Cathy Grace

As we struggle to find good news during this time in our country’s history, I am going to focus on new hope in our state.

We have new leaders who are moving quickly on legislation pertaining to education, and hopefully on other advancements that will help us grow our own work force for the future.

Recently, a renowned brain development scientist, Dr. Patricia Kuhl, spoke to a crowd of over 200 in Jackson about the amazing knowledge science has given us in the past few years on the development of a baby’s brain. Her information was astounding. It was unfortunate that most of our legislators and business leadership were not in attendance. Representative Randy Boyd did attend and should be acknowledged as the only House member in attendance, even though the House was not in session.

She affirmed, with the scientific evidence to support her comments, that the first three years of life are critical in the development of the connections in the brain that lead to language and literacy development. She also stressed the early years are the time that the region of the brain responsible for executive functioning, or as business leaders refer to it, soft skills, such as multi-tasking and work place problem solving, are developing.

In our state we have a history of waiting to address a problem until it becomes a crisis. Recent examples include lawsuits we are still attempting to address involving Child Protective Service and mental health. We have now added prisons and teacher shortages to the list of immediate problems. Talk is bubbling in the economic development sector about an unprepared work force resulting in unfilled jobs.

Over the past four years internationally known early childhood researchers and a Nobel Prize winning economist have shared their knowledge with Mississippians who chose to listen. These scientists lifted their voices in unison: work force development begins at birth. Each one told us how to do it, what it should look like and the cost. Cost? “Oh, dear, we can’t fund new programs, we have too much to address as it is now.”

This comment is often the response indicating a knee-jerk reaction by many. The good news is that investing in programs for our youngest and their families will result in no need for new state appropriated money. A reordering of funding of priorities which involves moving current expenditures of non-productive programs to research based ones serving infants and toddlers and their parents is the answer. This reordering resulting in growing our own will yield a work force in the future that will be second to none.

Cathy Grace is co-director of the Graduate Center for the Study of Early Learning at the University of Mississippi and the North Mississippi Education Consortium. She can be reached at

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