November 3, 2019

Chair of the Children’s Movement of Florida, Dave Lawrence, joins Alberto Lidji to discuss advocacy, politics and coalitions in support of children in Florida and beyond

Chair of the Children’s Movement of Florida, Dave Lawrence, joins Alberto Lidji to discuss advocacy, politics and coalitions in support of children in Florida and beyond.


During the episode we speak about Dave’s efforts to drive forward legislative change and mobilise individuals at local and national levels to encourage investments in children’s early years and improve their outcomes.


Dave retired from his role as publisher of the Miami Herald 20 years ago to focus on children’s ‘early years’. He is Chair of the Children’s Movement of Florida which aims to make children the number one priority for investment in Florida – the 3rd biggest state in the US, and the 17th largest global economy, if it were a country.


We hear how there has been much progress in Florida over the past 20 years and how, today, every 4-year old in Florida is entitled to a high quality kindergarten experience. There has been support from voters, the Governor’s office and city mayors across the state; including a successful campaign called #100Mayors for early childhood.


Dave has mobilised resources in Florida and engaged with politicians across the political spectrum at local, state and national level. He has also lectured internationally on the benefits of investing in early years.


In 1996, former Florida governor, Lawton Chiles, asked Dave to join the Governor’s Commission on Education to look at education in the next millennium. Dave led the taskforce on school readiness and, in the process, learned an extraordinary amount about children’s early years – so much so that he decided to retire from his post as publisher of the Miami Herald and work full time on issues focused on early childhood.


On the topic of driving forward legislative change, Dave notes there’s much power at the local level.  Dave wants people to be excited about supporting children and to talk about it often. He notes that numerous US presidents have been vocal in their support for early years, irrespective of their political affiliation, and he notes their power comes in using their presidential platform to be highly vocal about supporting children.


Dave remarks that, yes, just about everybody loves children; but too many don’t understand the practical imperatives about this.


He notes that in the US, despite its position as the world’s leading economy, 3 out of 4 young people aged 17 to 24 cannot enter the US military – they can’t join because of criminal records, substance abuse, academic problems etc. This is an unacceptable state of affairs.


Only real quality in education brings positive outcomes; it’s not about simply having a spot for a child in a classroom – it’s about actually learning something, about being engaged and being exposed to brain-stimulating activities.


The importance of play – and learning through play – should not be underestimated. Play is really important – you learn a lot about getting along with other people. We need to develop the full human being – it’s not about drilling 3-year olds in numbers. Nothing is more important than a nurturing, caring, knowledgeable, loving parent or caregiver.


Ultimately, to improve the reality for children, one needs to push on many fronts; communicating with parents; engaging with the legislative process, connecting with diverse stakeholders.  Dave wants to get the local community involved, including many who would not usually be classed as the usual suspects in the field of early childhood, including the faith community, business actors, the civic community, the political community etc – he wants them all to work on this issue.


Dave notes that a major moment in Florida happened a few years back when the Florida Chamber of Commerce – the principal business organisation in the state – decided that early childhood is a major business imperative, impacting the future of their workforce and talent pool in Florida.


Dave briefly discusses his book — ‘A Dedicated Life: Journalism, Justice and a Chance for Every Child’ – and underscores the point that all proceeds from sales go to support the Children’s Movement of Florida.  The book is partly traditional memoire and partly about what’s happening in the field of early childhood and what else still needs to be done.


Dave’s key takeaway: he notes that within each of us is an ability to make something happen and, ultimately, he shares the sentiment that it would be a shame for one to die before having had won some battle for humanity.  There is so much to be done all over the world and so many ways for people to drive change.  At the end, we ask ourselves, ‘what did your life mean’?... the answer won’t have much to do with accumulating resources. What difference did you make in an individual life and in larger ways? That’s the joy of life. Combine that with lifelong learning and you have a life where you can feel pretty good about yourself. 


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