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.




You may think it presumptuous of me that, of all the work we have to do and problems we have to solve, I would anoint any one item as “the most important.” Yet after seventy-plus years of observing the world we live in, including the last seventeen dealing with social issues, I am so certain that I am willing to put myself out there. What do you think? Is it the national defense? No—we spend way too much on that already. Is it education? No—that is step two of my issue. Is it climate change? No—although that is high on my list, and if it as serious as some believe, it will trump everything else. Is it homelessness? Hunger? The environment? Unemployment? Equal treatment and acceptance of all people? Terrorism? The growing gap between the haves and have-nots? The growing prison population? Oil? No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, and no, although every one of those problems requires a huge amount of our attention as soon as possible.

I contend that the number one issue that we need to address with all the vigor and all the resources at our disposal is early child development. On the surface, this seems minor compared to the other possibilities listed. Here is my reasoning. There is indisputable evidence that human brains are 80-90% developed by age three. The necessary wiring is connected in those first three years, and if it doesn’t happen by then, the child’s potential is greatly reduced. The opportunity is lost; those connections will not happen later in life. By age five, values are formed. Those will be the basis for the child’s entire life. It will be determined if he will be honest or devious, industrious or lazy, ethical or deceitful, trusting or defensive, generous or selfish, and all the other characteristics that are relevant to one’s makeup. Once the values are ingrained in an individual, it is highly unlikely that she will ever change to any great degree.

To make the case, let me proffer an analogy that goes to back to the beginning of my manufacturing career. At Kane Power Industries, our primary raw materials were large iron castings, which we machined to specifications. They were used as housings for our products. The quality control procedure in 1980 was to machine, let’s say, 300 of castings in a run. When the run was completed, an inspector, was called in to measure them against specified tolerances and pass judgment as to whether they were acceptable for use. There were three possible results of that inspection. (1) They met specifications and could go to the assembly line. (2) They varied hopelessly from specifications, and they went to the scrap heap. (3) They were close but not quite to specifications. In this instance, they were sentenced to a purgatory we called rework, from which some more machining and labor might save them for use. However, the additional labor cost us any profit that might have been attainable if those castings had been machined correctly in the first place.

In the late seventies and early eighties, American manufacturing began to embrace a quality control called statistical process control. This procedure called for the machine operator to measure every tenth casting to ensure that it met prescribed tolerances. If the measurement was drifting toward the edge of a given tolerance, he adjusted the machine to bring it back to the middle of the tolerance range. In effect, he measured to predict if he would later produce an unacceptable product. If so, he prevented the making of a reject by adjusting the setup. A little later, we learned that if we went into the foundry of our supplier and imposed some production standards on it, we would prevent the receipt of out-of-tolerance raw castings.

Statistical process control is still used today. It has been enhanced by some other more sophisticated procedures to ensure quality. Together they lead to earning an ISO certification, which is almost universally demanded of suppliers in the twenty-first century.

So what’s the point? In life, our raw materials are infants. The processes to make them a useful product are pre-natal care, parenting, child care, a wholesome and healthy environment, diet, exercise, and various programs that are a positive influence on their development.

Yet, we continue to produce scrap and rework. Children who are raised from birth within the prescribed tolerances usually turn out to be pretty good citizens. They get an education, hold a job, become good parents, and are assets to their community. Those who are raised carelessly are often not ready for kindergarten when the time comes. From there, it’s a downward spiral. They aren’t equal to the other kids intellectually, socially, and emotionally. Being behind, they become disenchanted with school and often rebel in various ways. This frequently leads to dropping out, unemployment, welfare, trouble with the law, poverty, and on and on. Then they continue the cycle with children of their own.

Are you not yet in agreement with me that this is the single most urgent issue of the day? Those children comprise the generation that might solve some of the other problems I listed. We need to equip today’s two-year-olds to be ready to do a better job than we have done. In my opinion, that doesn’t set a very high bar. We’ve worked on these problems for decades with no solutions. We manage the problems as best we can, but we don’t solve them. Until we cut off the pipeline of people becoming scrap and rework, we will perpetuate the cycle. That is not debatable. The big barrier is that the solution will be horribly expensive. We have to run parallel programs for twenty years while we clear the pipeline of those children we have already mishandled.

We have become a society of short-term thinkers. We are not willing to invest in a product or process that won’t pay off for several years. Instead, we put band-aids on our existing products, or we make cheap, inferior new products that will break as soon as the warranty expires.   That is a practice that leads to mediocrity, which is where we are today.

It is essential that we build a child care system for working parents that is high quality and taught by professionals educated in child care. We also have to make it affordable to all parents. Child care is a common ground where values can be taught.

There are two other traits that are not exactly values. Yet, they are as important as any values we can imagine. Those are intellectual curiosity and hope. We want our children to be insatiable in their thirst for knowledge. And a child without hope is a child lost.

All of these characteristics need to be modeled rather than preached. Many parents don’t model any of these traits, because they neither possess nor value them themselves. When that is the case, it has to be done outside the home. Child care is the most likely influence to make a difference. Kindergarten and first grade are too late.

We also have to build an enormous parent education network for those parents who are willing to admit that they shouldn’t necessarily raise their children as they were raised and are open to learning better methods. By the way, bad parenting crosses all socio-economic lines.

These are not the only actions necessary to turn the ship around, but they will do for a start. I only know that we need to address early child development in a big way, or the results of our education system will continue to decline at an accelerated rate, and proliferation of drop-outs, poverty, crime, and our prison population will continue.

The cost will be in the billions every year. Where would the money come from? The only possible answer is tax dollars. You can’t pass the hat among individual and corporations and expect to reap an amount necessary to make a difference. The financing of the solutions has to be mandated. Money could be made available from a major tax increase or from a redeployment of existing dollars. I suggest reducing the bloated defense budget and reallocating the money gleaned from that.

Stay tuned in my next blog, I will bring forth a utopian idea that might cause you to label me a lunatic if you haven’t already.  I promise it will be shorter that this voluminous offering.