Ncholas Kristof’s piece in the New York Times earlier this week chronicled the significant work Save The Children is doing to provide enriched early learning opportunities to kids born into low-income families in the U.S. These opportunities are valuable because they can enable disadvantaged kids to make something greater of their lives.
While Kristof has a platform for spotlighting the worthiness of investing in early childhood education, this issue typically goes under the radar. In interviews for my next book, directors of nonprofits have reported to me that enrichment programs for low-income families are a tough sell to funders precisely because, ironically enough, they are preventative!
One director commented: “When you’re working with a child from birth to three, the change that we’re seeking is not going to be measured pre and post in the way that a high school dropout who then goes to college can be measured and also quite visible in the impact. We tend, as a society, to stand around and wait for things to happen and try to fix the situation. When we’re trying to fix something and you can see that it’s broken first and then fix after, that kind of evidence is far more dramatic and compelling to people in terms of the demonstration of change that we seek to make.”
The fact that people may not view enabling very young children to avoid a life of despair to be as compelling as helping adolescents or adults overcome adversity is shortsighted thinking we need to overcome. If we are to help poor children gain greater access to the American dream, we should begin as early as possible, regardless of what kind of feel-good story we can attach to our efforts.