Human development labored for centuries in a struggle between early science and ancient superstition. Superstition won many battles, typified by religious leaders who forced Galileo to recant his belief that the earth revolved the sun instead of the opposite. Eventually his beliefs were vindicated and revered scientist Stephen Hawking says, “Galileo was responsible for the birth of modern science.” That doesn’t mean that superstition no longer affects human attitudes about science. It does.
No nation is equal to the United States in scientific achievement. Its universities are prodigious engines of research, its scientists unmatched in capturing Nobel prizes, and its corporations lead in communications, biology, computer and medical advances. The bad news for American kids is that they live in a nation that refuses to apply many basic social science truths for its most vulnerable citizens. The child and family principles that have been discovered to work by American researchers find their implementation in other countries, but tragically, not here. It’s a reality that is devastating for America’s future, its children.
It starts with the unborn. Every other developed country provides universal pre-natal care for expecting moms. This is essential in order to prevent unnecessary infant mortality. As a result, the U.S. is a shameful 50th in the world, with death rates for its tiniest citizens double what is achieved in northern Europe and Japan.
Next comes the adjustment to life for healthy newborns. Mountains of brain development research prove that the most important year is the baby’s first. Every modern nation in the world except ours provides universal maternity leave for working parents so that their babies get the best possible start in life. These same nations follow on with early childhood development centers available as an option for infants of working parents.
Prodigious research proves that helping pre-teens and early teens avoid unwanted pregnancy and the scourge of sexually transmitted disease is achieved by teaching them universal comprehensive reproductive education. Again, America doesn’t do it. This is an example of neglect of our children that yields unusual grief and unconscionable adult dereliction of responsibility.
The facts of recent demographic studies are mind boggling. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention shocked the nation with the news that fully a fourth of America’s teen girls now have a sexually transmitted disease, with rates still rising.
Some of the most expensive research involves the measurement of income and social mobility among classes. Contrary to generally held opinions of having the gold standard of equal opportunity, the United States fared poorly. The U.S. has immobility at both high and low income segments. Wealthy families produced wealthy offspring, while families in poverty produced generations persistently poor. Peer countries consistently produced greater income mobility than here.
What is going on? Why does America lag far behind its peers in providing children with basic protections against early mortality, with healthy body and brain development, with fundamental preventive skills to avoid STDs and children having children, and finally with fair and equal access to basic opportunity? The brutal truth is that other nations have seized the knowledge of human behavior research, often produced by American scientists, and applied it. For some reason, we have not.
This strange American phobia for social science discoveries so faithfully applied by our modern peers mirrors an enormous gap in superstitious beliefs. Nearly three of four Americans believe in the existence of the Devil and hell. The average for this superstitious position for other modern nations is only one in five (Changing Values and Beliefs in 85 Countries, Halman, Inglehart, et.al). Our closest imitators in this superstition are Muslim nations Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq, Iran and Saudi Arabia.
One might surmise a nation that’s so concerned with our standing in the world would choose to invest in peer-researched opportunities to insure our human capital is unchallenged. Remarkably we do the opposite.
Successive generations of healthy and educated children don’t just grow on trees. Fundamental research and credible scientific inquiry are the tools routinely implemented by enlightened societies. A superstitious America is not among them. And our children are the unfortunate victims. For those kids we leave behind while exposing them to early mortality and crushing poverty, we have created a special kind of hell.
David Strand lives near Aitkin.