There are two reason this quote by Frederick Douglass speaks to me so strongly.
1. It blows me away the insight that Frederick Douglass had about human development. He knew this even before we had machines that looked into the brains of young children and myriad studies into the importance of the first five years of life.
2. It speaks to the importance of early childhood educators. Every day, many children under the five spend most of their waking hours in the care of an adult who is not a relative. This means that the charge to “raise strong children” is shared between family members and these professionals.
What is there to say about a society that values the act of throwing balls more than educating our next generation? And, anyone who thinks that isn’t true need only compare the entry salaries for a rookie pitcher in the MLB and that of a rookie teacher in any school system in our country. This disparity of pay is especially painful in the world of early childhood education. Our field is plagued by turnover and this can be in large part attributed to the scope of the job we ask educators to do for so little money. No matter how dedicated you are to caring for and educating young children, if you are supporting a family and the fast food chain down the street is paying $2 more an hour; there would be too much pressure to not make the move. These individual career moves, while they financially benefit the individuals who make them add up to one of the greatest challenges for our field; turnover. And, by extension, an immeasurable negative impact on our youngest citizens.
This misplaced value has a huge impact; especially on our earliest learners. We know that young children need attachment. Brain research shows that children need stable relationships to learn and develop optimally. They need to know that they are cared for and that they matter to someone. They need to feel It is only in this context that they can learn. When they do not know who will be their teacher
Of course, in this blog, I am preaching to the choir. But, as members of this profession, it is our duty to preach to those that are not in the choir; are not even attending the church. There is an increasing interest in brain development and early education amongst business leaders and politicians. It is time for us to speak our truth. It is time to talk to whoever will listen and to help others see the importance of what we do; of how essential we are to the future of our society.
There are many conflicting truths that come into play when we examine this situation.
· Truth 1: Early childhood is no longer just about housing children while their families work: brain research shows us how critical this time of life is and that we not only do a disservice to children, but to our society when we ignore it.
· Truth 2: Early childhood professionals do not make enough money to make the field an attractive career choice; especially as we being to raise standards and ask that these teachers have higher credentials (necessary because of truth 1). As much as a person feels a calling or wants to have a positive impact on the world; bills must be paid and being a childcare provider does not make this easy.
· Truth 3: In this country, we have very little of a safety net for families; especially those at the lower end of social-economic scale. So, many parents have to work to live. By extension, they must find a place to leave their children during those working hours.
· Truth 4: Families cannot afford to pay more for childcare. In some parts of this country, quality childcare costs more than a mortgage and a college education. And, those families that cannot afford quality, leave their children in subpar settings out of necessity. These are the children who most need quality.
· Truth 5: All of us; children, family members, and society pay the price when children do not receive quality care and we are left with (in the words of Frederick Douglass) “broken men”.
And, I think we are raising broken men. I believe that the bullying, school shootings, public attacks on others, and general lack of social accord can be (in part) attributed to people who do not get the care and education their brains, bodies, and souls need when they are young.
I do not know the answer to this challenge. But I know that we need to work together to find one. I also know that the more we talk about it, we bring it into the light. With increased exposure, the more brains we can put to the problem. And, I know that we, as early childhood educators need to be part of that conversation.
After writing this post, I attended NAEYC’s PLI conference in Austin (shout out to an amazing city) and was able to attend an early screening of the documentary No Small Matter. This powerful project will draw national attention to this issue. I am excited about the power it has to join our voices in shining light on this national problem.
What do you think? Engage with me and others in the ECE community on my social media outlets. You can also find more information about my book and available training sessions, on any of the following:
Facebook: Teacher as Gardener
LinkedIn: Michelle Salcedo
My book, Uncover the Roots of Challenging Behavior can be purchased at Free Spirit Publishing