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Jewish World Review Feb. 15, 2000 /9 Adar I, 5760

Michelle Malkin

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The Baby Brain Boondoggle

http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- WHEN POLITICIANS start yammering about the undisputed scientific benefits of "early childhood learning," hold on tightly to your toddlers -- and your wallets. The movement, popularized by First Lady Hillary Clinton three years ago, has spread across the country with mindless bipartisan support.

"By the time most children begin preschool, the architecture of the brain has essentially been constructed. From that time until adolescence, the brain remains a relatively eager learner with occasional 'growth spurts,' but it will never again attain the incredible pace of learning that occurs in the first few years," Dr. Clinton asserts with clinical precision.

Such sound-bite science provides an irresistible vehicle for welfare-state Democrats, gullible Republicans, anti-family Hollywood celebrities, and bored elites' wives who want to save the children by spending our money.

Based on flimsy research claiming that babies' mental capacities are hard-wired in their first three years of life, Vice President Al Gore supports funding preschool for all three-year-olds at a cost of at least $50 billion over 10 years. His Democratic presidential rival Bill Bradley proposes something only slightly less ambitious.

In Montgomery County, Maryland, this week, Democrats created a publicly-subsidized "early childhood czar" who will ensure that the area's infants are exposed "to the stimulating experiences they'll need to be ready for school." In Washington state, Microsoft mogul Bill Gates' wife, Melinda, co-chairs an early learning commission with the Democratic governor's wife, who embraces communist-style child care techniques and expansive spending programs for the young.

Citing "brain facts" that have never been published in reputable scientific journals, actor/director Rob Reiner true to his Meathead character launched the "I Am Your Child" campaign to lobby for universal preschool, child care, and health care funding. The Big Brother (or is it Big Babysitter?) principle behind such efforts is that educational professionals on the public dole are better able to mold young minds than stay-at-home parents themselves.

Republicans have bought into this goo-goo-ga-ga science, too.

Former GOP governor Pete Wilson of California spearheaded a $1 billion, government-subsidized child care program based on Hillaryesque claims about infant brain development. Missouri congressman Kit Bond sponsored mammoth early childhood learning bills that included over $11 billion in new child care and education subsidies. Tennessee's Republican governor, Don Sundquist, enlisted state health bureaucrats to distribute classical music CDs to tens of thousands of newborns because "exposure to certain kinds of music helps stimulate brain activity and development."

Government officials in Georgia, Florida, and Michigan have funded similar early intervention programs to mind-meld with babies before they're even discharged from hospitals.

The frightening thing about such government-sponsored family intrusions is that they rest on extremely dubious and exaggerated neuroscientific claims. As Oxford-educated John Bruer, author of "The Myth of the First Three Years," found, much of the research used to justify increased government involvement is preliminary, non-peer-reviewed, or inconclusive. One study looked at the brain cells of mature rats; another had a tiny sample size of 28.

As for the celebrated Mozart Effect so enshrined by Democrats and Republicans alike, the phenomenon is based on short-term cognitive improvements among college students who listened briefly to classical music. And in fact, when the test was replicated in follow-up studies, researchers found virtually no difference in performance levels among subjects who listened to nothing at all compared to those who listened to Mozart.

"The first three years are not the only years we have to build better brains," Bruer concludes. "The brain is not 'cooked' by age 3 or age 10. Our brains remain remarkably plastic, and we retain the ability to learn through our lives."

That is not what the nitwits in Congress and our state legislatures want to hear. They need an excuse to expend and expand. They need another strawman to blame for the sorry state of public education. And most of all, they need the patina of science to mask their true intentions.

Those behind the Baby Brain Boondoggle may not know much about neurons, but they understand all too well that the hand that regulates the cradle is the hand that rules the world.


JWR contributor Michelle Malkin can be reached by clicking here.

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© 2000, Creators Syndicate