Early Childhood Learning and Care
In the 1830s and 1840s Dr. Samuel Morton measured human skulls sent to him from all over the world by filling them with pepper seeds and then poured the seeds into tin measuring cans to determine the size of each skull. He concluded that persons of African descent had the smallest crania and therefore the least capacity for complex human thought. Later on he improved the uniformity of the cranial filler by switching from pepper seeds to metal pellets. Dr. Morton graduated from the University of Pennsylvania Medical School in 1820 and earned another degree from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. He became the inspiration for a series of subsequent and quite famous American scientists in other fields, both North and South, who also pursued race science to buttress the race conceit of inherent white superiority.
Complicity: How the North Promoted, Prolonged and Profited from Slavery, pp. 182-185, by Farrow, Lang and Frank, Ballantine Books, 2005.
At present some recognized academic leaders in the early childhood learning field are promoting a framework of pernicious premises that reverberate with the overtones of race-based science from the past. Some of these analysts contend:
- Children have damaged, under-developed brains when they do not receive the love (lots of hugs), attention and home support (such as reading to children) at an early age.
- As a result, these children do not grow up with the ability to do the kind of critical thinking needed to compete in modern society.
- Once these children reach the age of 7 or 8 it is basically too late to do anything to undo the brain damage they have suffered.
- Low-wealth families do not provide the love, attention and home support that middle and upper-income families provide.
- Therefore, children who grow up in low-wealth families are at much greater risk of not having normal, well-developed, healthy brains capable of mainstream critical thinking because low-wealth families do not provide the kind of love, attention and home support that middle and upper wealth families provide.
- Therefore, we need to provide more funding for early childhood learning for low-wealth children to compensate for the failure of their families to love and support them and the consequent threat of damage to their brains.
In one public hearing a leading academic advocate, to illustrate this analysis, displayed a huge two-dimensional graphic of the cross-section of two brains. One graphic showed delightful warm colors marking the different cognitive centers of what she called a “normal, healthy brain”. The other graphic illustrated smaller cognitive centers, primarily in solid black color, to illustrate the “under-developed damaged brain more likely to become violent”. In the context of the audience was encouraged to infer that the under-developed brain was that of an unloved low-wealth child.
In this past year several distinguished researchers and research institutions have associated themselves with this kind of analysis that encourages the inference that children of low-wealth families are to a significant extent trapped in an inescapable matrix that marks them with the stigma of deprivation and the stamp of inferiority. Our sense is that the focus on “class” is an effort to create a politically acceptable proxy for “race”. Worst of all, these analyses are coming from individuals and institutions who are positioned at the forefront of the fight for new policies and increased funding for early childhood learning and children at-risk. Their analyses of choice are like the fruit of the deadly nightshade: attractive on the outside, but deadly when swallowed.
These analyses demean and diminish people of color and low wealth as unworthy in order to justify not including them in a meaningful way in the formation and implementation of new early childhood learning policies. If this strategy succeeds, it will leave people of color and people of low-wealth, and their organizational representatives, marginalized and dependent on those who have always dominated the policy process and who created the very conditions from which people of low-wealth and of color are seeking substantial relief.
Southern Echo, in conjunction with several grassroots community organizations in the Mississippi Delta and leading consultants in the field, is undertaking a 3-stage approach to rebut this new phase of race science and to build a different kind of early childhood learning policy framework in the State of Mississippi:
- Research: Generate research and analyses by persons with the kinds of credentials in their fields that will enable us to rebut the race science, withstand the anticipated intense pressure that will come from formidable establishment institutions, and most important, that will assist us to fashion suitable and appropriate early childhood learning policies and practices.
- Policy formation: Build upon the research and analyses to create an early childhood policy formation framework, involving especially the broad base of stakeholders of color and of low-wealth, to effectively address the needs and interests of children of color and of low wealth.
- Community organizing strategy: Build upon the process of bringing stakeholders together in the policy formation phase to create a coalition of organizations, community leaders and activists to move from policy formation to policy adoption at the state and local levels, and further use the organizational framework to ensure implementation of the early childhood learning policies that have been adopted.