Eisler: Failure to invest in kids threatens our future
By Riane Eisler May 10, 2012 8:06PM
Updated: June 12, 2012 8:23AM
We’re being told that fiscal responsibility requires big cuts in education, nutrition and health care for millions of children.
This shortsighted thinking is not only a nightmare for those directly affected, it’s a threat to America’s economic future.
We have to let our policy makers know that fiscal soundness requires caring economic policies.
Experts agree that a nation’s most important asset is what economists call “high-quality human capital” — flexible, creative, educated people who can adapt to our globalized knowledge/service economy.
Brain science shows that the years from birth to 5 are critical for healthy brain development. To ensure this high-quality human capital, we must invest more in care and education for our children, which is the most cost-effective investment a nation can make.
Other developed nations are investing heavily in early childhood education because it’s an investment in their economic success. But we’re going in the opposite direction, despite much evidence that not making this investment will lead to an economic calamity.
A substantial body of research shows that high-quality preschool education is key in preparing children to succeed in school and career training and helps reduce the enormous financial costs of remedial work, delinquency and crime.
But the State of Preschool 2011 study found that rather than increasing our national investment in these essential programs, real spending on state pre-kindergarten education declined by about 15 percent over the past 10 years. This means that spending per child nationally is now $715 lower than the 2001-02 level.
“A decline of this magnitude should serve as a wake-up call for parents and policy leaders about how well we are preparing today’s preschoolers to succeed in school and later find good jobs in a competitive market,” said Steve Barnett, director of the nonpartisan National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University.
Our policy makers need to heed this warning and be aware of the proven success of hundreds of small preschool programs across the country, such as the pilot programs supported by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.
They also need to know about the need for new economic measures that are more accurate and inclusive than the gross domestic product.
When GDP keeps rising at the same time that joblessness is dangerously high and child care and educational budgets are slashed, it’s clear that we need better measurements to give state and federal legislators a more accurate picture of the true economic health of the country and its citizens.
Social wealth indicators show the enormous economic value of care and education for children.
They identify low-cost, high-value investments for developing people’s capacities so our country can achieve a healthy economy, a better quality of life and a strong democracy through caring business and government policies and practices.
The $500 million Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge that’s providing federal grants to nine states is a step in the right direction.
But we urgently need more. It’s up to us to demand that local, state, and federal governments invest in our most precious national asset, our children.
There’s an old saying that a stitch in time saves nine. We as a nation must adopt it in light of the enormous costs of not investing in care and education for our future workforce.
Riane Eisler is an author, scholar and president of the Center for Partnership Studies, a nonprofit organization based in California that works to create a more equitable and sustainable world through cultural transformation.