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March 25, 1997



Seven years ago we celebrated the seventh anniversary of The Harbinger with the slogan "Seven years of good luck!" This month The Harbinger turns 14, and we think that the past seven years have been twice as lucky.

The Harbinger is Mobile's only alternative paper. We operate without a paid staff or permanent offices. Our bills are paid by advertisers and appreciative readers. If you share our belief that an alternative paper is important for Mobile and its surrounding area, then please support us with your donation.

We are an alternative paper, but we are much more. The Harbinger is a non-profit educational foundation. Art and photography exhibits, concerts and symposia are some of our gifts to the community. Beginning April 3, we will celebrate our second seven years with a seven- part symposium, "Religion and Science: The Best of Enemies - The Worst of Friends." As you check this issue for details, consider how much we could do with your contribution of any amount.

Did you miss something in a recent issue? The Harbinger now has an archive web site that is being stocked with past feature articles and columns. You can even see Life Forms there! The address is: This is just another way that we serve the community.

Help keep Mobile's only alternative alive and well. Help us make the next seven years the best ever.

-- Dan Silver
The Harbinger
P.O. Box U-980
Mobile, AL 36688-0001

Dear Editor,

In a recent editorial column in The Mobile Register columnist Betsy Hart lamented the the number one concern of working women is "the dearth of good child care." A few days later there was an editorial by Mobile's Mayor, Michael C. Dow, in which he made an "appeal to state legislators to vote for Children First." Though different somewhat in subject matter, both of these articles underscore the importance of having quality environments and caring atmospheres available to children. It is for this reason that I find concern in the recent move at the state level to change the rules and regulations by which legally licensed pre-schools and child care programs operate. In Alabama right now a legally licensed program must meet a number of criteria which ensure at least a minimum level of quality and safety. These include, but are not limited to, Fire and Health Department inspections, minimum playground and indoor space, minimum equipment and materials per child, as well as a maximum ratio of children per teachers.

These ratios, at present, are 6:1 for 3 weeks to 18 months, 8:1 for 18 to 30 months, 12:1 for 1-1/2 years to 4 years, and 20:1 for 4 to 6 years. It has been proposed to change the regulations so that new ratios would be 4:1, 6:1, 10:1, and 15:1, respectively. This is an admirable initiative, if the average Alabamian can afford it. As with any industry or profession when the supply falls, given constant demand, the price will rise for that good or service. And by reducing the number of children in each teacher's care, the supply of child care per teacher is effectively reduced. An increase in the cost of licensed child care programs, however, will not affect every Alabamian. To illustrate, there is currently a dichotomy among operating pre-school and child care programs in the State of Alabama. There are those that are licensed and operating with the approval of the State of Alabama's Department of Human Resources, and there are those that are not. Of those that are not licensed, there are the programs that are exempt due to the State of Alabama's interpretation of the First Amendment's separation of Church and State, and then there are those that are simply unregulated. The latter are programs that have found ways around being duly licensed and legally operating.

These programs that are not licensed, consequently, do not have to follow the Department of Human Resources' regulations. Therefore, though the cost may not affect the average Alabamians, as we are free to choose among licensed and unlicensed programs, the quality of pre-school programs available to the average child in Alabama, however, certainly will be affected as fewer quality, licensed pre-schools will be able to compete with unregulated programs.

At present, there are a number of pre-schools and child care centers that are legally licensed and choose to operate significantly within current requirements, including student-teacher ratios. These programs choose to compete on quality rather than on price. The quality of these programs is due in small part to lower ratios but is due in large part to the farsighted vision of these programs and the people involved with them. Some, including our three Montessori schools in Mobile and Baldwin Counties, have been nationally accredited as programs that well exceed even national standards for early childhood care and education. It is my concern that many of the quality programs that prefer to become legally licensed will suffer from the competitive disadvantage presented by programs of often lesser quality that do not, or choose not to, have to abide by licensing requirements, especially ratios. These programs, it follows, are often far less expensive, sometimes 50 percent or less than the cost of legally licensed programs.

It is my opinion that quality programs should be made available to all of Alabama's children. Therefore, I believe that the real emphasis that we should be making at the state level is on bringing all early childhood programs under the same set of regulations in order to ensure a minimum quality for every child. At that point, I think it would then be appropriate to look at amending student-teacher ratios as well as other quality-of-program issues.

Until that time, I urge every Alabamian to consider the caliber of pre-school and day care programs available to all of our children. As a society, we will gain greater utility by considerably improving the minimum standards available to all than by marginally improving the best programs available to a few. Once we have achieved a common starting point, we can then more effectively address further improvements in early childhood programs. With the vision of thoughtful leadership, all of Alabama's children will surely benefit!

John P.B. Weinacker
Weinacker's Montessori School

Life Forms by Dan Silver

Cumulative Impact

This is a beach.
This is a dune that anchors the beach.
This is the sand that builds the dune that anchors the beach.
This is the sea oat that traps the sand that builds the dune that anchors the beach.
This is the seed that sprouts the sea oat that traps the sand that builds the dune that anchors the beach.
This is the mouse that buries the seed that sprouts the sea oat that traps the sand that builds the dune that anchors the beach. This is the burrow that houses the mouse that buries the seed that sprouts the sea oat that traps the sand that builds the dune that anchors the beach.

This is the beach condo.
This is the bulldozer that crushed the burrow that housed the mouse that buried the seed that sprouted the sea oat that trapped the sand that built the dune that anchored the beach that attracted the condo.

This is the beach unanchored.
This is the storm that surges over the beach and the bulldozed dune which the wind and water strip from the toppled condo and carve a swath for the ocean to roar far from shore.

This is the breach.
This is the past creation washed away for all the future by thoughts so small of only now that they forgot a thing so big as the tiny mouse that buried the seed that sprouted the sea oat that trapped the sand that built the dune that anchored the beach.

This was the beach.

by D.M. and D.R.U.

The Harbinger, Mobile, AL