Brigid Schulte wrote on September 19 for the Washington Post about the life-size Chutes and Ladders game set up on the Capitol lawn on Wednesday. In painting the scene on the lawn, with Sen. Tom Harkin hula hopping and Sen. Kristen Gillibrand sharing a moment with two three-year-olds fighting over a little red ladder they both wanted to play with, we can all believe a little more that Washington is thinking about early education as seriously as a three-year old thinks about having what is his or hers.
According to Schulte, “the Chutes and Ladders game was set up to call attention to the benefits of high-quality early childhood education and to try to return attention to President Obama’s $75 billion universal preschool initiative, which has been languishing as fractious lawmakers squabble over Syria, the debt ceiling or take another vote to overturn the health care law about to go into effect.” She tells us that lawmakers and business leaders showed up throughout the morning to announce their commitment to early learning by playing the game, which was set up by MomsRising, a national advocacy group, and the National Women’s Law Center. Washington “suits,” men and women alike, were able to move ahead by moving up a ladder that said “Children who have high quality early learning are more likely to graduate from high school and gain stable employment and less likely to be arrested.” They would fall behind after sliding on a chute that said something such as “Pay for child care workers is barely above the federal poverty threshold.”
Schulte reminds us in her article “how much Congress has changed since it last considered a major preschool and child care bill in the early 1970s.” She recalls the fact that lawmakers who talked about child care or preschool at that time in our country’s history risked being labeled a communist, since the prevailing view was that children belonged at home with their mothers, who also belonged at home. According to Rep. Pat Schroeder, D-Colorado, when she mentioned child care and preschool then to lawmakers, most of whom were men with wives who stayed home with children, her colleagues would “look at her cross-eyed, thinking she meant babysitting so mothers could go play tennis.” These male lawmakers had no idea how the rest of the world lived. Times have certainly changed since then.
Schulte explains how Gillibrand “not only gets it, she lives it” when she writes:
Gillibrand is one of a handful of mothers of young children currently serving in Congress – and already part of a rarefied group of women who make up 18 percent of the male-dominated body. Because she not only supports expanding early childhood education for all children, she sent her own two children to the child care center near the Capitol, where, like at many high quality centers the waiting list can be so long that the children are sometimes too old by the time the slot opens up.
According to Gillibrand, “The laws and the rules and norms of our workplaces have not kept up with the nature of our workforce.” To prove it, she provides us with familiar statistics: The majority of mothers with young children work. Many are breadwinners or single parents. Sixty-two percent of minimum-wage earners are women. She goes on to say that “the reality is, it’s not like it was in the 1950s or 60s anymore.”
John Pepper, retired CEO of Proctor & Gamble and a member of ReadyNation, a group of CEOs lobbying for early childhood education, concurs with Gillibrand in saying “To have a youngster’s future determined by the zip code they live in is not right. And it’s not necessary. The voices of the children, the parents, the single moms are not being heard loudly enough. They’re limited compared to the voices of lobbyists around here.”
Gillibrand said that, for just that reason, she decided to spend the morning playing Chutes and Ladders on the Capitol lawn with young children. To emphasize, she said “We have to amplify our voices. If we don’t, early childhood education will never be on the national agenda. It is never going to be a national priority.”