EDITOR’S VIEWPOINT/It takes a city
The experience of raising children had to be the inspiration for the recent shock and awe campaign in Iraq. Every day, parents wake to bombardments of emotional missiles from their offspring. Growing up in a traditional two-parent home of middle-class means, our children are only beginning to understand the luxuries they were afforded, not the least of which was the time we spent guiding them through their first few years of life.
Unfortunately, time has become the enemy of today’s parents. Out of necessity or the pursuit of careers or vacation homes, both the mother and father often work, while, in other families, only one parent exists. Who gets shortchanged in this Faustian arrangement? Children. Because fundamental damage can occur as the very foundation of a child’s character is being laid, I can’t think of a better way to invest our society’s resources than in early childhood education and development.
Understanding the importance of the influences in a child’s life before he or she reaches the public school system has become a central theme of the current president of the National League of Cities (NLC), John DeStefano. “A fair chance to compete and succeed in life is central to our understanding of what it means to be an American, but that’s an empty promise unless we focus on what children need during the first years of life and make sure they enter school ready to learn,” DeStefano said at a NLC meeting last month. The event was part of the association’s City Challenge for Early Childhood Success.
Several communities are pioneering early childhood development efforts, such as Denver; San Jose, Calif.; Nashville and Wilmington, Del. In San Jose, the Smart Start initiative is an outgrowth of Mayor Ron Gonzales’ early childhood education program.
Its mission is to increase access to affordable early childhood care and education. The goal is to establish 20 early childhood development centers over an eight-year period; expand family child care home businesses and establish program standards; increase parental and private sector involvement; and, increase opportunities for professionals working in early childhood development.
Concern over education is nothing new, but the NLC is attempting to establish a local government beachhead in this area, and not a minute too soon. Already, efforts are underway to “reform” the federal Head Start program by transferring its funding and administration to the states.
It seems everyone recognizes that what a child does not receive at home cannot be easily overcome in the public school system. As the federal government turns its back on its youngest residents, it is important that local governments are stepping up.