August 4, 2014

Conservative criticism of day care should emphasize the lack of community

Although I haven't really dived into the literature on the effects of day care, it seems clear that the major studies look at the kids' cognitive and emotional development as the outcome variables.*

That is too narrow of a focus, since socialization does not merely mean "gets along well with generalized/abstract others," but has become integrated into a community of his particular peers and elders. We could go further to include becoming integrated into a particular neighborhood or region -- a particular environment that he feels rooted in.

An earlier post about the lasting effects of divorce on children made the point that social scientists ought to move beyond strictly individual traits (the best example being intelligence) to include social relationships at varying levels above the individual (like integration within a community).

How can this approach be applied to the divisive topic of day care for children?

I think it says a lot that no one has many fond memories of day care, in contrast to grade school. School is not a glorified form of babysitting, as they make some kind of effort to enculturate the students -- both works of formal culture and informal folkways -- and to get them to feel and act as part of a cohesive group of youngsters.

Day care administrators and workers hold no pretense about the children interacting with each other outside of the center, or inside for that matter. No effort is made to make sure the kids know each other's names. They don't expect kids to remember the "counselors" either. They operate more like a pet hotel, in keeping with parents nowadays viewing and treating their children as pets. The social atmosphere is atomized and high-density -- how else are normal human beings going to come out on the other side?

I have a very good memory, and went through several years of day care. Yet I don't remember anyone's name, whether a student's or a worker's. I didn't meet any of the students outside of center hours.

I remember exactly two faces: that one girl who invited me under the table during naptime for a game of "I'll show you mine if you show me yours," and one of the workers who gave me a warm hug during a field trip. I didn't need it at the moment, it was more of a maternal "just cuz" sort of gesture. That stuck out in my mind because typically the day care workers don't see you as an emotional creature -- more like something that has to be distracted ("entertained") and ordered around until it's claimed by its owner.

I don't recall many experiences other than those two above, although I do remember more about the physical environment (the indoor rooms and the playground area outside). Can't say I have any fondness for those places, though.

I never wanted to go to day care, and always felt that pick-up time was like being rescued.

In all of these ways, day care was the opposite of school. Most people like going to school, however much they may bitch about certain aspects of it. There's a certain anticipation before each school day starts, and definitely by the end of summer when you can't wait any longer. It was not uncommon to feel like hanging around school after the day was formally over, and getting picked up by your folks did not feel like they were rescuing you.

We can't begin to count all of the major and minor experiences we remember taking place in and around school, and beyond its walls in the company of our friends from school. We remember all sorts of gross and fine details about the physical environment at school, and generally have fond memories of those places.

We remember scores of names and faces, both from our peers and our teachers, and have yearbooks just to make sure. And our teachers cared more for us, whether they were gentle or stern, than day care workers. We made friends with our schoolmates, our parents kept in touch with other parents -- and teachers -- and there was a phone directory to facilitate these interactions outside of the school setting.

Not to mention the teams, mascots, school colors, and so on and so forth that gave us a more palpable group identity.

This stark contrast between schools and day care centers should be emphasized by conservatives. Jonathan Haidt's work on variety in moral frameworks shows that cons are more sensitive to one based on valuing and strengthening the in-group, whereas libs are either numb to the sense of belonging, or are actively hostile to it. (The former are standard liberals, the latter are more like libertarians.)

If one of the goals of socialization is to give youngsters a place to fit in within a larger group, day care begins to look way worse than it already did, a place that had left even liberals nervous. It's atomized, each kid is looking out for himself, and only the Dickensian supervisors keep that from unfolding. Prison, pet hotel -- take your pick of metaphor, but none of them bring to mind a cohesive in-group.

Day care would also make for a good place to find common ground with the minority of liberals who have half a lick of common sense. It's difficult even for rationalizers to make day care look like anything other than a way for parents (especially mothers) to pursue greater levels of status-striving, unfettered by having to pay any attention to their kids' immediate needs, and during such a sensitive and impressionable period in the child's life.

Ideally, we wouldn't have to subsidize mothers with "maternity leave" payments to stay home with their young children. Status-striving would ideally be at a low enough level that it wouldn't occur to mothers that they'd need to be bribed into doing so. But I wouldn't be above granting an increase in maternity leave in the short-term, as long as it had a phasing-out built into it. We have to get there from here, and mothers are still pretty careerist.

That would also be a nice way to start diverting public funds from the Silents and Boomers, who have been absorbing them way more than any other group in history, for decades now, and direct more of it toward the financially unstable generations after them, who will also be faced with paying down the massive debts of their "boo taxes" elders.

Regardless of how it works out in policy, the movement against day care seems like a no-brainer for folks who are sick of the morally lax society that we have become.

* Not surprisingly, kids who spend a lot of time in day care have greater emotional problems that last into adolescence (and who knows, perhaps longer). Perhaps those are due to selection bias, whereby troubled kids are more likely to get dumped for long hours in day care by parents who'd rather not deal with them directly.

