Photo: Micaela Bedell for Strategies for Children
Photo: Micaela Bedell for Strategies for Children

The Committee for Economic Development (CED) has posted a series of early education podcasts on its website featuring leaders in business, the nonprofit world, and philanthropy.

CED was founded “in 1942 during World War II by a group of business leaders who were concerned about the future of the global economy…” The organization continues “to bridge the gap between the business community and policy leaders,” in part by focusing on early education.

In one of the series’ podcasts, philanthropist and businessman J.B. Pritzker talks about “The Role of Philanthropy in Early Learning.”

Photo Source: The University of Chicago News Office.
Irving B. Harris. Photo Source: The University of Chicago News Office.

“I ran across a philanthropist named Irving Harris,” Pritzker says, explaining that Harris, a businessman, spent years working to meet the needs of young children and their families. Harris founded the Ounce of Prevention Fund and he “was a catalyst for opening the Erikson Institute, a graduate school that trains teachers in early childhood development…”

Harris, who died in 2004, was, according to a death announcement in the New York Times, “A courageous champion of young children and families, an articulate and uncompromising social critic, a compassionate pragmatist. His convictions inspired the work of four generations of practitioners and researchers in the field of child development and early care and education. He made of his life a quest to repair the world.” 

Inspired by Harris’ efforts, Pritzker and his wife have invested millions of dollars in early childhood education programs. Pritzker also funded the Pritzker Consortium on Early Childhood Development, which is housed at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy (named after Irving Harris). The consortium “brings together the world’s leading experts to identify when and how child intervention programs can be most influential.”

“I really think of it as investing instead of philanthropy,” Pritzker explains, “because the returns are so great.”

In another podcast — “Unraveling the Science of Early Brain Development” — Patricia Kuhl, co-director of the University of Washington Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences, tells the story of watching her niece, who was deaf, and thinking about the idea that language has to “get into the head.” It was the first time Kuhl grew curious about how minds, the brain, and curiosity work. This was the beginning of her passion for language. A mentor inspired her to look at children and their brain development.

“The whole architecture of the brain is being built, and it’s strongly influenced by experience,” Kuhl says of childhood. If children are neglected or abused, their brain development is adversely effected.

Explaining how parents can provide positive experiences, Kuhl says:

“So it’s not about being rich or poor or how much education you have. It is how much the parents know and believe that talking to their children in this slowed, emphasized, clear, grammatically simplified, but correct speech — how much the parents know that’s important and use that to engage the brain of the child.”

Kuhl also links economics to children’s outcomes, noting:

“You’ve got business leaders all over the country demanding a labor force that’s sophisticated, talented, creative, inventive, and hard-working… where are they going to get that workforce? The way to start is in the beginning,” by providing children with high-quality early education experiences.

To listen to the podcast series, click here. And please share the links on social media.

Business leaders and policymakers who work together can, as CED notes, “play an essential role in boosting early educational access and quality.”