Hillary Clinton was, in my view, unfairly castigated when she said it takes a village to raise a child. It does. But the village is not the replacement for the parents. In other words, part of the problem is that we have no real sense of community in our neighborhoods and no one takes responsibility when the parents are not around. It becomes a police issue, a welfare issue, a court issue, or a DHS issue. It does take a village but not to the exclusion or replacement of a stable home of mom, dad, and children. Just as the village is not a replacement for the parents, neither is the government a replacement for a two-parent family, a mom and a dad, their children, and their extended family around them.
Growing up in a small town, my parents warned me that they would take my teacher's side in every dispute, trust the words of the townsfolk over my explanations, and that they expected the village (it really was -- 700 people!) to be their eyes and ears over me when they were not around. My brother and I knew this from the get go and I can well recall the times when the village came to my aid, warned me of my behavior, and reported back to my parents when I went astray. Maybe we cannot go back to a small town atmosphere for all our children but we can hold up the same model for neighborhood and extended family. Nothing beats personal responsibility!
That said, ceding to the government what is the domain and the responsibility of parents, family, neighbors, and the village (in whatever form that may take) does not offer much promise of solving the problem. We have thrown so many billions at the problem since Lyndon Johnson declared a war against poverty and yet the poor we have with us still. I am not saying government should be the enemy of the home but at least its ally and certainly not its replacement.
Government preschool programs typically have little effect on needy children because they begin too late, says economist James Heckman and colleagues in a new paper (PDF) funded by government preschool advocates. So he says there’s good reason to start public “school” as early as eight weeks after birth for at-risk children — which typically designates those born into low-income and unmarried parents. In other words, he thinks we need a new welfare program run by Donald J. Trump.
Most government spending on education-themed programs for small children is targeted at those age four and older, which is too late to affect crucial language development, Heckman noted to The Atlantic, despite the preschool lobby’s long use of his research to urge these same programs. That’s his explanation for the failures of these programs after 50 years of drastic expansion across the country. None of the promises of massive social benefits after passing government early childhood programs have made their way into reality. In fact, the most recent research shows mass early childhood programs have even made more kids hate learning and commit more crimes. So, from preschoolers on to babies!
“If you look at disadvantaged children you’ll find that they’re getting about a third or a fourth as many words per hour as more advantaged children,” he told NPR. “The environments are fundamentally different. Over the lifetime, their young childhood — a period of say 0 to 5 — you’re getting a millions of words deficit between those who are advantaged and those who aren’t advantaged. That essentially is one way to close the gap. By literally reading to the child, by encouraging the child.”While I believe it is a great thing for churches to step in with preschools (my parish has a very large and successful one) and day care for children, these are always supplemental to the primary place where children are raised, cared for, nurtured, and supported -- the home! Perhaps we ought to begin with less intention upon replacing defective parents and paying attention to equipping those parents (who are often themselves the victims of a single parent family where one shouldered the full burden of wage earner, parent, launderer, maid, cook, tutor, and role model). That is where we start -- by reminding the children that parenting needs both mom and dad pulling the weight together (as divinely intended) and where we can support, supplement, and equip them (in the neighborhood, village, or government), then we have done something good. Replacing them is not the solution to anything. The children deserve and God intended for them to have a mother and father working together to fulfill the sacred trust bestowed upon them with the gift of a child.