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A Blueprint for Universal Childhood

Children deserve to spend their days in the company of peers, having fun, and discovering the world with the help of loving, well-compensated adults.

Illustrations by M Oliver

In September 2017, feeling the first twinges of labor, I walked beyond the ten-block radius my ob-gyn had prescribed me, defying her bed-rest orders for one reason: to tour day-care centers and get my unborn kid on as many wait lists as possible.

I knew I had to take the risk only because I’d worked for three years on youth and family programs at a high-quality New York nonprofit.

When I’d started in 2012, our preschool had a two-year wait list. By the time I left, the wait list had swelled to almost four years, which meant that most children who had been added to the list never got into the program. We had at least twenty applications for children in utero, and two for children who hadn’t yet been conceived. Sometimes mothers mentioned to me that they’d miscarried, but would like to keep their application open, and did in fact conceive again before receiving an offer of admission. One baby died while on the list.

My program was unusual in that it featured a first-come/first-serve “need blind” admissions process and substantial tuition assistance to families who could prove that they needed it — but its $37,000 a year price tag was all too typical for American childcare.

For the Church, life begins at the moment of conception. For an American baby, life starts much sooner — the moment a parent (almost always a mother) begins to think about how and when she can afford to have a child, and who will care for the child when she returns to work, as the vast majority of parents must do. If she has been in the same job for a year and worked at least 1,250 hours for an employer who also happens to employ at least fifty people within a seventy-five-mile radius of her workplace, then she will be eligible for twelve weeks of unpaid time off and continuation of health benefits under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). She may be able to extend that slightly further with unused sick time — assuming she has any.

FMLA is an accommodating piece of legislation passed during the labor-punishing Clinton era, which applies to a little over half of US workers. It was the Democrats’ polite throat-clearing sigh, a gentle nudge in the general direction of our bosses, asking “Please sir, can I have my job back after taking care of my dying daughter?” when working families needed a paid family leave program comparable to the rest of the world’s, and a universal, federally funded childcare program. Since 1985, the majority of mothers of preschool children have participated in the workforce, and in the thirty years since, unprecedented growth in wealth inequality has transformed an urgent need into a moral and economic crisis. Now, as Baby Boomers age and a smaller percentage of the population has young children, there are fewer adult advocates for their needs.

There is no reason we can’t have nationally subsidized, paid parental leave and childcare today. At present, public spending on early childhood education and care in the United States represents less than 0.5 percent of GDP, less than any OECD country besides Croatia, Latvia, and Turkey.

At the time of its bipartisan passage in 1993, the Chamber of Commerce warned that FMLA set a “dangerous precedent,” and John Boehner muttered something about “the light of freedom growing dimmer,” but twenty-five years later, a vast majority of employers report that complying with FMLA is easy and has had a positive or neutral effect on their workplaces. It is the sole non-means-tested federal provision for American families in the first few weeks of their children’s lives. Still, the burden is on parents to obtain doctor’s notes and coordinate it — and even it can hardly be called universal.

Employers approve, but how has it turned out for families? Many of those who are eligible can’t actually afford to take it. A full quarter of American mothers return to work less than two weeks after giving birth. Marissa Mayer aside, those who return soonest are most likely to be working class. Mothers who do not have housekeepers or nannies are constrained in their parenting choices, such as whether and how to breastfeed, and are more susceptible to depression.

One factory worker described breaking down in tears of exhaustion while pumping in a parking lot after a twelve-hour shift. The cheerful slogan “breast is best” is more likely to produce heart pangs than an eye-roll in the 88 percent of women who have no paid time off.

Nurri Latef, an early childhood teacher who I spoke to about her experience returning to school when her son was two months old, says, “I hated it. I felt like I was leaving my child at such a critical bonding time for the two of us, and he was premature. He spent a month in the hospital, so … I was only at home for one month with Nasir before I had to jump back into toddler-teacher mode so I could keep a roof over our heads.” No parent in any job should have to feel this way, but there’s a unique cruelty to forcing women to leave their own children before they feel ready to take care of other people’s children.

Meanwhile, Apple and Google employees get eighteen weeks of paid leave and backup or on-site day care. Googlers are awarded $500 cash referred to as “Baby Bonding Bucks.” Of course, not every worker shares in the benefits even at these seemingly enlightened firms: tech companies often outsource security, food service, and janitorial work by hiring private contractors, who are not eligible. Overall, about a third of American workers in management and other professional jobs have paid parental leave, while just over 5 percent in service occupations do.

