Good Day Care Was Once a Feminist Priority, and It Should Be Again
In the above-linked article from writer Noah Berlatsky for The Atlantic, I learned about the 1971 Child Development Act (CDA), which would have established federally funded community centers. Berlatsky references Jonathan Cohn’s article about the inadequacies of American day care in The New Republic, which I blogged about on April 15, to launch the question: Where the hell is “the left in general, and feminists in particular,” on the issue of safe, well-regulated, subsidized, affordable daycare for all? One can almost hear the shock in his voice since, as he tells us, this issue is a “massive, dangerous, crushing problem that affects the lives of the vast majority of mothers in the United States.”
Apparently, the movement for strongly supported child care reform lost steam for several reasons, the biggest of which was that President Nixon vetoed the CDA, despite the fact that it passed the Senate 63 to 17. Berlatsky gives us the following quote from feminist historian Christine Stansell’s book The Feminist Promise: 1782 to the Present:
A coalition of Protestant evangelicals and the John Birch Society materialized—out of thin air, it seemed—in a full-out campaign against the bill. Conservative columnist James Kilpatrick rose to the attack, charging that the CDA was designed “to Sovietize our youth… This bill contains the seeds for destruction of Middle America.” It was a departure from the right’s obsession with Communist subversion and the evils of integration . Nixon, looking to appease the far right wing of the Republican Party in the wake of his newly initiated policy of détente with China, vetoed the bill after initially giving it his full support. His stand against “government interference” in the family meshed nicely with his opposition to “government interference” in segregated schools.
I won’t get into the other reasons that Berlatsky pens about, but suffice it to say that his article prompted me to think about what role government has in the family. From what I have observed in my 20-plus years as a speech therapist and 17 years as a parent, I believe government should provide assistance to the family in the early years of a child’s life, to insure that it won’t have to get involved, and thereby save money, later by way of Title 1 classrooms, special education and resource services in the public education system, high school drop-out retention programs, government-funded programs to reduce teen and unplanned pregnancy, U.S. government assistance and grant programs, prisons and much, much more. If the United States had a safe, accessible, and affordable day care system, children from low-, middle- and high-income families would be more likely than they are now to receive the crucial language, emotional, social and sensory skills they need to be successful in school and life. Socio-economic lines would blur for the good of every child, parent, family and community as babies born today were given the same start in life with regard to school readiness skills, health and development.
Within one generation, our society could look vastly different. Babies and toddlers who attended high-quality, government-funded day care settings would receive the hard-wiring their brains need to become successful students and human beings. Parents would be able to work consistently without worrying about their child’s safety or skills development because a public child care system would be well-regulated. Government-subsidized, affordable care would mean parents would have more money to spend, and the economy would receive a huge boost. Most importantly in my mind, however, is that the babies and toddlers who received what they needed right from the start would grow up to become parents themselves and would have the skills necessary to do the job. The cycle would naturally perpetuate itself as these babies-turned-into-parents would then raise children who would also be able to parent successfully, just as it happens in most middle- and high-income families. Within a generation or two, the need for government-subsidized child care would likely decrease as our society blossomed and flourished. Until then, the United States government will continue to dump billions of dollars into picking up the pieces down the line in the life of children and families who didn’t get what they needed from the start, and poverty will continue to be a major issue in our country.
It’s time for the United States government to put the money and effort into being proactive rather than reactive when it comes to children and families. This will be a victory for all of us.
Great article, Cindi! Here is a related interview I heard (you may have, too) from NPR’s Fresh Air this past week…
Thanks for this, Paul! Great piece from NPR…especially for those of us who need to hear it in addition to or in lieu of reading it!