Since the 1930s Finland has sent each pregnant mom a cardboard box full of supplies they will need for the baby. In the 1930s the box had fabric, because most moms made their children’s clothes. Now there are onesies. In the 1950s disposable diapers were in, but by the 1990s they were replaced by cloth diapers in a nod to the environment. In the last decade the government removed the baby bottles to encourage breastfeeding.
It used to be you threw out the box after you emptied it, but now that babies do not sleep in the same bed as parents, the box comes with a mattress and turns into a bed.
What’s amazing to me is that everyone in Finland can agree on what goes in the box.
In the US, of course, there would be uproar about taking out bottles because Mead Johnson, maker of Enfamil, is powerfully well-funded. The NRA would try to put some sort of pamphlet in the box, maybe “Families that hunt together, stay together.” And there would be an all-out war over which children’s book is included in the box. Imagine what would happen if you put lobbyists in charge of Oprah’s Book Club.
The reason we could never do a new baby box in the US is the same reason we can’t do education in the US. Our society is not close to being homogenous. A friend originally from Europe is astounded by the lack of knowledge in the US about history and geography. My friend who is Israeli is astounded by the lack of community fostered by the schools. My friend who is Russian sees schools as a path to money.
So it’s clear that your cultural background affects how you want to educate your kid. And the huge cultural variances in the US make the idea of all kids getting the same education seem absurd. What is the point?
Well, actually. We know the original point: To make immigrant kids think like assembly line workers so the melting pot motif can swing into action and sustain the US as Earth’s great superpower.
But let’s pause a moment and notice the vapidity of both dismantling peoples’ cultural tendencies and also acting like policeman of the world. Both have been disappointing and probably destructive.
This is a big reason why I think we should scrap the idea of public school. Parents who can handle being parents should homeschool. Parents who are overwhelmed with being parents can send their kids to a social services program for eight hours a day of free parenting.
If we start calling school what it is—a substitute for parenting—then people who are capable of keeping their kids home will do it. And we’ll have money to support kids who don’t have adequate parenting. We can start thinking of education reform as family reform. Because at this point everyone agrees that we are not going to have effective school reform in the context of current schools.
It’s a huge change, but there is not really anything else we can do. In the US, there are families who need that box before their baby comes. The Finish death rate for babies declined rapidly after the box program began. And we can make good headway for the welfare of US babies as well. The arguing comes when we start sending the boxes to families who don’t need it. Then it becomes philosophizing instead of saving babies.
We know that if we launched the box program to every family in the US, lawsuits would ensue immediately, and we’d shut it down. So it encourages me that kids are starting to sue school districts for lying, cheating and wasting kids’ time. It’s going to be the lawsuits that finally do-in the school systems, and that’s good.
Our schools should be like baby boxes. A safety net that ensures that kids who wouldn’t have had resources get access to them.