Whatever the cause, it's still a fact that sending your kid to day care amounts to giving them a potential peer group that is more defiant, argumentative, and acting-out than the group he'd receive from socializing around the neighborhood while spending the day at and around his own home.

Then again, most psychological liberals don't see anything beyond the individual, such as quality of peer group. They're only concerned with how day care may or may not help in making the kid smarter and better behaved.


  1. Don't forget that daycare is a huge money-making industry. This might be related to overproduction of elites somehow; yet it also seems to me that cocooning has its own weird kind of corruption.The 90s saw significant growth in the psychiatric industry, loads of bureaucrats and administrators at college campuses, explosion in social workers. All that is tied, IMO, to cocooning.

  2. Day care allows elite-aspiring women to stay in the career competition, which feeds over-production of elites. It also allows them to have children faster, akin to wet nurses in the old days. More children of elite parents leads to elite over-production as well.

  3. A libertarian tells you how to get rich by starting a day care.

  4. "A libertarian tells you how to get rich by "

    -- talking about enterprise from within academia or a think tank?

    Yet again, libertarian economics boils down to the kinds of get-rich-quick schemes that would flourish in a Dickensian hellhole. They should know -- they rationalized the original.

  5. Is there a difference between daycare and preschool? I was half day preschool at a nearby church* from age 2-5 and have pretty good memories of it. My mom didn't work so she didn't need to send me there but I guess it was for socialization around other kids and to give her a few hours off. Maybe the distinction is pretty much what you say - daycare is an enabler for the mom's career advancement while preschool is more about the kid.

    *It had an enormous, densely wooded playground on the side of a hill when I was there. It was awesome. Today that space is a flat, sterile parking lot. Gotta grow the flock I guess.

  6. "A libertarian tells you how to get rich by starting a day care."

    yeah, its sad because some of these people come across as the least likely to have empathy for kids.

  7. Elementary schools and High schools appear to have been gutted, they have become ghettos for the unemployable. I have heard that they hire a bajillion teacher's aids to monitor the kids. not sure if this is cocooning, or overproduction, but probably both.

  8. My recollection from works like "The Nurture Assumption" is that life outcomes like marriage & divorce are examined in studies on childhood development. Harris' point was that children of divorce are likely to get divorced because they inherited their parents' genes.

    I'm enough of a eugenicist to welcome wet-nursing, artificial wombs, or whatever else enables high SES women to reproduce. Our elites are for the most part not a military aristocracy who live on rents and just fight each other (although I suppose a subset of lawyers resemble that description), the good old days are over.

  9. And what enables high SES in status-striving times? Hucksterism, self-centeredness, greed, callousness, anger, vindictiveness, etc. Not just lawyers -- those authoritarian geek gurus in Silicon Valley, too.

    We have easily the most worthless set of elites since the fin-de-siecle, but don't worry folks -- they're ELITES, duh, what would be wrong with having lots more of them?

    That was the attitude throughout the Dickensian / Gilded Age. The Napoleonic Wars seemed like ancient history -- no way could our awesome new elites ever repeat that again. Then all of a sudden, they're mired in World War I, over-run by immigrants (and / or race riots here in America), and stricken down by the Spanish Flu pandemic.

    If you think that can't happen again as we near the next peak in intra-elite competition, you're more naive than you sound.

  10. "I'm enough of a eugenicist to welcome wet-nursing, artificial wombs, or whatever else enables high SES women to reproduce."

    Yeah, who cares about the kids, who get parked in a baby farm and fail to bond with their mothers? What really matters is that the mother gets to continue spending 80 hours a week at some fake PR job, "building brand identity."

    Worthless / parasitic labor and emotionally warped children -- that's libertarian eugenics in reality.

  11. When I was in daycare they stuck us on hard chairs in front of the TV. I have no good memories of the place.

  12. The 90s saw significant growth in the psychiatric industry, loads of bureaucrats and administrators at college campuses, explosion in social workers. All that is tied, IMO, to cocooning.

    With changes in psychiatry, there was a big shift apparently between the 1980s to 2000s where mental health changed from an inpatient and residential focus towards drugs and outpatient services -

    (The absolute spend on all areas of mental health increases - maybe due to a general decrease in mental health, but then the absolute spend also will increase from the Midcentury through 60s-80s, and budgets generally increase.)

    That might reflect more of a change from narrow prevalence but intense mental disorders to broad prevalence but shallow.

    But I like the idea it is linked to "cocooning", through an unusual inverse pathway, where mental health professionals (who operate on a more objective basis of how safe society is, unlike the wrong intuitions people tend to use) become more sanguine about sending unwell people into normal environments, as they become objectively less dangerous for the vulnerable. In "cocooning" times, perhaps most dangerous disproportionately drop out of the public sphere, so perhaps the most vulnerable enter it.

    Change from inpatient and residential to outpatient and drug oriented approach might help explain increased visibility.

    Categories in the DSM of mental illnesses seem to have grown faster from 1960 to the early 1980s than since.

    I'm enough of a eugenicist to welcome wet-nursing, artificial wombs, or whatever else enables high SES women to reproduce.

