How to Manipulate Public Discussion About Early Childhood Education: Cornell Researcher Touts “Inoculation Messages”—Because Information is Bad for You

One of the delights of perusing university news outlets is that one can keep up on the very latest in research news in various fields. And there so many opportunities to note how devious academic researchers can be. Keeps one on her toes.

It is always instructive, for example, to read about how excited behavioral scientists can get about the very latest ways of preventing you from gaining a full understanding of important public policy issues—in this case, the government takeover of early childhood education.

Take a look at this August 17, 2021 item in the Cornell Chronicle, Cornell’s source of official news and part of its University Relations operations. The story is entitled, “Narrative approach can change minds on child care spending” and quotes a Cornell professor in the Department of Communication in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences who, evidently, does not want average citizens to be given information that might cause them to doubt that government control of every aspect of child rearing is the best possible outcome:

For turning resisters into supporters, a more subtle narrative approach is most effective, while “inoculation” – messages aimed at keeping opposing viewpoints at bay – was seen as the best approach for those already in favor of such policies and programs.

What a great idea—try to trick people who might be inclined to not want massive government intrusion in early childhood education and make sure that those who support such programs are not allowed access to any information that might cause them to question those beliefs. Way to go, Cornell University, on making the expert class look even more manipulative than many of us already thought it was.

The researcher lays out helpfully how to protect people from any actual debate:

A forewarning that others might try to persuade them with refutations of common oppositional arguments (“inoculation”)

So, basically what policymakers need to do is to treat any ideas they don’t like as a sort of pathogen that average people (who can’t handle, you know, anything complicated like the best interests of their own young children) need to be inoculated against. Not like that is creepy elitism or anything.

We learn from the article that the Cornell researcher is not alone in his desire to craft practices that are designed to squelch debate from the get-go. He is joined in the authorship of a paper on the topic by colleagues from Portland State University, Wesleyan University, and the University of Minnesota School of Public Health. Just one big information-crushing academic family.

The article helpfully links to the actual paper, which you can read for yourself here.

You have to hand it to the authors and the journal, The Milbank Quarterly, for being so straightforward about the political agenda being advanced in the guise of scholarship here:

Investments in early childhood education can have long-lasting influence on health and well-being at later stages of the life course.

Widespread public support and strategies to counter opposition will be critical to the future political feasibility of enhancing early childhood policies and programs.

And the lengths that the researchers think policymakers and bureaucrats should go to skew public discussion on the topic of early childhood education:

Inoculation messages (messages designed to prepare audiences for encountering and building resistance to opposing messages) may protect favorable childcare policy attitudes in the face of oppositional messaging.

Oppositional messaging—you mean like, oh let’s say, research on the other side?

Just a side note—one of the “benefits” of greater government control of early childhood education, according to the authors of the study, is that greater availability of affordable childcare increases labor force participation and work hours among mothers of young children. Great ladies—more work hours! Why stay at home with your children as you might wish when you can spend more time away from them and work longer hours! Isn’t modern social science great for mothers and children?

The authors clearly think that any questioning of their agenda is due simply to political partisanship and antiquated allegiance to such retrograde ideas as family autonomy, parental responsibility and other bad, bad things. They say forthrightly that “opposition among currently resistant constituencies will need to be overcome” and helpfully detail how they went about their research:

…we tested whether the inoculation message strategy conferred resistance to subsequent exposure to an oppositional anti-policy message focused on the value of stay-at-home parenting, parental responsibility, and limited government intervention

See folks, those who favor stay-at-home parenting are suffering from a sort of ideological infectious disease that gullible members of the public need to be immunized against.

The researchers employ plenty of social science jargon to render their objective of winning the argument by smearing their opponents ahead of time (e.g., “induce additional feelings of reactance toward oppositional messages”) “scholarly” and they cheerfully reflect that public support for government funding of early childhood education programs is “malleable via strategically designed messages” (also known as propaganda).

The article spends a good deal of time describing how “narratives” can be crafted that show how happy children are away from such blights as caring stay-at-home moms. The mothers in these ads would, presumably, not be shown worrying in their workplaces about the children they are not with.

All conservative child development experts should read this study—it lays out in precise detail the ways that nanny state early childhood development experts use anecdotes and vignettes in combination with a chilling strategy of information deprivation in their campaign to make the United States one vast daycare center.

It’s also revealing that social scientists at major institutions like Cornell openly tout the scary idea that Americans at large should not be bothered by exposure to studies or data or discussion generally not in line with progressive ideas on child-rearing and taxpayer funding and policy options related thereto. So much for the value of universities as place where ideas are, you know, debated.

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