Here’s how Julia Roitfeld, the daughter of the editor of French Vogue, describes impending motherhood: “It was like a detox — I ate healthy, I slept a lot, and I didn’t drink. All of my hormones were at the perfect levels. I was super-happy, and I really didn’t give a shit about work. Usually I’m so on top of work, but I was in a little cloud. But in August I thought, ‘Okay, I need to go back to work and start making a living again.’”

How long can a parent stay in that “little cloud” and “not give a shit” about the cost of diapers, formula, and rent? That depends both on one’s class and nationality. Brazilian mothers get seventeen weeks of leave to take care of their little ones at their full salary; Canadian parental leave was recently extended from one year to eighteen months at about 55 percent pay; Russia offers mothers twenty-four weeks paid. I could go on. The United States, Papua New Guinea, and Lesotho are the only countries in the world that don’t guarantee all workers paid time off to care for a new child — here, parental leave is a luxury reserved for the rich.

At the same time we thrust new parents back into the labor market, we also insist that they comparison shop for childcare in a country with no national standards for quality, accessibility or safety. Nearly 11 million children, including over half of children below the age of one, spend an average of twenty-seven hours a week in some kind of childcare setting, yet the burden is on individual parents to assess the risks and benefits of a confusing, unaccountable, generally private system pieced together state by state for the care of our littlest and most vulnerable children. In essence, giving birth or adopting a child in America means you also take on the job of government regulator. It’s an impossible task, with occasionally tragic consequences.

In 2013, a day-care worker in Mississippi handed a ten-week-old baby boy over to his father at pickup time without noticing that the child’s skin was blue and he was unresponsive. The father directed the staff to call 911 while he performed CPR — none of the staff knew how — and his son was finally rushed to the emergency room, where he died. After an investigation, the state concluded that the childcare center met all legal requirements for operation. It remains open.

In 2014, Kellie Rynn Martin suffocated at the age of three months in a day-care center run out of a middle-class suburban home in South Carolina, where her mother suspects she was put to sleep in a bassinet with a blanket or even another infant. When forensics searched the house, they found fourteen children playing “the quiet game” in the eighty-five-degree basement under the supervision of the owner’s daughter. In an interview, Martin’s mother stressed that the day-care owner’s home had appeared clean and the owner appeared competent when she toured the program only a few weeks earlier.

On March 22, 2016, three infants died in three different unlicensed and illegally operating day-care programs in Connecticut, one from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), another from an overdose of Benadryl, and the third from a blunt injury to the head. One of the providers had had her license revoked by the state the previous year for failure to comply with safety regulations — and yet continued to operate her center. The Connecticut assistant child advocate Faith Vos Winkel blamed parents, telling the Hartford Courant that they have ample opportunities to find licensed providers through the Office of Early Childhood’s website and the 211 Infoline.

The death rate of children enrolled in home-based day care — which is far more likely to be unlicensed than a center-based program — is twelve times that of center-based care. But home-based and unlicensed childcare is simply more plentiful and affordable. Licensed childcare centers are either geographically or financially out of reach for the majority of families.

Nearly half of American children under five live in areas where the demand for openings in childcare centers surpasses availability. (Spots for infants and toddlers in childcare centers are even more limited than those for three-to-four year olds, since the low teacher-to-child ratio necessary to ensure safety also make them difficult to profit from.) Where licensed, high-quality care is available, individual families shoulder most of the cost — and it is often prohibitively expensive.

Nationally, the average cost of tuition at a childcare center is over $10,000 per year — nearly 20 percent of the median household income. In the majority of states, childcare costs more than college tuition. Because it is largely private, our system is deeply inefficient, placing parents in competition against each other for coveted spots, instead of allowing them to negotiate prices collectively. Families in the United States spend 25.6 percent of their income on childcare, compared to an OEDC average of 13 percent, while getting significantly lower quality care.

Further, the grossly inadequate twelve weeks of job protection offered by FMLA means that many American children start day care at the exact time that the risk of dying from SIDS is highest: two to three months of age. Experts theorize that the reason why day-care deaths often happen in the first week or so that a child attends a new program is because children whose parents practice safe sleep practices at home are especially susceptible to SIDS when they are moved to unsafe sleep environments.

