Impact on Public Policy: Educating Educators and the Media

The dissemination of our growing knowledge of the importance of the first years of life on brain-behavioral development has recently been extended beyond academia to include the general public. Here the application of this knowledge base to the tasks of child rearing has been facilitated by the proliferation of a diversity of educational materials, including parenting and “women’s” magazines, television and radio talk shows, and a range of popular books authored by respected authorities such as Brazelton, Leach, and Spock.

The positive consequences of this knowledge explosion include greater public awareness of the importance of the early years, and increased interested in integrated, family-centered support services.

The negative consequences include among others the frequent portrayal of this knowledge base in the media as greater than what it in fact is (e.g., despite the fact that we do not know nearly enough about the role of experience in brain development, there are proponents of exposing young infants to Mozart and Shakespeare under the misguided assumption that doing so will “create” brilliant musicians and literary geniuses), and heightened parental anxiety about the importance of the first three years of life and their own role in shaping their children’s future development and abilities.

To capitalize on the positive forces and redress the negative, the goal of this module is to disseminate the information currently in existence on the importance of the first years of life to educators, the media, and society at large. For example, network chair Dr. Charles Nelson has already engaged in a dialogue with Sandra Blakeslee of the New York Times about attending one or more of our meetings and reporting on our activities.

In addition, Dr. Nelson also has contacts with various national new shows with whom he has worked (e.g., 20/20, Good Morning America) that could serve as a conduit of this information. Perhaps most critically, Dr. Jack Shonkoff (a core group member) has expressed keen interest in assuming the responsibility for disseminating information on early brain-behavioral development to educators and society at large. Some of these activities may be coordinated with the NRC Committee on Integrating the Science of Early Childhood Development, which Dr. Shonkoff chairs.