Big Government as Parent Myth: "Quality" Childcare Will Enhance Brain Development
by Karen R. Effrem, M.D.

Proponents of the intrusive and expensive Action Plan for Early Care and Education in Minnesota, including DCFL Commissioner Christine Jax, are touting "research" about brain development in order to promote the massive takeover of parental responsibility by the state. Commissioner Jax said in her presentation to the Senate Education Committee on January 4th, 2001:

"Beginning at birth, children’s brains begin to develop connections or synapses, based on their experiences with the surrounding world… the more a child experiences and learns, the more connections are made…If they are not used repeatedly or often enough, they are eliminated."

They then extrapolate that if there is not enough "quality" childcare or more government programs like the failed Head Start program, that children will not be able to develop well or even normally.

At best this research is controversial. At worst, it is patently false. Experts in neuroscience and child development have debunked it. Much of the research was carried out on rhesus monkeys that have a different developmental cycle than do human children or in rats. These animals lived in deprived laboratory environments, meaning they were locked in cages and deprived of stimulation. They were then provided with a normal environment comparable to what they would have in the wild. Dr. John Bruer, Director of the James McDonnell Foundation in St. Louis, one of the nation’s premier institutions dealing with early learning and neuropsychology, asserts:

"What neuroscientists know about synaptogenesis does not support a claim that zero to three is a critical period for humans. ... Finally, there is no evidence, or even the suggestion, that specific kinds of learning experiences or early childhood environments influence the rate, duration, or outcome of synaptogenesis and synaptic pruning."

This was confirmed by brain researchers Alison Gopnik, Andrew Meltzoff, and Patricia Kuhl who said:

"The new scientific research doesn’t say that parents should provide special ‘enriching’ experiences to babies to [babies] over and above what they experience in everyday life. It does suggest, though, that a radically deprived environment could cause damage."

So unless we are talking about children locked in cages, the assertion, that government controlled, large-center childcare (billed as "quality childcare") will enhance brain development is ludicrous.

A National Academy of Sciences report went on to say that taking the view that it is all over by age three causes problems in other ways:

"Available evidence indicates that such critical periods are more exceptional than typical in human development… Assertions that the die has been cast by the time the child enters school are not supported by neuroscience evidence and can create unwarranted pessimism about the potential efficacy of interventions that are initiated after the preschool years."

The non-partisan Minnesota Office of the Legislative Auditor in a report released January 12, 2001, reviewed much of this research as part of their report on Minnesota’s early childhood programs and confirmed that there is no scientific justification for the radical and expensive types of interventions that are being proposed by the DCFL and the Early Childhood Commission:

"For the most part, brain research does not offer clear evidence about the right time to begin programmatic interventions in young children’s lives or the types of care and instruction that should be provided."

Deficiencies in early upbringing are caused in part by ineffective, invasive, and costly government programs that usurp parental responsibilities and raise the tax burden so high, that mothers must join the work force in most cases just to pay the taxes. Children need their parents to be freed from the crushing tax burden in Minnesota and nationally so that they may be raised and nurtured by their parents who love them and not by the state who sees them only as the commodity of human resources.