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Excerpts from recent editorials in newspapers in Illinois

June 25, 2019

June 24, 2019

Chicago Sun-Times

Imagine an America in which every child starts off on the right foot

Babies, as it turns out, learn more, and earlier, than most of us know.

Humans, in fact, are born learning, as scientists have discovered in decades of research on infant brain development. Before a newborn is even a few hours old, he or she will readily mimic an adult who pokes out their tongue.

Learning continues at a rapid pace for the first five years of a child’s life. During that time, a child’s brain is busy firing neurons at a fast clip, building a crucial network of connections up until about age 3. The activity slows down then, and the brain shifts gears to focus on strengthening the neural pathways that already have been constructed.

Every interaction with parents is critical to this development. Everyday moments — reading at bedtime, talking at the dinner table, playing in the park — are learning moments, food for a growing brain.

And like the food children eat, it’s essential for those interactions to be the right kind, healthy and nurturing. Otherwise, development is stunted, perhaps beyond repair.

Kindergarten and beyond is too late to play catch-up. As Georgetown University psychology professor Deborah Phillips says in a new documentary on early learning, “we’re basically fixing something that’s broken.”

The problem is, America hasn’t been willing to pay for it. Early childhood education is the absolute best investment our nation can make, but we fail to appreciate it. A mere 3% of the $1.3 trillion our country spends on education every year is spent on early education.

America can’t call itself the “land of opportunity” as long as the deck is stacked against poor and working-class kids from the start.

Illinois, for one, took a few recent steps to level the playing field. Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s budget includes a $50 million increase in the Early Childhood Block Grant, $100 million to build and repair child care centers across the state, and an expansion of the Child Care Assistance Program, which provides money to help low-income families pay for good preschool and early learning.

Former Mayor Rahm Emanuel, to his credit, also put an emphasis on expanding pre-school education, with an aim of making it universal for 4-year-olds.

But considerably more could be done here at home, and what about the country as a whole?

Every week, as the documentary points out, 11 million children end up in basic child care, and nine times out of 10 the programs are sub-par. Families of modest means can’t afford the $2,000 a month or more that good early learning programs can cost. So their children fall behind.

Low-income children pay the steepest price. By age 3, they’ve heard 30 million fewer words than higher-income kids. By age 5, they’ve made 1,300 fewer visits to libraries and museums. By the first day of kindergarten, they can be up to two years behind in language development.

If they’re exposed to “toxic stress” in the home — such as violence, neglect or abuse, parental addiction or mental illness — they’re more likely to develop behavior problems in school.

All of this adds up to an opportunity gap, that leads to an achievement gap, a college enrollment gap and an employment gap. More and better preschool is fundamental to closing that gap.

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June 23, 2019

The (Bloomington) Pantagraph

Pay attention to who has the megaphone

A plethora of studies give us dramatically different sides to ponder when discussing legalized recreational cannabis.

Opioid addiction tumbles. Or it doesn’t. Fewer people are driving under the influence. Or maybe more are. Traffic incidents increase. Or do they? Minds are being destroyed. Or not. Marijuana helps with physical pain management and mental health management. Or else those idiots just want to spend their lifetimes high.

The letters to the editor we receive, the posts on social media, the conversations we all have with one another - they all cite different studies or personal experiences or observations. One of the biggest issues is people who have already made their minds up, and pick and choose news stories, reports and rumors to inflate their side of the argument.

The studies we have so far suffer from flaws in size, length of time or bias. The federal illegality of recreational marijuana essentially prevents extensive studies. Fewer organizations are willing to fund the examination of an illegal product.

People have been drying, burning and inhaling leaves for millennia. It stands to reason that different substances affect different people in different ways. Yet our laws often only allow for one definition of overdoing it. Just because an individual thinks they can drive as well at .15% alcohol content as others at .08%, Illinois’ legal limit, doesn’t mean it’s OK for them to do so. Illinois’ legal limit for THC in blood for drivers is 5 nanograms/ml. Law enforcement officials have yet to find a field test that measures THC with enough accuracy.

