Marion Brothers

Marion Brothers

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Early Intervention: Before the First Step

The Baby Moses Project Examines the Black Boy Crisis

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

To what extent do you think early intervention might help Black male students at ages: 0-3 working with families 3-5 working with families and classroom 3-5 just in classrooms

Henry M. Levin:
I think that early intervention is any extremely important part of the solution of addressing the needs of black males. Precisely what this looks like and at what ages is open to discussion. The Abecederian experiment provided unusually strong positive educational results that extend into adulthood. Further, pediatric neurologists such as Jack Shonkoff have written extensively on the evolution of brain development that supports the empirical evidence on learning. However, this does not mean that it is "too late" to begin at ages 3-5. My best guess is that earlier is better, but that development in the 3-5 year old age range can be very significant as we have learned from many evaluations of "high quality" programs in this age range (not only Perry Preschool or Chicago Child and Parent Centers).

Eddie Griffin
Let’s slip hairs between “early intervention” and “early childhood development”. I wish to concentrate first on Intervention. The primary objective is to save the black boy’s life. Therefore, all intervention must focus primarily on the preservation of life, and secondly, on the quality of the child’s learning experience.

A child born into a barren environment is not going to develop neurologically as fast as a child born into an enriched environment. Being born into a healthy environment is also a key factor. Malnutrition can slow the growth rate of a child’s brains. There are other economic factors that impede a black boy’s optimal growth, but a nurturing environment is paramount.

Of course, it is the primary responsibility of the parent to provide a nurturing environment to the child. But that is usually the first and last good advice given by would-be do-gooders. If the parent is incapable of nurturing the child- whether because of economic distress, mental stability, age maturity, or whatever- the child must still be provided for, independent of the parent’s situation.

Here, we tend to leave this gray area in the hands of the Child Protection agencies. And, this is where the major failure occurs in terms of neglected children- children who fall through the cracks of social services. Like Gypsies, they and their parent(s) wonder from charity to charity, trying to survive, where survival is measured day-by-day. These unstable homes are the subjects of most child abuse cases. What is amazing is that few people see the correlation between the child abused at home and the bruised attitude he brings to school.

It may be of interest to study these efforts for academic improvement- i.e. Abecederian experiment, Perry Preschool, and Chicago Child and Parent Centers- to discover new methods of early childhood development and find which tools work best for small African-American male children.

The fact that pediatric neurologists have discovered a correlation between early education and the brain’s development comes as no great surprise. This suggests that our head-start childhood development strategy must begin at the initial stage of cognition. In essence, when a child wakes up in life, what does he find himself surround by? Is it dark, bleak, and barren, full of angry voices and shouting and cursing and fighting, like with children born to parents on the skids? What happens when these kids go to school? Or, does the child wake up in life and finds a surrounding of a loving mother and father, plenty of good nutritional food, pictures and hangings around the wall, television, and games? What becomes of these children in comparison to the former?

There are small enrichments that can have a great impact on small children. Besides having basic food staples, being surrounded by books can generate curiosity and a desire to learn and read at an early age. Game Theory suggests that mind-building toys and challenging games enhances the complex neurological webs inside the child’s brain. Walls full of pictures can give a child a sense of identity must better than a mirror.

We, as educators, look more upon the macro things and ignore the significance of the micro things.

I have found in the case of my own “challenged” (step) children that providing an environment enriched with educational supports tend to supplement and reinforce what they learned in school. I subscribed to Popular Science and Popular Mechanics for my son, who was diagnosed with ADHD. For my daughter, with low self-esteem, I subscribed to Seventeen Magazine to help raise her level of literacy and boast her self-image. I also subscribed to a book club, purchased a set of encyclopedias, and bought a computer, reasoning that maybe a book would accidentally fall off the shelf and open, and maybe one of them might accidentally see and read something. It worked. They became readers well enough to get them out of high school and into college, otherwise they would never been considered college material, academically.


  1. Eddie your response to Mr. Levin's comment and my original question is right on target as far as I am concerned however, you seem to stop short of recommending actually going into high risk homes and working with parents from age 0-3. The child parent centers in Chicago are doing wonderful things and helping thousands of kids but we can do better. The development from 0-3 is far more important than that from 3-5, only in that it lays the foundation for what the child will learn and cognitively understand and interact with. I believe this is almost a compounding factor in that if you have a solid foundation from 0-3, you are able to learn that much more throughout your entire life.

    By working with families much earlier, community workers would be able to help shape parent behavior that would result in better health and mental development as well. This of course would be enhanced by a national health plan which I believe is about 5-7 years away. The other important thing that must be addressed is bringing the early intervention under one roof or an integrated agency consisting of education and family services. As it is now, there are too many turf battles with the social services agencies which tend to be reactive when we should be pro-active.

    Keep up the good work Mr. Griffin. I hope to meet you some time. Thanks for all you do.


  2. Thank you Barry for your response. I believe the critical care system begins at pre-natal and continue throughout the life cycle. With a modest upfront investment in children, we will salvage a great backend loss.

  3. I think public libraries are often overlooked as an excellent resource for this sort of thing. In addition to free use of books and magazines, many offer computers with children's games or internet use. Some libraries also have story-time, where someone comes and reads books to a group of children, followed by singing and crafts, free. This can help young parents too by lifting their spirits, helping them bond with the child, and giving them other parents to talk to.