Derek Dodd relied on the recommendation of a friend when looking for childcare for his eleven-week-old son. But despite having been cited by the Department of Health just ten days earlier for unsafe sleep practices, the home-based provider “put our child in an unbuckled car seat on the floor, swaddled, where he wiggled down until he lost his airway and suffocated to death.” The baby was left unmonitored for two hours behind a closet door before the provider checked on him and found him blue.

Amber Scorah, whose son died on his first day in an unlicensed program in New York City, writes, “It’s possible that even in a different system, Karl still might not have lived a day longer; but had he been with me, where I wanted him, I wouldn’t be sitting here, living with the nearly incapacitating anguish of a question that has no answer.” Neither family wanted their child to be in day care so young — both were refused additional unpaid leave by their employers, and could not afford to quit.

Simply put, the deaths of these children must be counted as casualties of capitalism, an economic system which prioritizes profit over human life, especially those who do not yet add tangible value to the societies in which they live.

It’s easy to imagine negligent and abusive providers as monsters, but childcare is an exceptionally difficult job, demanding patience, creativity, compassion, self-control, and sometimes, selflessness. To consistently provide safe, quality care requires serious social investment in the well-being of children. For the most part, childcare workers and day-care directors devote an extraordinary amount of time and energy to filling in the immense gaps left by lack of federal guidance, funding, and support. The first year I worked as a teacher, I subsisted entirely on Red Bull and smoked-turkey slices I kept in my purse, so I could use the twenty-five minutes students were given for lunch to talk to them about things other than “content.” I do not know a single teacher who hasn’t routinely given up lunch breaks or taken work home to do into the wee hours of the morning, after putting their own kids to bed.

It’s a hell of a lot to demand of people making $20,320 a year, the national median wage for early childhood teachers, which is below the poverty threshold for a family of four. These working-class women and men are increasingly being required to pay thousands of dollars out of their own pockets for college classes and state exams, while receiving wages far lower than the value they are providing — and lower than those of teachers who work with older kids. In essence, we are subsidizing our current system of early childhood education on their backs. It’s unfair, and it leads to high turnover — which can be dangerous. It’s also inefficient: there is a strong and well-documented relationship between higher teacher salaries and higher childcare program quality.

Yet all human beings are fallible, which is why we need consistent federal regulations in place for the protection of both children and the day-care workers who care for them. Systems like those used effectively in the community-based early childcare center I ran are critical to ensure that no child experiences the tragic negligence endured by Dodd’s son.

Our infant/toddler classroom consisted of ten children cared for by four teachers, who supported each other and kept each other responsible with extraordinary grace and effort in a demanding job. Every single teacher was trained annually in CPR and safe sleep practices, even though it meant closing the school for a couple days a year. We hired two substitute teachers who showed up every day to enable us to meet the child/teacher ratios suggested by experts, even when teachers were out sick. The presence of a program director and assistant director — as well as regular unannounced visits from the state — ensured that teachers followed guidelines at all times. Infant/toddler teachers kept a log (as required by New York state law) in which teachers initialed that they had checked on a baby in its sleep every fifteen minutes. The inspectors always examined the logs when they came to visit.

Unfortunately — and contrary to the suggestion of Connecticut’s assistant child advocate — even regulated childcare in America is not uniformly high quality. In a recent report on childcare quality and oversight of regulated centers compiled by the advocacy organization Child Care Aware of America, not one state earned an “A.” The only program to earn a “B” was the Department of Defense’s, which is run by the federal government. Ten, including New York, earned a “C,” twenty-one states earned a “D,” and nineteen failed.

It was a simple survey: the organization used fifteen basic benchmarks representing research-backed criteria. It revealed that only thirty-one states plus the dod require a fingerprint check for childcare center staff, and just twenty-three require a check of the sex-offender registry. Thirty states plus the dod inspect centers two or more times per year, but nine states do not require any type of annual inspection. Only sixteen states addressed each of ten basic health and safety requirements recommended by pediatric experts in their licensing requirements. Just thirty-nine states in the wealthiest country in the world even have a program that rates the quality of day-care centers.

Privatized Care

No wonder day care has a bad name in this country. But why do we fault the idea itself, rather than the well-documented failures in executing it?

