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4 problems with State-funded daycare

…and the erosion of the family that the Church isn’t talking about enough

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Orthodox Christians are champions of the family, and rightly so. Stretching back to the beginning of history, marriage – and, by extension, the family – was the first institution that God created (Gen. 2:18, 24-25). Chronologically, the family supersedes the State, the Church, and any other institution in society. For that reason, Christians often call the family the “basic unit” or “basic institution” of society.

Inseparable from the concept of the family is the principle that parents have the primary responsibility to care for the children that God has entrusted to them. This responsibility springs from the unique, natural relationship between parents and their children. Over the first few months and years of their lives, most children are raised almost exclusively by their parents. Over time, parents may gradually delegate some of their responsibility to professional caregivers and teachers. However, their right and responsibility as primary caregivers are never forfeited; they are only delegated. Ultimately, parental responsibilities towards their children are non-transferable.

This responsibility is not only natural but also biblical. Throughout the Bible, God commands parents to teach their children the law of God, their shared history, and their religious practices. The wisdom of the book of Proverbs is imparted as from parents to children: “Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching.” Deuteronomy 6:7 also says that the people of God,

“…shall teach [God’s laws] diligently to your children and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”

Although the Bible teaches that parents bear the primary responsibility to raise their children, it does not indicate that parents are required to do it alone. All parents need assistance in this task. In the Reformed tradition, we even make commitments at the baptism of our children to “instruct them in these things or have them instructed in them” (from the “Form for the Baptism of Infants,” in the Book of Praise). We acknowledge, basically from day one, that there may be others involved in the raising and teaching of our children.

Because of this natural and biblical basis, Christians have traditionally advocated for primary parental responsibility in matters of modern education (for example, by advocating for parental choice on whether to homeschool or which school to send their children to).

But as the church and individual Christians became less directly involved in delivering education, the government gradually took on more responsibility in this area. Public schools have been available options for more than 100 years now. Almost 90% of Canadian children now attend a fully funded, secular public school for the greater part of their childhood and adolescence. This has had an immense impact on our culture and ongoing transformation into a secular society.

Now, governments in Canada are proposing the single greatest expansion of state authority over the family in the past century in the form of child care policy. And Christians aren’t even batting an eye.

The State’s plans for childcare

When governments and advocacy groups speak of child care, they generally mean non-parental, institutionalized daycare, where trained professionals care for children from a wide variety of households in a daycare facility. (Because child care should refer to the care of a child no matter who provides the care, we’re going to use the term daycare to refer to this professionalized, institutionalized form of child care.)

Daycare typically focuses on children aged 0-5. Recently, daycare has been undergoing a transformation away from being about just caring for children and towards early childhood education. For example, British Columbia recently moved responsibility for child care under the Ministry of Education. This signals that, in essence, the government wants schooling to start at an even earlier age.

In their 2021 budget, the Canadian federal government earmarked $30 billion over the next five years to daycare, with an annual commitment of $9.2 billion by 2026 and beyond. Their goal is to cut daycare fees in half by 2022 and to ensure universal $10 per day daycare is available to all parents by 2026. Subsidizing and regulating daycare falls within provincial responsibility, so the federal government will have to coordinate their efforts with the provinces. This is similar to how Canada’s health care system works: the provinces are responsible for health care, but the federal government provides provincial governments with billions of dollars in funding under the condition that their health care system meet certain national criteria.

Now, although each province requires all children to receive a formal education, there is no such requirement that all children must attend daycare. As it stands right now, the provinces are only planning to make universal, subsidized childcare available for those who want it. Prior to the pandemic, the parents of 57.6% of children wanted non-parental child care, despite the current high cost of such child care.

