By Dana Suskind, M.D., author of Thirty Million Words:  Building A Child’s Brain

The earliest language environment is a key component to a child’s eventual learning trajectory. In the United States, the achievement gap that divides those who are successful academically from those who perform poorly, or drop out, is large. “Large” is, in fact, a very understated term for this massive division.

While science has shown us the root cause of the achievement gap, something else is needed to ensure that effective solutions are put in place. All parents, in fact, all adults in this country, must begin to understand the problems, and the necessary solutions, so they become a part of our national dialogue and our national fabric.

The achievement gap seen in students in kindergarten through twelfth grade is apparent to anyone who looks at the statistics. It’s impossible to hide from them. It’s also impossible to turn away from the effect on the adulthoods of these children. Birth through three years is, on the other hand, a relatively invisible period. The achievement gap is already present at nine months of age but is apparent only under the microscope of statistical analysis.

Without a concerted look, we might actually believe that the problems we see in older children start at the moment we observe them. Action has, as a result, traditionally been taken only after the problems become apparent. It took the prescience of Hart and Risley, the social scientists who discovered the thirty million word gap, and the astute researchers who followed to show us that the problems existent in children of school age were simply observable manifestations of much earlier problems.

The early language environment is critical for a young child’s brain development. In order to ensure the optimal brain development of all our children, effective, well-designed support has to be readily available when there is a need. Before this can happen, however, general acceptance of the importance of the early language environment has to occur at a population level.

To be an effective part of our increasingly globalized world, the United States is dependent on how well its citizens think, how thoroughly they analyze problems, how constructively they solve those problems. Today this country is dependent on us. Tomorrow there will be a new crop of citizens who will take our place in attempting to make this democracy productive, rational, and stable. We have a choice. We can help produce the highest quality of future citizens by working to ensure the optimum development of our children. Or not.

While our understanding the problem is a first step, a long-term solution needs the attention of everyone. Only if we work together can we help ensure that programs, well designed and scientifically honed, are put into place to enhance the outcomes of all our children.

Who are “we”? We are the individuals who understand the problem and are the guardians of this important goal, actively supporting it. We are the organizations with initiatives that provide language programs for families and children, refining protocols as needed to make sure of their success. We are the public and private partnerships, small and large, offering support systems for families who want and need it. We are the groups providing information so that all parents understand the importance of the language environment of a child in the first three years.

Above all, we are the ones who do not simply “believe” in this, but rely on science to define the problem and help us design effective solutions. If there is passion, it is for ensuring that every child has the opportunity to achieve to his or her highest potential. We are not daunted when programs are not perfect; it just propels us to improve them to optimum success. Our ultimate goal is the enhanced lives of the children.