The Raising of America Project

The Raising of America grew directly out of California Newsreel’s four-hour PBS series exploring the root causes of our alarming class and racial inequities in health, UNNATURAL CAUSES: Is Inequality Making Us Sick—winner of the Best Science Film/Radio/TV program of 2009 by the National Academies, a duPont–Columbia Award (considered the Pulitzers of broadcast journalism), and other prestigious honors.

The studies are many, they are strong and they are persuasive. Yet little or no popular media have translated these scientific findings into a compelling new narrative.

After the 2008 national PBS broadcast, UNNATURAL CAUSES was shown in more than 25,000 community dialogs, policy forums, trainings, classrooms, town hall meetings and other venues in those first 18 months after release, as a tool to foster dialogue and action toward health equity.

With growing scientific evidence revealing how experiences in the first years of life build the foundation for life-long physical, emotional and cognitive health, many users of UNNATURAL CAUSES urged us in surveys, conversations and emails that our next project scrutinize the “social ecology,” or web of relations and policies, that affect parents and caregivers and shape so much of early child health and development and consequently, life–course outcomes. The early years are a time when public policy interventions and grass-roots efforts can have the greatest benefits and many experts link investments in maternal health and early child development as critical to building a healthier, safer, happier, more equitable and more prosperous nation.

The studies are many, they are strong and they are persuasive. Yet little or no popular media have translated these scientific findings into a compelling new narrative capable of changing the way parents, practitioners, policy makers and the public think about society’s responsibilities and interest in these first crucial years. The conventional default explanations of child development—‘good’ vs. ‘bad‘ parents, genetics and cultural dysfunction–still predominate. Perhaps not coincidentally, little progress has been made in improving outcomes for America’s children.

We need a new story, these UNNATURAL CAUSES users suggested, a story that translates the science into popular terms, a story that ruptures the ‘family bubble’ discourse and widens the locus of debate from the individual child and family to the larger social ecology that structures opportunities for healthy child development, a story that connects early child development to America’s future health and prosperity, and most of all a story the impels a sense of urgency and engages the public imagination for bold, transformational changes which can make a nurturing childhood ecology the birthright of every child in America, the most prudent investment any nation can make.

For us, the invitation and challenge is how best to tell that story as film.