The government – and many daycare advocates – are keen to establish government-funded daycare spots for a variety of reasons. Their primary argument is that access to daycare helps achieve gender equity for women by relieving mothers (who are disproportionately involved in child care) of the responsibility for caring for children. This enables more women to be employed and narrows the labour force participation rate gap between men and women. Second, advocates think that subsidized daycare will make life more affordable for the average Canadian family. Third, they claim that early childhood learning programs and quality daycare lead to better outcomes for children.

Four problems with State-funded daycare

Why is this approach to child care something Christians should be concerned about? There are at least four problems with this model:

#1: Subsidized daycare encourages more parents to spend less time with their children

If parents are ultimately responsible for raising their children, particularly young children, then subsidizing daycare encourages parents to hand off responsibility for raising their children to others while they pursue economic goals or search for self-fulfillment outside of the home.

A classic principle of economics is that when you subsidize something, which is functionally the same as lowering the cost of something, people demand more of it. They demand more of it because it is cheaper for them. The same principle holds true for daycare. If the government subsidizes daycare, some parents who already use daycare a couple of days a week will find it convenient to use it for the entire week. Or some might start sending their child at age 3 instead of age 4. Other parents, enticed by the lower cost of daycare, will start sending their children to daycare for the first time. Obviously, the time that children spend in daycare is time not spent with their parents.

#2: Subsidized daycare encourages parents to see children as a burden rather than a blessing

The primary argument in favor of subsidizing daycare sees children as a burden rather than a blessing. Supporters of subsidizing daycare view it as a way to increase women’s participation in the labor force and the economy. Without access to daycare, women are “stuck at home” or “forced to stay home” to care for their child(ren). This is against their presumed “true desire” to rejoin the workforce, either to find fulfillment in a career or a higher material standard of living. According to this mindset, children are not a blessing, but a burden on the career advancement or financial stability of parents, particularly mothers. Subsidizing daycare contributes to this mentality. 

#3: Subsidized daycare fails to appreciate the choice of some parents to care for their own children

The subsidization of daycare underappreciates the decisions of some parents to stay at home and care for their own children. Our broader culture already looks down upon this decision as, at best, a waste of time or talent or, at worst, perpetuating outdated or sexist stereotypes. This disregard will only grow if our provincial governments support only daycare.

For Christian parents who choose to raise and/or educate their own children, they would be required to pay taxes to support publicly funded daycare while also forgoing the income of a second parent in the workforce that most other families enjoy. In a country where the cost of living – particularly housing – is rising quickly, this extra taxation without any resulting benefit makes it more and more difficult for a parent to prioritize raising their children themselves. 

#4: Daycare is not in the best interest of all children

In discussions around daycare, many advocates speak primarily of the benefits to parents, particularly women. But what about the children? Are daycare programs good for all children?

A significant body of evidence suggests not. In their 2019 report A Positive Vision for Child Care Policy Across Canada, Cardus describes how Quebec’s universal, subsidized daycare led to poor outcomes for children. A working paper published by Baker, Gruber, and Milligan finds a correlation between attendance of an institutionalized childcare center and lower social and behavioral skills.*

These findings should not be surprising when we look at the biblical pattern of parents having the ultimate responsibility for raising their children. God designed the structure of a family, and we know He designed it for His glory, our good, and the greater good of society.

What can we do?

For these reasons, Christians should be critics of universal subsidized daycare. Yet, this change in government policy is an opportunity for Christians for at least two reasons.

First, we should continue to praise parents who fully embrace the responsibility to care for and educate their children themselves. The child care provided by stay-at-home parents has been discounted for decades. We live in a capitalist culture driven by goals of productivity and career advancement where many find their primary identity in their work. We also live in a secular culture dominated by individualism and materialism where being a stay-at-home parent is often met with disdain. We need to laud parents who make sacrifices in other areas of life to fulfill this responsibility well. We should support policies that enable parents to care for and educate their children themselves rather than encouraging parents to pass this responsibility to others at earlier and earlier ages.

