I recently attended a forum on early childhood learning at the University of Nebraska at Kearney, where Daniel Pedersen, president of the Buffett Early Childhood Fund, spoke of the thousands of preschool children in Nebraska who are "at risk" because they are not prepared to enter kindergarten.
Pedersen noted that 80 to 90 percent of brain development takes place in the first five years of life and then levels off while the government's investment in education for children starts to increase at age 5. If you superimpose those two arcing lines, what you have is a hole that makes no sense.
A short time ago, there was a bill in the Nebraska Legislature that proposed creation of a fund, made up of $20 million in private money and $40 million in state money, that would establish $3 million in programs each year to target Nebraska's most "at-risk" children from birth to age 3. Furthermore, we are told:
. . . research indicates . . . in some estimates, the return on the investment ranges between $4 and $16 for every dollar spent on quality early childhood programs.
Jack P. Shonkoff, pediatrician and chairman of the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, noted in an address before Nebraska legislators at the Governor's Mansion that:
. . . nurturing responsive and individualized relationships in the early years builds healthy brain architecture that provides a strong foundation for all future growth and development.
The developing brain is most malleable in the first few years of life, when its structure--its architecture--is undergoing essential change. Public policies should capitalize on the important opportunity presented in the preschool and early school years.
In effect, more and more childrens' brains are "at risk" because their parents are not providing for their nutritional, emotional and intellectual needs. Therefore, these children ought to be placed in "early childhood centers" at birth, better ensuring that they become productive adults.
It is important to remember that what Shonkoff says about the "developing child" applies to all animals: When poorly nourished, their brains are impaired.
However, what is left out of Pedersen's and Dr. Shonkoff's equation is that man's soul, which is the seat of reason placed in him by God, has separated him from animals.
The problems of the "at-risk" children of Nebraska are not those that require a scientist to figure out. The problem facing the "at-risk" children is the moral problem of not having responsible parents. This problem is not going to be solved by turning infants over to yet another government program staffed by experts in "early childhood centers."
Aristotle long ago noted the categorical difference between goods of the body and goods of the soul. The nurturing of the brain is one of the goods of the body, the nature that man shares with the animals. But the goods of the soul are the intellectual and moral virtues--the former of which come from instruction and the latter from habit.
Aristotle, as well as St. Thomas Aquinas, saw that the intellect, which is synonymous with the mind, was the "divine element" within man's soul. The mind moves from and toward principles and is the seat of both moral judgment and the will, by which man acts and can do what is right-minded for the greater good.
While scientists can find what is good for the body, it is beyond the realm of methodology of the natural and social sciences to find what is good for the development of the soul.
The more time that educators, scientists, and businessmen spend on what stimulates the brain for a "better return on their investment," the less time is spent on developing the minds of students.
Though the public schools of Nebraska are spending more than $7,500 annually on each student's education, far too many students graduate illiterate and ignorant of Western history. Many graduates know barely the smallest amount of literature, not to mention mathematics, essential for the formation of a mind that moves from and toward principles.
All the children in Nebraska will be at further risk when the social engineers start tampering with the brain when it is "most malleable" for the educational ends established by state legislatures eager for joint ventures with businessmen who are concerned with their investments.
In all of this, I am reminded of G.K. Chesterton, who noted,
There is in this materialism a mad indifference to real thought. By disbelieving in the soul, it comes to disbelieving in the mind.
As the saying goes, "A mind is a terrible thing to waste!" *
"It is dangerous to be right in matters on which the established authorities are wrong." -Voltaire