Starting Points: Meeting the Needs of Our Youngest Children
a book by Daniel R. Neuspiel
(our site's book review)
Neuspiel says “A remarkable degree of consensus is emerging on the essential requirements that positively influence a child’s early growth and development as well as on the ways that parents and others can provide our youngest children with a healthy start.”
Among the requirements cited are easy access to supportive extended family members, a supportive community (e.g., neighborhood), implicit and explicit parenting training, hope for the future, an interesting environment with opportunities for exploration. “If there is anything more fundamental than a decent start in life, I wonder what it could be. . . . families do not function in a vacuum. The context in which they raise children—their economic, social and community supports—has much to do with their effectiveness. . . . Expanding proven parent education . . . and teach[ing] parents nonviolent conflict resolution in order to prevent child abuse and neglect [are all highly recommended].”
He also recommends “. . . experimenting broadly with the creation of family-centered communities.” He calls upon the media to help spread awareness of the responsibilities of parenting as well as insight about it, and he calls upon parents to “secure the knowledge and resources they need to plan and raise children responsibly.” (Which is, of course, the major focus of our website, The Big Answer.)
The author points out that isolation of parents is a major risk factor relative to abuse, neglect, and divorce. Cooperation with others—social networking—is strategically important to secure decent child care without busting family budgets.
(Even though he has his finger on many important factors regarding giving kids a decent start in life, he tends to think that social policy (read that: social engineering) is going to be the major factor in alleviating the problems discovered. And while better schools, good health care, prenatal care, immunizations, and Head Start are commendable social policies that should be initiated, most of the other appropriate ways of reducing risk factors and enhancing family life and the nurturing of the young have nothing to do with programs, but everything to do with such things as the MC movement, babysitting co-ops, and local empowerment not by programs but by grassroots community actions. See Why Register for an MC?.)
Registering for MC search and match
The author does a wonderful job of highlighting the incredible importance of the structure, personnel and quality of the environment with regards to child development, brain development, intellectual development, and mental health. The qualities and quantities of the findings of carefully planned research proves this beyond any possibility of future contradiction. Advocating parenting education as part of education from elementary through high school is totally warranted advice, but there’s a political problem that’s easy to predict in most areas. The fundamentalists are bound to show up and exert immense pressures against good, scientifically valid parenting. They feel the only valid information on Earth is in the Bible, and—as they’ve demonstrated in countless school districts—they will either get their authoritarian parenting methods taught or none at all.
Fundamentalists are bound to show up and exert immense pressures against good, scientifically valid parenting, pushing for authoritarian ways instead
Many districts have caved in and now solve discipline problems by teaching that violence is the answer (spanking/paddling). So even though schools teaching P.E.T. and Winning Family Lifeskills methods is a great idea, it may be that many if not most districts have to rely on family and neighborhood [and, hopefully, MCs] for good parenting to be taught. Besides, kids learn from what people do much more than from what people say, so more vital than school-based parenting training is just raising kids in the right way so kids are happy and seek to emulate such methods when they grow up and become parents.
The book points out that for the vast majority of parents, parenting is a frustrating trial-and-error process much like flailing around in the dark. But when such people become policy makers, they somehow overlook their life’s experience and assume that parenting skills are something that people are born with! (Which is totally false—see Parenting From the Inside Out.) They usually forget that knowledge is even relevant in the parenting area, assuming that only instinct is. They’re easy prey to fundamentalist biases that push them to leave parenting to “mothers and God’s guidance.” This leaves them vulnerable to sinking to low-quality Second Wave-styled power (money—in the form of bribing kids with things or allowances, or coercion—in the form of threats or punishment) rather than high-quality Third Wave-styled power (knowledge, which would lead them to valid authoritative parenting methods and P.E.T.) in their parenting. The book points out that a culture having the knowledge of what to do but then not applying it may as well be an ignorant culture without a clue, since unapplied knowledge does no good.
Neuspiel also points out that studies prove that when children are with—and form bonds with—caregivers not their parents, there is no win-lose mechanism operating where bonds weaken between child and parent. Instead, a win-win mechanism is in effect whereby the bonds supplement parental bonds.
Government social engineering has undermined character and responsibility level for millions of citizens
When Neuspiel bemoans the low wages of childcare workers, they imply that higher wages would be of significant help. It would reduce turnover a few percent, but otherwise it would be useless. Hauling kids to people who don’t love them and whose caregiving abilities are not enhanced one bit when they get a pay raise is hardly a solution to anything. An assumption that government support for childcare—gotten from raising taxes—would help is a liberal error smacking of amnesia. Government social engineering has undermined character and responsibility level for millions of citizens in the past few decades, making it part of the problem more than part of the solution in these areas.