When a National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) study found a link between long hours in day care and behavioral problems, some headlines crowed with perverse joy, “Sorry Working Moms, Daycare is Bad For Your Kid.” The New York Times took a more concerned tone (“Poor Behavior is Linked to Time in Daycare”), and then there was the gleeful, literary, “A generation of ‘little savages’ raised in nurseries as daycare is linked to aggression in toddlers.”

What few reporters stopped to mention was that the quality of childcare is an essential piece of the puzzle. It was children in low-quality care who experienced behavioral problems later in life — and even those problems seemed to disappear over time. In fact, by middle school, researchers were able to detect little difference between kids who went to day care and those who didn’t. Not a single one wrote about the fact that the percentage of childcare-center classes observed by the NICHD meeting guidelines for adult-to-child ratio was 36 percent for children aged six months, 20 percent for children aged 1.5 years, and 26 percent for children aged 2 years.

More significantly, and equally underreported: family characteristics such as income and access to “emotionally supportive and cognitively rich” environments where “mothers experienced little psychological distress” — in other words, social class — were far more predictive of developmental outcomes than who cared for a child and for how long. And of course, no one questioned the long hours parents put in at work, which necessitated those long hours logged by kids at day-care centers in the first place.

Well, not exactly no one. The Norwegians were on it. In a study of 75,000 children, researchers from the United States and Norway not only found zero link between childcare and behavioral problems, but noticed that when they examined their sample using the same methods as the NICHD researchers, their own results were skewed as well. “Norway takes a very different approach to childcare than we do in the United States and that may play a role in our findings,” one of the report’s authors delicately noted.

Children are legally entitled to early childhood care in Norway, like most advanced capitalist countries. Where childcare programs are seen as a universal right, austerity measures cannot erode them into oblivion as has happened with the means-tested Head Start program in the United States.

Congress doesn’t hesitate to use the full power of the state to force fathers to pay child support. Child protective services commonly takes unsupervised children into custody and deems them “abandoned” — which happened recently to a South Carolina mother who could not afford the cost of summer camp and left her nine-year-old daughter to play in a park while she worked at a local McDonald’s. (The mother was jailed.) Already this year, a Chicago mother has been arrested for allowing her children to walk to the Dollar Store alone while she was at work — as well as for allowing her family to live in “deplorable conditions.” In other words, for being poor.

Meanwhile, the federal government owes practically nothing to children younger than five or any child outside of the school year. The result of this system is clear: young children in America are more likely to live in poverty than any other age group.

In contrast to Europe, where unions agitated for and won comprehensive, federally subsidized social programs, the weakness of unions in the United States meant that the only social programs on offer here were those offered by bourgeois nongovernmental institutions. Instead of solidarity, the poor got sympathy; progressives were more concerned about vagrants running wild in the streets than they were about the suffering kids experienced as laborers in factories.

The plight of mothers whose children were taken from them in Chicago and South Carolina is an echo from a time when “child savers” rounded up children off the streets and forcibly sent them away to labor on western farms on “orphan trains,” whether or not they already had homes. In the nineteenth century, poverty was viewed as a contagious disease, and being poor was justification for having your children taken from you.

This viewpoint began to shift in the 1970s when Congress passed the Comprehensive Child Development Act, which would have provided federally funded, universal childcare and education. But conservatives echoed Progressive-era private charitable organizations in their objections: Nixon vetoed the bill, coming down on the side of “the family-centered approach” rather than committing “the vast moral authority of the National Government to the side of communal approaches.” Nixon continued the conservative viewpoint of earlier reformers like Lydia Maria Child, sentimentalizing mothers, while denying them economic support.

In the famous “kitchen table” debate, in which he debated Khrushchev while they toured a model American suburban home, Nixon points to a dishwasher, “built in thousands of units” because, “In America, we like to make life easier for women.” Khrushchev shuts down this line of thinking with a simple, “Your capitalistic attitude toward women does not occur under communism.… We build firmly, we build for our children and grandchildren.” Actually, that’s the point, Nixon responds: consumption drives the economy. But, says Khrushchev, “In Russia, all you have to do to get a house is to be born in the Soviet Union. You are entitled to housing. In America, if you don’t have a dollar, you have a right to choose between sleeping in a house or on the pavement.”

