Monday, December 10, 2007

Is the government the solution to our child care needs?

It is not surprising that Judith Warner (Perfect Madness) advocates some kind of government intervention in the provision of child care for this country. The first step would be some kind of national standards to ensure that child care is of adequate quality. My initial response was that this seems rather hypocritical -- are there minimum standards to determine if we are fit to be parents? Having said that I am still all for the idea and certainly when we were looking for high quality child care the NAEYC stamp was one of the main driving factors.

I don't know how likely this will come to fruition and in her book she describes how polarized this debate can get with extremists on the left and right weighing in so shrilly that reasoned debate is almost impossible. However, my feeling is that there seems to be some momentum building that high quality child care is needed with Nobel laureate James Heckman (here, and here) weighing in as well a series of articles from the FRB of Minneapolis.

In her book, her basis for comparison is France and as I had eluded to in an earlier post, the book needs a more comprehensive description of the French system before I can buy into her argument. But in the end (pp. 280-281) as she notes, even the French system isn't perfect:

The future "France" I've constructed in my mind doesn't exist. School aged French children are every bit as stressed as their American counterparts, if not more so. Public schooling there is often a soul-crunching experience, and certain popular parenting techniques("You're an idiot... You're a slob ... Do you want me to hit you again?") leave something to be desired. If French children are not being drugged not in order to meet the kind of Olympian performance standards we hold dear, it's probably just a matter of time. Because according the the French newspaper Le Point, French children too are now being reared like racehourses, dragged to an average of three after-school activities per week and filled, from the earliest possible age, with the fear of failure. "A child must not only be seductive," wrote journalists Irene Inchauspe and Valerie Peiffer in January 2004, "he must also be ultrahigh-performing: first in his class, accomplished at sports, and a friend like none other ..." .... Life for French mothers, in the long term isn't necessarily such a bowl of cherries either. For there is a price they pay for the wonderful (and expensive) benefits they enjoy: a pervasive and all-but-unchallenged kind of institutional kind of sexism. It can keep women of childbearing age from being hired.

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