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Remembering Walter Mondale’s commitment to early childhood policy

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Remembering Walter Mondale’s commitment to early childhood policy
Remembering Walter Mondale’s commitment to early childhood policy
Maxine Brown (seated on sofa almost directly under the center of the painting) whispers to Terry Saario, a program officer with the Minneapolis Foundation, during a meeting with then-Vice President Walter (Fritz) Mondale sometime in the mid-1970s about childhood policy. Submitted photo
Remembering Walter Mondale’s commitment to early childhood policy
Maxine Brown

I met former Vice President Walter (Fritz) Mondale only one time. He was just as he appeared to be on television.

I liked his temperament and commitment to the field of early childhood, the area of concentration that I headed at the Lilly Endowment.

Mondale’s recent death called to my mind that one time that we met. I attended a meeting with him and a stellar group of early childhood advocates who worked within colleges, universities and foundations. It was the mid-’70s and one of the vice president’s aides, Sidney Johnson, arranged the meeting to discuss early childhood policy in the United States.

At that time, not nearly enough was being done for America’s children. In fact, one of the popular books at the time was titled “Who Cares for America’s Children?”

I love children and was rather passionate about the subject.

A couple of prominent professors who attended the meeting were Professor Urie Bronfenbrenner from Cornell University and Professor Jerome Kagan from Harvard. The rest of us represented an assortment of foundations, big and small.

The centerpiece of my program area was a unique replication experiment of three parent/child development centers. The program was conceptualized by a brilliant economist with whom I shared a vision for the mothers of very young children ages 0 to 3 years of age. Mary Robinson had excellent credentials, having studied at the London School of Economics. Her thesis was that if mothers of young children were taught to be teachers of their own young children, the mother could create an intellectually stimulating environment within the home that would not only help the children, but would also help the mothers, all of whom were required to be low income.

We worked so hard at this replication experiment, but no one at the national level would take up support for the project even though it was extremely cost effective.

Nevertheless, Vice President Mondale tried to be an effective advocate but couldn’t find enough support from others. Thus, he should be remembered as one of the country’s most vocal leaders for the important area of early childhood.

Thankfully, the situation for the support of young children has changed. There appears to be broad support for programs that benefit young children and families.

Editor’s note: Maxine Brown makes her home in Corydon.

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