Graduate Center for the Study of Early Learning

The University of Mississippi School of Education

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Left Behind

History was made in Mississippi on Wednesday. According to the Washington Post, ICE officials reported the 680 people arrested at their work place today was the largest single-state immigration enforcement action in U.S. history. Food processing plants at various locations in our state were raided in mid- morning and immigrants who were thought to be residing in the country illegally were placed on buses and carried to a detention location. This detention will be the first step toward deportation. For the children left alone as a result of this raid, it was extremely traumatic as they learned about it. Some children walked home from their first day of school to empty houses. Others were picked up by family members, friends, or neighbors and given a place to sleep for the night. The uncertainty must be incredibly frightening.

This is not written to stimulate yet another debate about immigration laws, but it is written to ask the questions related to the children left behind. Who will become responsible for their care and well-being? Many of them were born in this country and are American citizens, yet they are children who are not old enough to work, drive, or financially care for themselves. Where will funding come from for their housing, education, food and health care? Who will provide for the mental health counseling that is needed if we have any hope that the children will grow into productive adults. Who will provide them a home?

As the children left home that morning their parents were likely giving them words of encouragement, and looking forward to hearing about their first day of school over a meal that evening. Later in the day, children were told by school personnel their parents had been taken away, possibly forever, and few answers were to be given. How in the world can the children make sense of what happened?

ICE acknowledges that some of the people detained were “collateral arrests”—individuals who have done nothing wrong but got swept up along with those ICE was seeking. For those who are here legally, to be caught up in such a raid must be terribly humiliating.

Perhaps the biggest question is how did the adults get to Mississippi? Were they brought in by their employers to work in the plants? Will the company be held responsible for their actions? Will they be required to care for the children left behind?  ICE refuses to answer these questions but rarely are the employers charged in these cases.

Yes, we made history once again.

by Dr. Cathy Grace

“Only a virtuous people…”

In my last post I examined how our founding fathers struggled with deciding the balance of power between the federal government and states’ rights. The compromise they reached in drafting our Constitution expressly leaves those authorities not granted to the federal government to the states, including education, and they surely expected state elected officials to do right by citizens in the matters with which they are entrusted. 

I’ve been thinking more about the debates leading up to ratification of the Constitution that established our democracy, and the intense negotiations that were necessary to get people with very different views to agree on something so complex as creating a new nation.

The United States proclaimed independence from Great Britain on July 4,  1776, in the powerful but not legally-binding Declaration of Independence. The Continental Congress approved Articles of Confederation the following year to establish a central government. It required unanimous approval by all thirteen colonies….no easy feat…but I expect the fact that British troops had captured Philadelphia and were raiding communities along the eastern seaboard provided a strong incentive for colonies to coalesce around the Articles.  

It was recognized that there were flaws in the Articles of Confederation which would need to be addressed in a permanent Constitution. For example, there was no executive branch to carry out laws passed by Congress. There was no judicial branch establishing a national court system to decide disputes of law. States had no power to tax or regulate trade, resulting in many conflicts among states. So, fifty-five men gathered in 1787 at a Constitutional Convention. 

One of the great debates was over whether to include a specific list of personal liberties, that is, limitations on the government, in the Constitution. The Federalists believed it was not needed since the Constitution limited the authority of the government, not people. The Anti-Federalists believed it was necessary to preserve individual rights and prevent government from encroaching on those rights. Both sides had very strong views. For six weeks they listened, passionately debated, published papers for and against and, in the end, an agreement was reached under which ten amendments to the Constitution would be included as what we know as the Bill of Rights. There are many other provisions of the Constitution that evolved through extensive negotiations. 

In his book Plain, Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution, Dr. Richard Beeman details the struggles and compromises that made our Constitution a reality. Beeman says our Founding Fathers were humble men who were not convinced that they were absolutely right and their opponents were absolutely wrong. They were able to balance being responsive to the people while keeping in mind the greater good of the nation as a whole.

Benjamin Franklin was the oldest delegate to the Constitutional Convention at 81. His speech on the day of the final vote on the Constitution is legendary (although he wasn’t able to personally deliver it). In it he acknowledged that the Constitution wasn’t perfect but that it was better than anything else, and that a government is only as good as the people who administer it.  He respected the rights of others to hold opinions that did not align with his own and he valued compromise. Walter Isaacson’s biography, Benjamin Franklin: An American Life, states “compromisers may not make great heroes, but they do make great democracies.” 

The character traits of humility and compromise evidenced by our Founding Fathers are rare in politics nowadays but so desperately needed.  There once was a reverence for public offices and the institutions of government since they represent elements of our democracy.  Historically leaders of opposing parties have respected each other’s positions and maintained personal friendships even while disagreeing vehemently on policies. President Ronald Reagan (Republican) and House Speaker “Tip” O’Neill (Democrat), John McCain (Republican) and Joe Biden (Democrat), Orrin Hatch (Republican) and Ted Kennedy (Democrat), President Bill Clinton (Democrat) and both President Bushes (Republicans) are examples of politicians with very different views who became good friends. They were able to put the country’s best interest ahead of ideological divides. 

