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“’Helping Children Succeed’ Starts At Birth; A Case For The Power Of Nurture” is a compelling review of Paul Tough’s new book, Helping Children Succeed. The article makes two points very clear:

  1. The environments in which children live and develop can both diminish and enhance certain noncognitive skills all children need to succeed in their lives.
  2. The diminishing and enhancing of noncognitive skills starts to happen well before children get to school, and continues in their home lives outside of school.

Here’s a snippet:

Let’s talk about the home environment for a minute. The ages zero to 5, and especially zero to 3, are traditionally outside the scope of education policy, and yet you spend a good deal of time talking about them. Why?

There’s this big disconnect in how we think about education in general and this solid body of research that shows how important these early years are. We’ve known for a while that the foundations of reading and math skills, number sense, are laid in early childhood. And it’s becoming really clear that the most important foundations are on this emotional level.

The back and forth that children and parents have, the level of fear and stress in the community, how parents manage stress and deal with it, it matters in ways we can measure very precisely at the neurobiological level. And we also know that you can change it.

But the discussion falls short, eventually turning to and focusing on later-in-life solutions like school reform.

And that misses the point. The most important potential change in policy starts at the source, and it involves legal, corporate, and grassroots reforms that change the way we fundamentally think about parenting and having kids. It requires getting to the point where we can finally admit that there are conditions in which no child should be born. And it requires us acknowledging that the first step to helping children starts with clear and definite models for family planning.

In other words, helping children doesn’t start at birth. It starts well before children are born.

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