    Very high SES women having a strong fitness differential (which daycare probably doesn't even help with) might be less useful than slightly above average women having a less strong differential (because there's more of them, and their abilty has less regression in it).

    Over production of the elites doesn't necessarily mean an increasing average ability level (and assortative mating isn't that strong in our society for it to really increase the high end).

    In a world where most variation is covered by many locii of small effect, and there isn't much opportunity for explosive fertility, there's not much point preserving a few great bags of seedcorn and letting the rest go to waste.

    You have to think about how much cost / benefit for the result you are getting. Not that it's even clear that more available daycare produces more reproduction among high SES women...

  13. Most high SES people do not work in zero-sum areas like branding. Silicon Valley really has been of great benefit. That's why it really is far more desirable to live in places with access to such labor. I'm also willing to make a long-term bet that we will not enter into a large scale war (a la the world wars or civil war, not Vietnam), for reasons of Sailer's dirt theory (I suppose meshed with Pinker's take on the civilizing process) and the aging of the populace. Even the most loathesome of today's young elite are not inclined to actually fight.

    What evidence do you have on the negative outcomes of daycare? I will also acknowledge that even assuming some benefits of "nurture", a hit can be taken in quality if quantity compensates for it. My parents came from giant Catholic families who couldn't devote much attention to their individual children, hell my mom had no parents around for most of her youth. They turned out alright.

    M, I don't disagree. I'm hoping reductions in the cost of childbearing & care spread to the extent that IQ, conscientiousness etc are no longer being selected against in the first world.

  14. "But I like the idea it is linked to "cocooning", through an unusual inverse pathway, where mental health professionals (who operate on a more objective basis of how safe society is, unlike the wrong intuitions people tend to use) become more sanguine about sending unwell people into normal environments, as they become objectively less dangerous for the vulnerable. In "cocooning" times, perhaps most dangerous disproportionately drop out of the public sphere, so perhaps the most vulnerable enter it."

    that's a good insight. when people are more out and about, life is more rigorous and abnormal behavior is tolerated less. in such an environment, someone with mental problems will have a harder time and probably end up in an asylum. I have noticed that nobody talks about asylums anymore.

    The mathematician John Nash was the Big Man on Campus when he was in college in the 40s, and had a successful career in the 50s. His schizophrenic breakdown, however, began in the early 60s. the schizophrenia went into remission in the early 90s. Based on this, schizophrenia, at least, appears as if it is exacerbated by an outgoing social environment. Or it could be that Nash was always a little crazy, but he was given a pass during cocooning times, because people in general were more tolerant of abnormal behavior.

  15. another possibility is that, in low-crime environments, the aggressively offensive personality associated with schizophrenia is considered attractive - but is not attractive in dangerous, high-crime environments where people must cooperate more to survive.

  16. To underscore one of your major points, I've met many daycare parents who use the word "school" as a substitute for what is clearly a daycare center. It's a delusional attempt at selling daycare to themselves and their kids.

  17. off-topic, the Atlantic talks about the falling crime rate:

    "In the mid-‘90s, crime analysts developed a controversial theory. The country was full of preteen boys, and in a few years, supposedly, those boys were going to grow up and become hardened criminals. “Get ready,” warned public-policy specialists like James Q. Wilson, stoking fear of the “cloud that the winds will soon bring to us,” when all those nascent ne’er-do-wells came of age. In 1996, John Dilulio would write that, “America is now home to thickening ranks of juvenile ‘superpredators’—radically impulsive, brutally remorseless youngsters, including ever more preteenage boys, who murder, assault, rape, rob, burglarize, deal deadly drugs, join gun-toting gangs and create serious communal disorders.” It was a theory that would be eventually disowned by even the men who helped create it. But in 1990, with crime at its peak, and no end in sight, the suspicion that wayward youth posed a violent threat pervaded even the silliest of onscreen scenarios."

    "But the nonsensical nature of the film takes on strange resonance today. The movie’s crime wave is thwarted by some giant turtles and a psychopathic hockey fanatic—a solution that comes from nowhere, the result of a mutation grown in New York’s own sewer system. As the 1990s began, something similarly unpredictable was about to happen.

    Over the course of 15 years, crime rates for every type of violent offense fell nationally by an average of 40 percent. In New York City, the average rate of decline was almost double that. The data for more recent years hasn’t been as deeply analyzed, but crime has, at the worst, stabilized. And no one really knows why. In The Great American Crime Decline, Franklin Zimring calls the 1990s a “black box of assumed causations.” Theories on the true source range from the end of the 1980s crack epidemic to the long-term effects of legalized abortion to increased policing to mass incarceration to the declining use of lead paint. New York City in particular, at first glance, would seem to represent a prime example of a place where more police led to less crime. But, Zimring argues, far too many factors exist, from the scope of New York’s policing changes to the variations in the dynamics of various cities."

  18. I have very few memories of day care as well. I remember laying on a mat for a nap and also the smell of green beans. To this day, whenever I smell green beans it takes me right back to being in day care. Scent is an amazing sense.

    I'm not sure how much day care contributed to my eventual depression/anxiety, but it'd be interesting to think about.


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