 Newt Gingrich ushered in an era of hyper-partisanship in 1990 with a memo entitled “Language: A Key Mechanism of Control” that provided party members with words to use in describing opponents, including destructive, liberal, traitors, radical, and corrupt. He encouraged politicians not to socialize with members of other parties and unashamedly pronounced that winning is the only thing that matters—at any cost. And with that, civility and decorum have become unpopular and are seen as weaknesses rather than signs of integrity and self-control. When I worked in Washington I saw representatives and senators pass each other in the hallways of the U.S. Capitol and only speak to members of their own party. What a shame.

As a result of the “win at any cost” political climate, elected officials are now in perpetual campaign mode and passing meaningful legislation seems to be way down on the list of priorities. Commitment to public good as evidenced in the actions of our Founding Fathers is hard to find.  Creating jobs that pay a living wage and allow citizens to escape poverty, improving educational opportunities and access to health care, promoting equity, repairing our infrastructure, protecting our natural resources, and ensuring that every child in this country gets a great start in life have taken a distant back seat to emotionally charged rhetoric that excites people but doesn’t amount to anything substantive. 

The Founding Fathers were ordinary men who had personal flaws like all of us, but who also had an unselfish and extraordinary dedication to public service and to a new, representative form of government. They anticipated that corruption, greed, ignorance, and apathy could bring democracy to its knees and included provisions they thought would enable people of good will to protect the nation’s best interest. Franklin and his contemporaries were unsure of how long this experiment in democracy would last, and he said, “Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom.”  

What exactly did he mean by that? The National Center for Constitutional Studies defines “virtuous” as “agreeing to forego some personal advantage for the betterment of one’s neighbor and society.” Benjamin Franklin knew that corrupt and selfish people could not handle self-governance. Democracy requires individuals to be able to resist the temptations of power and greed, to seek truth, and to put fellow citizens and the nation before themselves. Unfortunately, our children are not seeing many virtuous role models in elected positions these days.

We should be teaching children how our nation came into existence, what the people at that time feared and what they hoped to accomplish, and that public service is a noble endeavor requiring dedication to something greater than oneself. Schools must provide opportunities for students to understand the way government works and how to discern facts from opinion (“alternative facts”) at a time when the public is being desensitized to extreme positions which violate norms that have preserved our democracy for going on 250 years. To once again quote Thomas Jefferson, “Educate and inform the whole mass of the people. They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty.”

Independence Day: Is this what the Founding Fathers envisioned?

Today I got out my flags and bunting and other decorations to prepare for the Fourth of July. We will soon celebrate the wisdom and bravery of our founding fathers who declared and fought for independence from Great Britain, typically with food, fireworks, family and friends,

I love history and as I contemplate how the founders envisioned a new representative form of government, I read again our Constitution—-a beautifully crafted document that reflects intense negotiations among men who agreed on a democracy but had vastly different ideas about how to create and preserve that democracy. 

The U.S. Constitution famously begins with the following Preamble: 

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

One of the most intensely debated provisions of the Constitution was the division of power between federal government and state governments. The compromise reached was the Tenth Amendment:

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people. 

At the start of each semester I ask my students the following question: “Does the U.S. Constitution include the right of citizens to receive an education?” After a lot of puzzled looks, classes are typically split on their responses. The correct answer is no; the Constitution does not provide for education. Under the Tenth Amendment, education is a function left to the states, so each state determines how their system of public education is structured and funded. 

Mississippi has diminished support for public schools and underfunded the formula to ensure equitable and adequate financial support. Since 2009, state appropriations for the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP) have resulted in a whopping loss of over $2.5 billion to our schools, and the state ranks 47thnationally in school spending. Nobel Prize-winning economist Professor James Heckman has found that  human development iseconomic development,  so it should be no surprise that Mississippi has one of the worst economies in the country, ranked 46thby Business Insider. Other southern states are leaving Mississippi in the dust in terms of growth in GDP (Gross Domestic Product) according to the U.S Bureau of Economic Analysis. We are also losing population faster than any other state as the best and brightest young people are leaving the state to seek opportunities elsewhere. 

In contrast, last month Oregon’s Gov. Kate Brown signed a bill to increase funding for public education by a billion dollars per year.  That state’s economy is a consistent top performer, ranked fifth by U.S. News and World Report.  Oregon already spends over $2,000 more per student than Mississippi and the increased commitment to the state’s children by its leaders will widen that gap significantly.  States with visionary leadership to invest in their people can attract good jobs and increase prosperity for its citizens. 

The framers of the U.S. Constitution gave extensive powers to states with, I must believe, the expectation that elected officials would make decisions in the best interest of their respective states.  Neighboring states have chosen to equip their people with knowledge and skills and thus propel those states to greater economic growth and opportunity…which attracts many Mississippi college graduates to move there. 

