Apparently, it’s all in our heads. Or so says Ed Zigler, one of the founders of Head Start and Sterling Professor emeritus of Psychology at Yale, in a recent interview. The biggest problem facing the struggle for universal, high-quality early childhood education is how we as a society conceive of it, he explained.
Zigler is of the opinion that child care, as it exists now, is seen mainly as a “container,” where children are dropped off and picked up to enable the parent to work. This idea of container care is in direct conflict with recent research that shows children are born wired to learn. Not only that, but the benefits of high-quality early childhood education extend far beyond the cognitive domain into the realms of self-regulation and motivation, without which even the most cognitively advanced child will not reach her own individual potential.
That is not to say this view of child care is unanimous. Zigler, among others, aspire to something more, and back in 1965, Head Start was founded during President Johnson’s “War on Poverty,” as a summer program designed to help end the cycle of systemic poverty. Head Start aims to provide three- and four-year-old children with a developmental program that would meet their emotional, health, social, nutritional, and cognitive needs. Almost 30 years later, the Early Head Start Program was established in 1995, to meet the needs of children under three.
Now, fast forward to 2010. In New Haven, CT, All Our Kin is one of a handful of agencies that provide Early Head Start slots to the city’s infants and toddlers. And in doing so, AOK adds yet another piece to the patchwork of federal and state dollars available to the families of young children. All of these dollars come with strict eligibility requirements, allowing only the poorest of families access to comprehensive services. Everyone else is on their own. For families who have sufficient incomes to owe taxes to the federal government, there is a non-refundable tax credit of up to $3,000 for one child and up to $6,000 for two or more children.
We are still very far from any sort of comprehensive, universal system of early care and education. “Those of us who work on children’s issues are very depressed,” Zigler relayed, exactly because of this reality. There is a distinct lack of will, political or popular, to change—despite the benefits to the child, despite the benefits a stable source of care to the family, and despite the economic benefits to society.
Over the past 10 years, in addition to trying to expand access to high-quality child care, All Our Kin is in the business of changing ideas parents, teachers, legislators, and community members have about what it means to care for young children. Child care is not a container, but a conduit through which children and families can reach their full potentials across developmental domains.
All Our Kin is in the business of challenging conceptions of and ideas about child care, but these are things that do not change overnight. In the meanwhile, children and families are in need of child care every day. 10 years of All Our Kin and 45 years of Head Start, there is still a long road ahead. But as we hope to show with the many voices of All Our Kin—staff, providers, donors, and friends—there are many travelers on that road, each with our own path and perspective, but all of us sharing a common vision for the future.