay a year’s tuition at your state university for your 19-year-old for less than you can put your 2-year old into full-time day care at a licensed center for the same length of time.
Let me describe what we might do if we could start over with a clean sheet of paper and design a system to accommodate today’s lifestyle. As you read it, it will become obvious that this is about as pie-in-the-sky as one can get, but please dream along with me for a few minutes.
- Offer public school, on an optional basis, beginning at age six-months. Of course, the first few years would be the equivalent of child care and would include the age appropriate developmental activities and nutrition I mentioned earlier. A parent who wants to stay home with his/her child would certainly be encouraged to do so.
- Today’s mandatory rule of entering kindergarten at five or six would still be in place, but before that, parents would have a choice. Families in need of child care could exercise the in-school option and be certain that their children were receiving safe, clean, developmental care with nutritional meals.
- The care givers would be educated in their profession so that the care would be reasonably consistent. Employment would require at least a two-year degree in child care or teaching.
- Generate funds by charging those who can afford it for the pre-kindergarten years. Use a sliding scale much like the income tax rates. I suggest a range from free to the very low income people to full cost for those who have incomes over a certain amount.
- Offer discounts for multiple children from the same family.
You say, “Gee, Doug, this makes so much sense, why don’t we just do it?” Since the rules on teacher-to-child ratios are more stringent for younger children, the cost of public education would skyrocket–possibly even double. Also, we would need an investment to expand our facilities to accommodate the increased number of children in the schools. This “crazy”idea would cost billions more annually than today’s public education budget. I suggest a combination of increases in some taxes and a redeployment of a big chunk of our bloated defense budget. If we don’t turn education around, we will have nothing left to defend.
I mentioned my idea to a local school administrator. Before I got the words out of my mouth, she screamed in protest that she already had too much to do, and this would make her job impossible. That is the kind of short-sighted thinking that I’m afraid is all too prevalent in our school officials and the public in general.
When I mention the idea of public support of child care, the most common answer by empty-nested adults is, “I raised my kids without help from the government. Let today’s parents do the same thing.” Not only is it not the same world as the nineteenth century, it’s not even the same world as the sixties and seventies. That answer is closely followed in frequency by, “They shouldn’t have had the kids if they can’t afford them.” While there might be some truth in that in a vacuum, in reality it’s idiotic. the kids are here.
Maybe we will never do anything as extreme as this. We certainly aren’t ready now with our dysfunctional governments at all levels, our narrow- minded school officials, and an inflexible public. This is an issue that won’t be solved by evolutionary actions. We need to reinvent our education system from birth through sixth grade. Failure to do so can only need to a continuing downward spiral in our national intellect.
Please let me know the name of any politician who will throw himself on his sword and present this idea to Congress.