I’ve had an interesting experience responding to a recent letter in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Read the original letter and my response here. The use of the internet to spread information, and the ease with which people can claim the role of “expert” got me thinking about the role of social media and the global reach of information in our fast-paced world.
The letter arguing that early childhood programs were harmful cited what the writer called “evidence” from studies of Sweden’s early childhood programs as well as studies of U.S. programs. There has been a flurry of attention to a Swedish opponent of early childhood programs, and he even presented his claims to members of the British Parliament. But he has no degree and did not actually conduct or review any studies of child care. He simply took two trends – increasing enrollment in child care and decreasing mental health and educational achievement among teenagers – and linked them, claiming one caused the other.
I got a lot of calls and emails from people who were also upset by the use of non-scientific claims with questionable political motivation to make an argument. If we want to have a good, healthy debate about what makes a good early childhood program, or what issues our social policy should address and how, we need to rely on true evidence – objective, qualified, intelligent research that helps us understand and ask more questions in response.
Is early childhood education uniformly “good?” Of course not – quality is a huge variable in programs in the U.S. and elsewhere. Do all children benefit from the same type of program? No – families need access to different types of quality care in settings that are right for them; and all families deserve to make a choice to be the primary caretaker for their own children during their preschool years.
Our conversation needs good information, not cross-Atlantic hearsay, to help us create better quality and wider access in early childhood education options, so that families are empowered to make choices that they know are best for themselves and their children. Here’s one suggestion for a place to start. Look for other ideas in our blog space to continue the conversation.