To the Editor of The New York Times:

James J. Heckman suggests that “unfounded doubt and fear of doing things differently” are the primary deterrents to radical change in our investment in early childhood education.

The neuroscience of early childhood development, however, suggests another factor: old brains. It is far more difficult for a member of Congress to integrate new ways of thinking and doing than it is to effect positive transformation in the very young children whose futures are dependent on our representatives’ votes.

While neuroplasticity, the capacity for neurologic growth, is present throughout our lives, it falls off dramatically after the age of 5. It is challenging to learn empathy and compassion as an adult. These are critical emotional ingredients for a well-warranted recipe that would combine established science with humanity to bring about powerful policy and societal change.


The writer is a clinical professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Washington.

Published New York Times September 22, 2013