Most women took on work outside the home in the 1970s not because their values had changed, but because it became economically necessary to do so. But mainstream feminists did little to challenge the idea that having children is an individual choice, which must be paid for individually. In contrast to Europe, where women’s emancipation was spearheaded by workers, many liberal American second-wavers ignored or were openly hostile to mothers. Little urban zines called them “oppressors”; others viewed them as retrograde traditionalists or bad role models for their kids.

Wages for Housework, an international campaign which was far more grounded in economic demands and challenging the family wage than say, Ms. magazine, brought visibility to cooking, cleaning, and caring for children as labor and sparked debate. But it failed to successfully transform itself into a broad working-class movement. Mainstream Americans were never forced to reckon with the fundamental reason women are devalued and discriminated against in the public workplace, or stuck at home: we are the presumed primary caregivers of children. Whether we plan on having children or not, until we live in a country with adequate social provisions, we will walk into any job interview with the weight of the expectation that we will one day become less productive workers or leave the workforce altogether.

Some American feminists even shared Nixon’s predilection for constructing private solutions to collective problems. They may not have been moving to suburban houses and stroking their dishwashers fondly while thanking the free market, but they did retreat into private enclaves, founding parent cooperatives on college campuses with volunteer schedules that were doable for artists and the self-employed, but not for the vast majority of parents with full-time work schedules. While these programs may have been personally necessary, they were certainly not political — and access to them was limited by race and class.

Historian Christine Stansell quotes one woman whose son was enrolled in a feminist center: “one Black mother did join the group,” but left “because she didn’t feel at ease with the other mothers who seemed like hippies to her.” If, as Stansell writes, hostility towards motherhood was “a white woman’s sentiment,” obliviousness to the pressing need for subsidized day care was a rich woman’s privilege.

Recollecting that heady time, Ellen Willis writes in an essay about finding a nanny for her daughter, “as feminist activists we, along with the thousands of other young, childless women who dominated the movement, had of course understood that sexual equality required a new system of child-rearing, but the issue remained abstract, unconnected with our most urgent needs; as mothers in the political vacuum of the eighties, along with millions of working parents, we pursue our individual solutions as best we can. The political has devolved into the personal with a vengeance.”

How to Build a Public Day-Care System

Today, Americans are finally beginning to understand that our seemingly personal struggles in finding childcare are actually a political problem. Universal childcare is wildly popular among the entire electorate, regardless of political affiliation, and people are willing to pay for it. At least 70 percent of Americans favor using federal money to make sure high-quality preschool education programs are available for every child in America. Eighty-two percent say mothers and 69 percent say fathers should receive paid family leave upon the birth of a child.

It’s certainly feasible. We’ve done it before when it became necessary to prevent working-class revolt or to go to war. The Works Progress Administration (WPA) opened “emergency” nurseries in 1933 under the control of local and state agencies (and sometimes, the public school system) through the Federal Emergency Relief Agency. Their explicit function was to serve first as a jobs program for teachers, nutritionists, janitors, and nurses, and second, to educate children. The women who became teachers observed profound improvements in those they taught, such as the disappearance of a stutter in one child, as well as their own lives (“I never knew before that it was fun to work,” historian Barbara Beatty quotes one staff member exclaiming). Enrollment by race reflected the general population at the time, but because it was primarily working-class families who used them, the stigma of the schools as anti-poverty measures meant that most of them did not endure beyond the Depression, despite the best efforts of many.

When women flocked to factory jobs during World War II, the federal government approved funding for 3,102 childcare centers under the Lanham Act. These programs were even better than the centers, with teachers trying out various responsive pedagogical approaches, and administrators ensuring that teachers and families worked together to ensure the happiness and success of the children enrolled. They hoped the schools would serve as models for a free, public, universal early childhood education program that could continue after the war, but the government shuttered it when men returned from overseas and took back their jobs. Beatty records one government official justifying the closures: “To some it connotes an inability to care for one’s own; to some it has a vague incompatibility with the traditional idea of the American home; to others it has a taint of socialism.”

More recently, we have the example of the military’s childcare centers — consistently the highest-rated program in the United States — and the only non-means-tested program that is federally subsidized and regulated. In the 1980s, when a report found that Department of Defense centers were failing to meet safety codes, Congress took action, passing the Military Child Care Act, which raised teacher salaries and provided funding for increased training, subsidized tuition, and rigorous and quarterly inspections — assessing teacher qualifications and pedagogical approaches as well as health and safety.