Secondly, daycare is an incredible opportunity for the Church. Canadians are calling for a government-supported daycare program because they often don’t have the social networks to help them in this task. Many families need daycare due to poverty, disability or sickness, or single parenthood, and we know that childhood years are fundamental in shaping children’s character. Rather than leaving only non-Christians to care for and educate young children, Christians should also pursue childcare careers and make child care a mission field.

Conclusion

Subsidized daycare is often presented as a pro-family policy because it reduces the expenses of many families. Although it might materially enrich some families in the short-term, however, it is more aptly characterized as a get-moms-back-to-“real”-work strategy. Our culture increasingly thinks children should be entrusted to professionals over parents. Parents, relieved of their duty, are then expected to work full-time. Extending significant funding to daycares will entrench this mentality in our society and perhaps increasingly creep into the Church. Instead, government policy ought to emphasize that the care of children is primarily the responsibility of parents, and this is a task – and calling – to be taken up with joy.

We have a window of opportunity to influence the shape of childcare systems now as these systems are being formed, but it will be much harder to change these systems once they are in place. Consider the points raised above, talk about it with your family and friends, consider how you can be a salt and a light to the world around us, and start a dialogue with your representatives today.

Endnote

* Michael Baker, Jonathan Gruber, Kevin Milligan. (2019). The Long-Run Impacts of a Universal Child Care Program. American Economic Journal: Economic Policy. 11; 3. p. 1-26

Levi Minderhoud is the BC Manager, and Anna Nienhuis is a policy analyst and editor for ARPA Canada.

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History, Parenting

Questioning daycare and preschool: how young is too young?

