debateMy blog is a place for ideas. I am a fervent believer in refining ideas in community, and I had a chance to do that this week with my friends and fellow early childhood educators, Kelly Matthews and Ijumaa Jordan.

I want to share a conversation with you that I had with these thoughtful and reflective leaders in the field of early childhood education. Our discussion began following my blog post from last week called, “The Biggest Problem with Child Care in the United States.” In the discussion that follows, Kelly and Ijumaa dialogue with me about what they see as the biggest problems facing child care in the United States.

The dialogue that follows will make more sense if you’ve read the first post. Please take the time to leave me your thoughts in the comments below. What do you see as the biggest problems facing child care in the United States

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KM: I think the biggest problem is that child care is seen as a ‘service’ (those that use it should pay for it) and not a public good (we all benefit from high quality child care and therefore should contribute) and it is funded as a service and not a public good. I think this blog is useful in helping smooth out the day-to-day experience of families and providers but will do nothing to reconceptualize the larger issue of funding.

Parents can’t afford the true cost of care (nor should they be required to); providers can’t subsidize the true cost of care, though many are. The first five years of children’s lives are vastly important. Headlines are screaming about the cost of care rivaling or surpassing college tuition – well, the truth is, more brain development happens at 0-5 – it is WORTH funding! What seems to be true is that we value college-aged folks more than small children with our funding choices and how we’ve decided what is valuable to spend money on and what is not.

EP: Kelly, I agree with you completely.  My big question is…how do we begin to reconceptualize child care if those who most directly and immediately benefit from it (families) don’t understand it beyond “babysitting?”  Who will advocate?  When providers don’t take seriously the needs and concerns of families, and families don’t take seriously the needs and concerns of providers, then the most critical advocates are missing the purpose of child care as well.

Can we shift the culture around child care without starting at this core relationship in the puzzle?  Maybe so, and maybe the cultural shift precludes and informs the shift that will happen between families and providers rather than the other way around as I’ve written.

KM: I think a big part of this issue is the undervaluing of children as political players – they don’t vote so they don’t have power; but they are a part of the political fabric of our community.  I have been thinking a lot about systems – they seem so monolithic and powerful and have this aura of ‘always having been’ but child care is a relatively NEW phenomenon in the way we are currently doing it – humans created this system and we can create a new one.

Parents and caregivers should not be the immediate and only advocates of children; *everyone* benefits from good child care. And we can create a system that says children are valued because they are humans, not just because they are economic engines later, or students later, or non-criminals later – they are HUMANS NOW and deserve a system that respects that.  I think about New Zealand and their requirements for highly educated staff – that shows an investment and acknowledgment that this work is important and can’t be done just by anyone.  It takes *training* and support and mentoring to be a good educator.  It’s one way we remove the ‘babysitter’ stigma.  Early educators and teachers have been under a false divide when it comes to training but also compensation and respect.

IJ: I agree with two ideas that have been brought up. The first is parents and educators should understand each other’s perspectives and values in order to provide the “best” care and education for young children.  Not sure if this is the “gateway” to changing our early care and education system.  Which leads me to agree with Kelly that the problem needs to be addressed systematically. One of the ways to change the system is for society to understand and support that childcare is a social good that everyone benefits from. All children should be valued as human and not potential workers in our economic system.

One of the complexities of this issue that needs to be addressed to transform the current system surrounds the intersection of race, gender, and class. The childcare workforce is estimated to be 94% women, 19% Latina, and 16% Black. The figures that were available didn’t include other women of color. At least 35% are women of color and if the estimates include in-home workers (Nannies) the figures would be much higher. We live in a society that devalues women’s work and contribution, especially if you are a woman of color and/or an immigrant. It can be hard for a White power structure to care. The middle and affluent classes benefit from low wages of childcare providers. While providing childcare for families to improve and or maintain their socioeconomic status, working in early care and education keeps particularly women of color poor.

EP: I can’t help but see connections between what you both are saying, namely that lack of agency and power on behalf of children and child care professionals is critical to this discussion. In childhood, it’s the dominant idea that children exist in “a presocial period of difference, a biologically determined stage on the path to full human status, i.e., adulthood.” (James, 9) This bias is so implicit in our parenting and child care practices that we don’t even notice it. Common language like, “It’s just a phase; she’ll grow out of it” evidences our lack of respect for the child as a full human now.   And as Ijumaa has said, the current climate, which rests care for children on the backs of underpaid and undervalued women and minorities, is beneficial to the powerful.

How would you both feel about saying that the number one problem facing child care in the United States today is an oppressive dominant narrative which will not allow for fair wages and worthy status for child care professionals, as well as maintains the child in a state of powerlessness. Is it too much of a stretch to combine these two issues together? I know the two inform one another, but they might be too different to fall under one umbrella.

(James, A., & Prout, A. (2015). A new paradigm for the sociology of childhood? In Constructing and reconstructing childhood: Contemporary issues in the sociological study of childhood. London: Routledge.)

Let me know what you think in the comments below! Thank you, Kelly and Ijumaa!

About the contributors:

KellyKelly Matthews, owner of A Place For You Early Childhood Consulting in Oshkosh, WI joyfully explores learning with people of all ages. A popular ECE speaker, Kelly travels and meet with early educators across the country, creating professional development sessions that make room for teachers’ voices, thoughts, and full selves. Kelly is also proud to be one of the Harvest Resources Associates.

Kelly has been a contributor to this blog on several occasions.  Read more here or here.

IMG_1807Ijumaa Jordan works as an early education consultant, focusing on the areas of play, social justice/anti-bias work, and reflective practice. She is a Harvest Resources Associate, adjunct instructor at Pacific Oaks college, and has worked in South Africa as a Lead Early Education Fellow.

Ijumaa has also written for this blog in the past.  Find her work here or here