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Reader View: Early childhood education can be transformative

March 5, 2017 GMT

Support early childhood education programs for all of Santa Fe’s children, now.

There is no valid reason to postpone investing in our children, all of our children. I have been an education, youth and family activist for more than 40 years. I have worked primarily in poor, low-income and minority communities in New Mexico and Chicago, as well as Mexico and Australia. I follow the latest research and have read many of the evaluations of what works and what doesn’t work.

Early childhood education is one intervention that works consistently across cultures, communities and countries, as well as incomes. It works well in all of its manifestations, be it the extended family that neoliberalism has obliterated, or Head Start and other community-based programs inspired by unions, the Black Panthers and the Chicano Movement, or the modern-day early learning centers.

There are entire communities, like Reggio Emilia in Italy, where everyone plays a role in nurturing early learning. The benefits of these efforts go beyond academic preparation for children. Benefits include increased family effectiveness, higher quality and quantity of family social networks also known as social capital, more resourcefulness and better problem-solving skills, increased social and cultural integration, higher homeownership, increased labor force participation with increased skills and higher wages, increased consumption, lower dependency on social safety nets, lower incarceration rates for children and their parents, increased civic engagement and an overall higher quality of life. A transformed life.

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There are no downsides, none, except to the organizations and industries that make their living off the poor. This includes the private prison industry, the payday lenders, the politicians who use the poor to push hatred and the sugar dealers. This last group is the one now spending cash from their corporate coffers to post ads about job losses and business failures should their drug dealing be curtailed in any way. And make no mistake. Sugar is a drug, one that they target to children and the poor. The research is very clear on how the sugar industry markets disease and addiction, as well as the health and social costs of its enterprise.

The families I work with in Santa Fe are those that don’t have the complexion for protection, as we say in the environmental justice movement. They know that the children of the more affluent have plenty of early learning opportunities and enrichment activities. In fact, in most cases they are the nannies or the housekeepers, or the gardeners or maintenance people who support those privileged lives. They want opportunities for their children as well.

There are calls for postponing a vote on a tax on sugary drinks for next year, but there are no valid reasons other than to “study” this some more. Well, our children can’t wait any longer. They should not wait any longer. The council should unanimously declare itself in support of all children by approving a special election to tax sugary drinks and fund pre-K. Then let the community vote its support as well.

Miguel Acosta lives in Santa Fe and works with low-income youth and families.