Poorly mixed liquors are as old as mankind. One of the terrors solved when prohibition was lifted in the United States was drinkers were better informed about the amount of alcohol in their drinks. Because alcohol was regulated, users were less likely to go blind or die because someone wasn’t careful enough when mixing moonshine.

In the early 1970s, comedian George Carlin astutely observed that an entire generation of women were being used as guinea pigs for birth control pills. “If every lady who use(s) them gets to 61 and one leg gets shorter than the other one ... better call the pills back,” he said.

But we as an editorial board don’t have the same fear of marijuana. We’ve had centuries of illicit use of marijuana, yet except for the comical “Reefer Madness” film, there have been limited examples of people whose lives were destroyed by the drug, especially as compared with alcohol, tobacco and overeating, to name just three examples.

There have been a number of surveys conducted about marijuana use and legality. In every survey with any scientific or mathematical integrity, the majority of people surveyed supported legalization of recreational marijuana. That’s both in Illinois and in the United States.

Certainly, those surveys don’t measure the enthusiasm of the respondent. A strident, vigorous “no” registers the same numbers as a shrugged “yeah, whatever, I don’t care.” They don’t measure claims of mental relief, physical recovery, or even whether it’s a gateway drug.

As we mention gateway drugs, we again emphasize that a long-term need is trying to figure out exactly why individuals feel to need to self-medicate in such increasing numbers.

The people speaking the loudest now are the ones with the most stake in the conversation: law enforcement, medical practitioners, those excited and anticipatory, those saddened and convinced Armageddon awaits. All groups can easily find a study to support the extremity of their position.

The best way to evaluate reports of studies and other information about what legalization means and will do is to pay attention to who’s holding the megaphone.

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June 23, 2019

The (Champaign) News-Gazette

A distracted driver is a threat to all

The public has been warned for years about the public-safety threat posed by motorists who’ve consumed too much alcohol.

Well, guess what, there’s another major problem on our roads and highways, one that rivals buzzed or drunk drivers. It’s represented by motorists who are distracted because they are texting while behind the wheel.

It seems the public’s obsession with constantly handling their cellphones has morphed into a major public health and safety threat.

If drivers aren’t talking on their cellphones, they’re checking them for messages or sending text messages of their own. How thoughtless, how stupid, how dangerous.

Law enforcement has tried to get a handle on this problem. But the facts of the matter are that there are too many motorists using their cellphones and not enough police to catch them doing it.

To be effective, real policing is going to have to be the result of self-policing — motorists realizing that the risks — danger to themselves and others — are just not worth the time and trouble it takes to talk on the phone and/or text.

So far, however, self-policing has proved to be a failure. Too many people just can’t seem to resist handling their phones while driving, even in the face of regular news reports about accidents, sometimes involving serious injury or death, that result from distracted driving.

It won’t come close to solving this high-tech problem, but the Illinois State Police have come up with an unusual enforcement tactic that might provide a deterrent, however slight.

It’s called Trooper in a Truck, a partnership with the Illinois Trucking Association.

The state police put a trooper in the cabs of semitrailer trucks, where the extra height allows them a better view of what people are doing behind the wheel.

When troopers spot violations, they contact nearby police units that make the stop. Of course, enforcement doesn’t focus solely on distracted driving because unsafe driving covers a wide array of activities.

Suffice it to say, motorists who receive traffic citations aren’t happy about it. But society has a right not to be happy with those motorists who ignore the law as well as the rules of common sense regarding driving and cellphone use.

How hard is it really to pull over and talk on the phone or send a text?

Cellphones seem to have a peculiar impact on people, almost speeding up their pattern of life to the point where they feel compelled to be constantly checking their phones, taking calls or exchanging tests.

It’s just not that important. Too many motorists, however, believe otherwise. So driving will remain even more risky than it otherwise ought to be, and that risk comes in a variety of forms.

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