Government is great for many things, including, but not limited to, protecting our God-given rights, protecting our borders, and making and enforcing laws. It’s good for such activities as printing money and writing checks to distribute taxpayer dollars for infrastructure spending, successful government programs to help our neediest and most vulnerable, and public education. However, as Donald Savoie writes in his article titled “What is Government Good For? It’s Time to Answer the Question,” published in 2015 by The Globe and Mail, government is “a big whale that can’t swim, that can’t keep up with the fast-changing global economy.” He tells us that “the dominant political narrative in Anglo-American democracies over the past 30 years has been that government is slow, inefficient and costly while the private sector is dynamic and efficient.”
When it comes to the brain development of babies and toddlers for school readiness, there simply is little place for a big whale that can’t keep up. Government solutions are slow, inefficient, costly and can’t be scaled up easily, all while babies’ and toddlers’ brains are growing at an astronomically fast pace. Preschool, pre-K and kindergarten readiness all depend on brain development that happens between 0 and 36 months, with 80% of a child’s brain growth occurring by age 3 and 90% of his or her brain growth occurring by age 5. Government investment and focus on the period from birth to 3 is very important, of course, but broad-scale government solutions and government dependency are not doing the job of getting babies and toddlers ready for school by the age of 36 months.
Sadly, an article titled “How Welfare Harms Kids” written in 1996 by Patrick Fagan and Richard Rector for Heritage.org, rings as true today as it did then. In their article they tell us “it is welfare dependence, not poverty, that has the most negative effect on children” and that it “plays a powerful role in promoting illegitimacy.” Except in very limited cases, welfare and government dependency do not do right by babies, toddlers and their families. Fagan and Rector conclude the following: “those truly concerned with the welfare of children must seek a radical transformation of the welfare system aimed not at increasing welfare spending and enrollment, but at reducing dependence and illegitimacy.” To be sure, more than 20 years after Fagan and Rector were already looking back 25-30 years at the failures of welfare, we are no closer to building all babies’ and toddlers’ brains for school success than we were then. For those babies born into a life of government dependency and welfare out of the roughly 200 million babies born between 1996 and 2016 , the effects have been devastatingly negative and life-long.
If government was not the answer for those babies, toddlers and families from 1996-2016, then what is? The answer is private organizations and individuals who are able to operate on a small, local scale using programs can be individualized to a specific person or group’s needs quickly, efficiently and in a cost-effective manner. These organizations and people can aim to empower parents and caregivers to feel personally responsible for the outcome of the babies and toddlers in their lives. Instead of encouraging dependence on government-approved bland or broad advice, platitudes and programs, private organizations and individuals can spend time in a community to discover what is currently working in other homes within the community, and can then facilitate meetings between those who know how to stimulate brain development in babies and toddlers for school readiness and those who need coaching and guidance to do so. Once the information is shared from home to home by members of the community, it is easy to imagine concentric circles of community members eventually overlapping so that all babies and toddlers get the best start in life right from the beginning.
The Faberge Organic Shampoo ad from the 1970’s and 80’s demonstrates the exponential power of social networks and virality that is needed to get the job done. The ad represents what a private sector effort of “and they told two friends” would look like for parents and caregivers of babies and toddlers who need empowering words and guidance in order to get their children ready for school by the age of 36 months. Using the social media platforms currently available as well as “old-fashioned” person-to-person visits, phone calls, emails and text messaging, the brains of babies and toddlers could be given the age-appropriate stimulation and boosts in a matter of minutes or hours, rather than having to wait decades for a solution to arrive, potentially, from the government. Telling two friends will always have a larger, faster effect at far less cost and greater efficiency than any whale-of-a-government-program ever could.