More Failure, Please
America has a crisis that only the government can handle. (America always has a crisis that only the government can handle, at least a dozen a day, in fact.) This one has to do with words.
You see, there are children among us who are word-challenged. Disadvantaged children don’t get enough words in their diet, and so one economist has the answer to their dilemma: more government-run day care. According to Joy Pullmann of the Federalist:
Government preschool programs typically have little effect on needy children because they begin too late, says economist James Heckman and colleagues in a new paper (PDF) funded by government preschool advocates. So he says there’s good reason to start public “school” as early as eight weeks after birth for at-risk children — which typically designates those born into low-income and unmarried parents. In other words, he thinks we need a new welfare program run by Donald J. Trump.
Most government spending on education-themed programs for small children is targeted at those age four and older, which is too late to affect crucial language development, Heckman noted to The Atlantic, despite the preschool lobby’s long use of his research to urge these same programs. That’s his explanation for the failures of these programs after 50 years of drastic expansion across the country. None of the promises of massive social benefits after passing government early childhood programs have made their way into reality. In fact, the most recent research shows mass early childhood programs have even made more kids hate learning and commit more crimes. So, from preschoolers on to babies!
“If you look at disadvantaged children you’ll find that they’re getting about a third or a fourth as many words per hour as more advantaged children,” he told NPR. “The environments are fundamentally different. Over the lifetime, their young childhood — a period of say 0 to 5 — you’re getting a millions of words deficit between those who are advantaged and those who aren’t advantaged. That essentially is one way to close the gap. By literally reading to the child, by encouraging the child.”
Yes, well. I don’t know of anyone who doesn’t think it’s a good thing to read to children, and talk to them as much as possible. I also have no doubt that there are plenty of parents who don’t do that, sad to say. But do you know what is the best guarantee that a child will be nurtured properly, whether intellectually or otherwise? A stable, two-parent, mom-and-dad household, which the federal government has done everything it can think of to undermine for the past fifty years.
The government didn’t start out to do that, of course. It was a predictable side effect of various Great Society programs, but it wasn’t the desired end in the 1960s. In the last two decades, however, as social justice warriors have come to realize that the traditional husband-wife-kids family (whether it included extended elements or not) was just an artifact of the patriarchy, they have been deliberately targeting that family, and sought to build up alternatives (single parents, gay parents, broken homes, etc.) as if they were viable options on a society-wide scale. (That last is important–there certainly are single mothers, for example, or divorced parents who have done admirable jobs with their kids. But treating them as if they can be just as good as intact, two-parent home as a matter of course runs contrary to all evidence. And the news isn’t good for gay parenting, either, though there again may be exceptions.)
So what’s Heckman’s basis for concluding that the state’s already long-arm should be extended into infancy? Pullmann explains:
Heckman, who won a Nobel Prize in economics for showing how to help correct errors that arise when studies use non-random samples, studied two tiny, dated programs that preschool advocates keep going back to because they are one of the few that show any long-term positive results for participants. The total children studied between the two programs is approximately 160 (I’m being generous and approximating because some participants participated in some phases of the studies but not in others). Approximately half of the kids involved were in the control group, and thus did not participate in the full-day childcare programs being studied, which included “wraparound services” such as medical and dental care and parent therapy.
In essence, these programs functioned as modern-day orphanages for deprived children, from which parents were allowed to “check out” their children on nights and weekends. It’s an arrangement in which the state is pretty visibly the unwed mother’s child-raising partner, and has pretty extensive visitation rights.
So, based on outcomes from about 80 children whom 45 years ago received an experimental childcare experience that was extremely well-funded and staffed by some of the world’s best child-care experts (i.e. nothing at all like any government-funded early childhood intervention program), Heckman suggests we’ve got results good enough to expand the welfare state yet again “on behalf of” 40 percent of America’s children. They say Nobel Prizes give one a big head, but sheesh.
That’s a ridiculous basis for public policy, to be sure. What’s even more ridiculous is realizing that the same people who misuse data this way are the same people saying that wide-ranging, recent studies of children of gay households, broken homes, and single mothers should be ignored because they come to conclusions that are ideologically uncomfortable. If people like Heckman want to help children grow into happy, healthy, productive members of society, let them figure out ways to support and encourage two-parent, husband-and-wife households to thrive, rather than continuing the failed strategy of going to the government to solve problems that families are far better equipped to deal with.
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