In this twenty-first century, more and more children are being relegated to daycare or other institutions that look after them for a great many hours each day outside of the parental home. According to the US Census Bureau, as of 2015, about 3.64 million children were enrolled in public kindergartens in the United States, and another 428,000 in private ones. Statistics Canada reported that in 2011, almost half (46%) of Canadian parents reported using some type of childcare for their children, aged 14 years and younger, during that year.  Many children obviously spend more time with childcare providers than with their family. Various studies have shown that young children who spend time in daycare may bond less with their mothers than those who stay home.  And it has also been concluded by other studies, that children who attend daycare experience more stress, have lower self-esteem and can be more aggressive. “Even a child,” Proverbs 20:11 tells us, “is known by his actions, by whether his conduct is pure and right.” It seems a simple enough proverb and easy to understand.  We have all encountered children’s actions – at home around the supper table, in a supermarket while we were shopping, in a classroom setting or on the street – and frequently found their actions lacking in moral wisdom.  Greed, selfishness, anger, sloth and you name it, these vices surround cherubic faces like black halos. So it neither surprises nor shocks us when Proverbs adds commandments such as: “Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish him with the rod he will not die. Punish him with the rod and save his soul from death” (Prov. 23:13-14). “He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him” (Prov. 13:24). But what does that have to do with preschool and daycare? Read on. Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi: education is key to a better society To understand today’s education system we need to know something of its history. On January 12, 1746, Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi (pronounced Pesta–lotsi) was born in Zurich, Switzerland.  His father died when he was only 6 years old and Johann was sent to school with the long-term goal of becoming a pastor. As he grew older he developed a keen desire and vision to educate the poor children of his country.  After completing his studies, however, and making a dismal failure of his first sermon, he exchanged the pulpit for a career in law. He reasoned within himself that perhaps he might accomplish more for the poor children of his country through law than through preaching.  But after studying law, as well as opting for a number of other careers, in the long run Pestalozzi ended up standing behind a teacher's lectern. Now, throughout these formative years Johann Pestalozzi had been greatly influenced by Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Rousseau was that philosopher who repudiated original sin and who penned the words: “there is no original perversity in the human heart.” Pestalozzi fell for these false words – he fell hook, line and sinker. Consequently, his principles in teaching strongly reflected the view that education could develop the pure powers of a child's head, heart and hand.  He thought, and he thought wrongly, that this would result in children capable of knowing and choosing what is right. In other words, educating students in the proper way would evolve towards a better society.  Such a thing happen could only happen if human nature was essentially good and it was on this principle that Pestalozzi based his teaching. Pestalozzi died in 1827 and his gravestone reads: Heinrich Pestalozzi: born in Zurich, January 12, 1746 – died in Brugg, February 17, 1827.  Saviour of the Poor on the Neuhof; in Stans, Father of the orphan; in Burgdorf and Munchenbuchsee, Founder of the New Primary Education; in Yverdon, Educator of Humanity. He was an individual, a Christian and a citizen. He did everything for others, nothing for himself!  Bless his name! As the engraving indicates, Pestalozzi was much admired, and his approach to education lived on after him, having a massive influence on various educators who followed. Friedrich Froebel: the father of Kindergarten One such person was a man by the name of Friedrich Froebel.  Born in Oberweissbach, Thuringia in 1782, he was the fifth child of an orthodox Lutheran pastor.  Interestingly enough, the boy heard his father preach each Sunday from the largest pulpit in all Europe. On it you could fit the pastor and twelve people, a direct reference to the twelve apostles. Friedrich's mother died when he was only nine months old. Perhaps his father did not have time for the boy, because when he was ten years old, he was sent to live with an uncle.  During his teenage years he was apprenticed to a forester and later he studied mathematics and botany. When he was 23, however, he decided for a career in teaching and for a while studied the ideas of Pestalozzi, ideas he incorporated into his own thinking.  Education should be child-centered rather than teacher-centered; and active participation of the child should be the cornerstone of the learning experience. A child with the freedom to explore his own natural development and a child who balanced this freedom with self-discipline, would inevitably become a well-rounded member of society. Educating children in this manner would result in a peaceful, happy world. As Pestalozze before him, Froebel was sure that humans were by nature good, as well as creative, and he was convinced that play was a necessary developmental phase in the education of the “whole” child.  Dedicating himself to pre-school child education, he formulated a curriculum for young children, and designed materials called Gifts. They were toys which gave children hands-on involvement in practical learning through play. He opened his first school in Blankenburg in 1837, coining the word “kindergarten” for that Play and Activity Center.  Until that time there had been no educational system for children under seven years of age. Froebel’s ideas found appeal, but its spread was initially thwarted by the Prussian government whose education ministry banned kindergarten in 1851 as “atheistic and demagogic” because of its “destructive tendencies in the areas of religion and politics.” In the long run, however, kindergartens sprang up around the world. Mom sends me to preschool My mom was a super-good Mom as perhaps all Moms are who make their children feel loved.  