A parent I spoke to with two children in a DOD childcare center told me that she initially chose the program based on its cost. Her family falls into the highest bracket of its sliding tuition scale and pays $600 per month per child, below the national average and far below the average for the area where she lives. She was also drawn to its reliable coverage: the program operates year-round, Monday-Friday, from 6 am to 6 pm, and is only closed on federal holidays — unheard of in the world of early childhood care. But above and beyond these practical benefits, she’s come to appreciate the experience, skill, and communicativeness of the teachers. They keep portfolios of her children’s work, and discuss developmental milestones they’ve reached in regular conferences. One teacher is so beloved by the children that they “erupt into joyful shouting” when she arrives to the classroom.

Teachers provide daily reports of children’s activities, which are developmentally appropriate and play-based, and the school has a nutritionist who coordinates meals with whole grains, vegetables, and healthy snacks like hummus.

If we can offer this high-quality, affordable program to military families, why can’t we offer it to all families? Aside from the benefits to her children’s well-being and her family’s finances, the parent notes:

It has drastically improved my mental health and marital health, which I didn’t foresee. I am no longer losing sleep or spending the same mental energy coordinating not just my own work schedule but my children’s care schedule also. I’m not constantly wondering whether I need to choose between my job and my family.

She also adds, if paid parental leave and universal childcare were available nationally, “I’d probably be pregnant with a third child.”

New York provides an interesting case study of what can happen to teachers’ working conditions — and children’s learning conditions — when early childhood programs are integrated into the public education system. Recently, the state-subsidized, free, universal pre-K system went from serving a tiny number of families, to being open to all families in New York. In the next few years, coverage will expand to include all of the city’s three year olds, rich or poor. Now, certified early childhood educators can share in the higher wages, benefits, and collective bargaining powers of unionized K-12 educators, which has led to an exodus from lower-paying private or nonprofit community centers to the public system. Program directors at lower-paying private schools have accused the Department of Education of “poaching” employees.

What if this happened on a national level? I asked Nurri if and how America’s early childcare could improve. “It will take some backbone,” she said. “We need to ask more questions and not be afraid to defend ourselves respectfully and professionally without fear of losing our jobs. The more educators become aware of how powerful we are, the more we can band together and fight for fair and equal wages, emergent curriculums, and make access to receiving certifications and degrees more accessible to employees. We need to feel like our work matters to people and makes a difference.”

Banding together is key. Recently, when parents at one NYC childcare center advocated for an increase in wages for their children’s teachers, the center warned them that tuition would rise — an obvious attempt to divide the interests of the parents and teachers once they united against management.

History reveals that paid parental leave and universal childcare will not be won on the basis of liberal appeals to fairness, equal opportunity for women, or demands for a more diverse elite — and that Sheryl Sandberg’s benefits do not trickle down to factory workers, garbage collectors, and the nannies and early childhood workers whose underpaid labor keeps our society running. Corporations may offer these benefits to attract highly educated and skilled workers, but they will not provide them for all workers at the expense of their bottom line. By definition, capitalism seeks to maximize profit, not the quality of life of workers.

But having a child is not just a personal choice — it’s a matter of reproducing the species. It is not an act of selfishness that one should pay for, but an act of optimism and investment in society. Until the United States can do what the rest of the world has done and commit its vast resources to child welfare, the ties that bind families together will be as tenuous as their employment status.

It doesn’t matter whether early childhood education would make the American economy stronger. What matters is that we need it. Parents need to know that their children are safe and happy while they’re at work, without spending a fortune. They deserve to enjoy their children, not lie awake at night worrying about how to afford them. And children deserve to spend their days in the company of peers, having fun, and discovering the world with the help of loving, well-compensated adults.

Some liberals try to justify the expense of childcare as a social program that will save us money down the line. Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania notes on his website that early childhood education is “critical to our nation’s economic strength.” Invest in children today, exploit them as toothless workers with no collective bargaining tomorrow.

This is a mistake. Evidence abounds that redistribution is a far more effective way of reducing poverty and improving academic outcomes for children from low-income families than childhood education.

And when education is seen as compensatory — when it is directed at poor children and intended to make up for the inadequacies of a child’s background — it becomes a thing that we do to children, which must be quantified, rather than a lifelong process that they get to be part of. These types of programs teach children that they are beneficiaries, not citizens, and they have no place in a democracy.