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The Moral Equivalent of Shanty Towns
August 20, 2002

"You have a lifetime to work, but children are only young once." —Polish proverb


In Places for Childhoods: Making Quality Happen in the Real World, author Jim Greenman asks "What is the difference between a high quality early education setting and a mediocre one?" He then answers...

"Not the length of the day, the sponsor, or the name. Most often it is the funding.

Quality education and care is not likely with the deadly combination of $6 an hour teachers, high turnover, minimum staff-child ratios, minimum space and equipment, and minimum training of staff. This is true whether under the auspices of a school system, a corporation, a social service agency, or a private provider -- non profit or for profit. Provide the funding for trained and committed professionals, support staff and services, and decent equipment, materials and facilities, and quality early education can and does happen in a range of settings.

"Child care providers are essentially asked to build the moral equivalent of shanty towns. Visit the thrown together housing by the desperately poor on the outskirts of many third world cities (and in some US cities) and you're struck by the wonderful ingenuity and sheer effort that is possible when men or women strive to meet their basic needs. You are left with great admiration for the builders. But they have created a place to live. But not a very good place. Shanties, after all, leak or blow away, and their inhabitants alternately broil or freeze.

"And that is what we are often asked to do in child care, construct shanties -- out of the inexpensive staff we can find and keep, the found and low-cost purchased spaces and materials that we can afford, and all the energy, love, and commitment we can muster. Even the better programs with newer facades, with private or public support, and glossy brochures are never far from the minimums.

"It isn't all funding, however. What is quite astounding is not the number of poor quality programs but that there are so many that are not mediocre. It is a tribute to how terrifically resourceful and committed child care providers are in crafting programs."

Places for Childhoods is an Exchange Press Book which can be purchased at www.ChildCareExchange.com.


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