We need a solution that satisfies both sides, that empowers both responsibility and compassion, that transcends the right-left continuum, and that comes from individual choice, not tax-and-spend social engineering
Neuspiel putting his head in the sand is counterproductive—he should realize that the more we've tried to socially engineer problems, the worse they got
The statistics are clear, and Neuspiel putting his head in the sand is counterproductive and disappointing. The fact is that the more government spending has tried to “social engineer” problems away, for quite a few decades, the worse they got. It’s a fact: the more they have spent, the worse things have gotten. How can anyone see the real statistics (not the “cooked” ones accompanied by rationalizations and provided by the special interests who’ve gotten rich from providing social services) and yet continue to call for government spending? If the shocking facts about all this don’t cause a person to realize that social engineering by government is a lousy substitute for local responsibility, individual and family responsibility, and good character, then it’s hard to figure out what possibly could.
The bureaucrats have been foot-dragging because to admit that we now know what to do is to talk themselves out of a job, so they say we need to 'study' it more (so the 'experts' will stay employed!) The bottom line is that kids are getting a raw deal because the social support networks kids and families need are weak or absent. We get it! They know it and we know it and we DO know what to do about it. Check this website! There is no money for socialistic programs run by Big Government heroes, nor would they work. So the people will have to quit looking for political heroes to save them and START BEING TOTALLY RESPONSIBLE FOR THEIR OWN LIVES, CHILDREN, AND FAMILIES. IF THEY DO SO ACCORDING TO THE WISDOM IN OUR NOVEL The Forest Through The Trees, THEY'LL NO LONGER NEED 'EXPERTS' BECAUSE THEY, THEMSELVES, WILL BECOME THEIR OWN EXPERTS!
The author offers an enlightening report on childcare networking in France, a system that’s already working well. (In its childcare aspects it’s like MCs only run by local government and staffed by professional workers, and requiring funding from a combination of public and private sources.) If the U.S. decides that social engineering is the answer, this would probably be the most benign system to adopt. The problem, of course, is that Europe isn’t offended by welfare state contexts and policies, but the U.S. is full of individualists who cringe at the very thought. They believe that families are responsible for themselves and only weak families need lots of social services.
We can't make the square peg of the French system fit into the round hole of U.S. social reality, so we Americanize it: let us focus on character and responsibility, not taxes and experts
Instead of trying to make the square peg of the French system fit into the round hole of U.S. social reality—which the Republicans wouldn’t allow to pass if it were a cold day in Hell anyway—why not imitate the successes of their system but first Americanize it? Americans don’t want childcare to be a “tax and spend” issue; they want it to be a character and responsibility issue, resolved by strength and will, not “experts,” taxes, programs, funding, engineering, politics and other ways of making up for what is perceived to be the weaknesses and deficiencies of people in the society. Even if politicians and social policy makers cannot seem to remember this week the social engineering flops last week, the American public has no such amnesia, and the trends in attitude polls show this clearly.
(The MC version of the very successful French system would simply be the MC movement itself. Here’s how it compares to French social engineering:)
|Funding||None||Taxes and private money|
|Responsibility||Each MC||Government and/or experts|
|Quality of Knowledge Base||Best possible: P.E.T., Winning Family Lifeskills, etc.||Whatever ideas are in political favor currently|
|Convenience||In neighborhood||At local centers and/or in homes|
|Communication||Much is noninvasive since PSBs and scheduling software are used||Much is invasive since running a network creates many needs for question/response actions via phone or computer network|
|Relationship of caregivers to kids under their care||Love and friendship, genuine||Pragmatic; workers earning money|
The author is wise enough to advocate that Americans use daycare settings of many types, including homes, centers, and Head Start programs, to advise local development and operations unpolluted by “outsiders,” and to encourage relative and family childcare providers to join such networks. But then he says it must include all existing child care services and involve experts, which is questionable. How could he so easily forget what happens when government bureaucracies get involved in private matters? (More likely, he didn’t really forget—he is simply hoping that we will forget!)
(In general, the author's researches has led to MC-like conclusions, but he frames the networks he advocates in social engineering terms complete with experts and funding, assuming that just because parents generally don’t have and use the correct parenting information, they can’t avoid the expense of experts who will administer programs paid for by taxes. Why not advise people to use Google to find info—such as this website, rather than depending on experts who aren’t as knowledgeable on parenting? Why not save their social-program-targeted money and use it instead to beautify their MC neighborhoods rather than paying taxes for another probable bureaucratic fowl-up or dependence-producing program?)
(Richard Louv, in Childhood’s Future, comes closest to getting an MC-like structure defined and outlined, in his “fourth-wave” childcare ideas where centers stay in the neighborhood as much as possible, involve parents, elders, extended family members, and rely on individual initiative rather than experts and taxes and programs. Neuspiel should use Louv's book (and this website) as an antidote for their tendency toward social engineering. To be fair, he did recommend experimenting in MC-like ways, but on almost every page of the book he finds some way of indicating government support as a prerequisite, as if lives working well were a function of government efforts rather than individual efforts.)