Thomas Jefferson was principal author of the Declaration of Independence, our third President, and first Secretary of State. He believed strongly in the importance of education as critical to maintaining our democracy, stating, “Educate and inform the whole mass of the people. They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty.” As we celebrate the birth of our nation, I hope we will consider the jeopardy that lack of education poses to Mississippi’s present and future, and dedicate ourselves to improving access to high quality early childhood and education opportunities for all. 

Happy Independence Day! 

by Dr. Melody Musgrove

State’s Failure to Support Early Childhood Education Has Far Reaching Consequences

The impact of children attending high quality early care and education programs has been studied through several lenses. Looking at longitudinal data collected over 50 years on individuals that attended a high quality pre-school program in North Carolina and others who attended a program in Ypsilanti, Michigan, all data indicate the programs had a positive impact on life trajectory when compared to the adult outcomes of peers who did not attend a quality program. In addition, we now have the benefit of scientific evidence on how the brain develops and what it needs to show healthy growth. 

In the midst of Memorial Day I was drawn to a report by Mission Readiness, a group of retired admirals and generals who believe that strengthening national security starts by ensuring kids stay in school, stay fit, and stay out of trouble. The report, Unhealthy and Unprepared, supports the need for strong early childhood education in the country. The report reveals 76% of 17-24 year- olds in Mississippi are not eligible to enlist in the military due to obesity, a lack of education and/or a history of crime or drug use. Nationally the percentage is 71% of 17-24 year-olds who do not qualify. The reasons listed in the report that are keeping our young people out of the military are some of the same issues high quality early childhood education has shown to combat when the participants were studied over the life span. This is a national crisis!

If you ask a Mississippian if they would fight for our country, should it be attacked, I am venturing a guess that the overwhelming majority would answer yes, regardless of age, even if they were not physically able. Why then, as a state of highly patriotic individuals, would we not want to secure the safety of our state as well as our country by investing in our young people at the most important time in their development? The time between funding a high quality early childhood program and increasing the number and quality of our armed service members is short, much shorter than most believe. It is a matter of national security, just ask Mission Readiness.

by Dr. Cathy Grace

Babies and Toddlers In Low Income Families are At-Risk for Emotional Development Delays

According to a report from the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, sound mental health provides an essential foundation of stability that supports all other aspects of human development—from the formation of friendships and the ability to cope with adversity to the achievement of success in school, work, and community life. According to the Center, life circumstances associated with family stress, such as persistent poverty, threatening neighborhoods, and poor child care conditions elevate the risk of serious mental health problems. Given the poverty rate for children ages 0-5 years in Mississippi is 26% as compared to 20% nationally, the life circumstances for over a fourth of our young children are ripe for them to develop mental health problems. The emotional well-being of young children is directly tied to the functioning of their caregivers and the families in which they live, making successful interventions family centered rather than just focusing on the child.

 A report written in June of 2018 by Jackie Mader and published by Mississippi Today addresses the problems facing families whose children are coping with various types of mental or emotional issues. The article cites numerous studies and reports which rank Mississippi at or near the bottom nationally in the services provided to children facing any one of a number of emotional disorders. As with many of our systems that are intended to support the health development of young children, the mental health system is struggling to maintain basic services to all Mississippians. From 2009 to 2017 the Mississippi Legislature has cut the Agency’s budget by $56 million dollars. A concerted effort has been made to move services to community based centers rather than the institutional approach of the past. As the budget cuts have taken their toll on staffing as well as the array of services previously offered, access to children’s services are uneven and, in the most rural counties, non-existent.

Mississippi was one of the first states in the country to develop a system of care for children in 1993 which is a coordinated network of community based services and supports based on the values of cultural/linguistic competency, family-driven, and youth-guided care. A System of Care is not a program, but a philosophy of how care should be delivered. From information gained in informal interviews, it appears that services for infants and toddlers and their parents are almost non-existent. The lack of professionals in this area is a barrier as well as the rural nature of the state. Some rural states with high numbers of children in poverty have taken steps to address the needs of the youngest children in innovative ways.  This approach was innovative in the early 90’s, but research has moved us light years since then and has refocused us on the emotional development of infants and toddlers. While the basic system has stood the test of time, the younger ages of children and their families who need support and specific interventions specific to emotional health have stressed the system. New strategies are being piloted in other rural states that attempt to bring services to families who have limited transportation and income. Georgia is using federal funds from a variety of programs to craft mental health services specific to infants and toddlers and their families who are at-risk of emotional trauma. Professional development for early care and education teachers on topics related to age appropriate strategies that support healthy social and emotional development are also part of the Georgia model. This includes early childhood mental health specialists who are positioned to visit programs should a request be made.

As the state is planning new early childhood initiatives, it is imperative we address all elements of child development, and that includes emotional health. The question begs to be asked, “What will the Community College Board invest in mental health services for young children since they were recently awarded 10.6 million dollars in federal funds dedicated to services for the 0-5 population in Mississippi?” 

by Dr. Cathy Grace