And how, at this moment when she has been dead and buried some 25 years, I miss her. She had her faults, as we all do, and she could irritate me to no end at times, as I could her.  But she was my Mom and I loved her.  She was an able pastor’s wife and supported my Dad tremendously.  Visiting numerous families with him, (in congregations in Holland she would walk with him to visit parishioners), she also brewed innumerable cups of tea for those he brought home. Always ready with a snack, she made come-home time after school cozy for myself and my five siblings, of whom I was the youngest. In later years, being the youngest meant that I was the only one left at home, and it meant we spent evenings together talking, knitting, embroidering, reading and laughing.  She was so good to me. Perhaps, in hindsight, I remember her kindness so well because I now see so much more clearly a lot of selfish attributes in myself – attributes for which I wish I could now apologize to my Mom. My Mom was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was 32 – a young mother myself, with five little sets of hands tugging at my apron strings.  I was devastated.  But my quiet mother who always had been so nervous in leading ladies’ Bible studies and chairing women's meetings, was very brave.  She said she literally felt the prayers of everyone who loved her surround her hospital bed.  She had a mastectomy, went into remission and lived eight more good years Many young mothers are presently faced with a fork in the road decision – shall I go back to work or shall I stay home?  Should I send my children to daycare, and thus help pay off the mortgage or should I stay home and change diapers?  Times are tough.  Groceries have to be bought, gas prices are ever increasing, and so is school tuition. I delve back into my memories and remember – remember even now as my age approaches the latter part of three score plus years – that my father and mother placed me in a Froebel School, a preschool, when I had just turned four years old.  I was not thrilled about the idea.  As a matter of fact, I was terrified. My oldest sister, who was eleven years my senior, was given the commission of walking me down the three long blocks separating our home from the school which housed my first classroom. My sister was wearing a red coat and she held my hand inside the pocket of the coat.  It must have been cold.  When we got to the playground which was teeming with children, she took me to the teacher on duty.  I believe there was actually only one teacher.  My sister then said goodbye to me and began to walk away. The trouble was, I would not let go of the hand still ensconced in the pocket of her coat.  The more she pulled away, the tighter I clung – and I had begun to cry.  Eventually the lining of the pocket ripped.  My sister, who was both embarrassed and almost crying herself, was free to leave. I was taken inside the school by the teacher. It is a bleak memory and still, after all this time, a vivid memory.  I do not think, in retrospect, that my mother wanted to get rid of me. Froebel schools were touted as being very good for preschool children.  She, a teacher herself with a degree in the constructed, international language of Esperanto, possibly thought she was being progressive as well as making more time to help my father serve the congregation. Dr. Maria Montessori, a follower of Heinrich Froebel, established the Dutch Montessori Society in 1917.  By 1940, 5% of the preschools in Holland were following the Montessori system and 84% called themselves Froebel schools or Montessori schools.  The general nametag is kleuterschool, (kleuter is Dutch and means a child between 4 and 6).  Today the age limit is younger because of the increased interest in sending children of a younger age to school.  Creativity and free expression are the curriculum norm. Most of the memories I have of attending the Froebel school, (and let me add that it was for half days), are not pleasant.  I recall braiding long, colored strips of paper into a slotted page. Afraid to ask permission to go to the bathroom, I also recall wetting my pants while sitting in front of a small wooden table in a little blue chair.  My urine dripped onto the toes of the teacher as she passed through the aisle, checking coloring and other crafts.  Such an experience as I gave that teacher cannot have been inspiring for her.  Perhaps she always remembered it as one of the most horrible moments of her career. In any case, she took me by the hand to the front of the class and made me stand in front of the pot-bellied stove. Skirts lifted up behind me, she dried me off with a towel.  Then she made me stay there as she put the little blue chair outside in the sunshine. At lunchtime she brought me home on the back of her bicycle.  Knocking at our door, she called up to the surprised figure of my mother standing at the top of the stairs. (We occupied the second and third floor of a home.) “Your daughter’s had an accident.” I think I dreamt those words for a long, long time afterwards.  But this I also clearly recall, that my mother was not angry. Would I have been a better child had my mother kept me at home?  Felt more secure?  More loved?  Perhaps. Perhaps not.  There is always the providence of God which like a stoplight on a busy street corner abruptly halts one in condemning the actions of another. God had a purpose for me, no doubt about it, in all that occurred in my life – whether things during preschool days or later.  And so He has in all our lives. Conclusion We live at a time when everything is fast-paced – food, travel, and entertainment. What we often don’t realize is that time is also fast – fast and fleeting – gone before we know it.  Our little children, sinful from the time of conception, two years old today, will be twenty tomorrow and thirty the day after that.  And when they wear out the coat of their allotted time span, will it have mattered who fed them each meal, who read books to them, who played with them and who disciplined them? When we think back to the Proverbs we started with, we realize this is a question we have to answer with the Bible as our guidebook. The strange thing is that I now regret that I did not spend more time with my mother when she was old.  I loved her very much and love usually translates into time. For parents concerned with mortgage and groceries and other bills, the simple Proverb "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6) is good to hang over their lintels.  First things should be put first.  I have never heard God’s people say that He has forsaken them....