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By Phoebe Ducote PPS'25

The idea of putting “children first” might seem radical, but that’s exactly what Adam Benforado argued for as part of the Robert R. Wilson Distinguished Lecture Series. As someone whose entire academic path revolves around children's policy, I was heavily invested in attending this lecture and having the possibility of meeting him. Students and faculty gathered in Sanford to hear more about his propositions and platform, hoping to get inspired to learn more about the “Child First” mindset.

Woman looking at camera and smiling for professional headshot.
Phoebe Ducote, PPS'25

I came to Duke as a public policy major, hoping to find my specific niche in what I wanted to pursue in the future with my degree. After a brief introduction to the Education department, I decided to pursue that policy area further by adding an Education minor and a Child Policy Research Certificate. To further explore this realm of policy, I decided to get my teaching certification for a future desire of mine to work in the classroom as I do want to make changes in the world of education and am a firm believer that the only people who should be allowed to make decisions regarding that area should be teachers. To top it all off, I plan on attending law school after graduation, so you could say I am pretty interested in what Adam Benforado said regarding the importance of prioritizing kids.

One of the things that stuck with me was that “kids are the canaries to our coal mines” because they have the ability to show us what’s wrong with what we are doing, not only showcasing what is bad for them but also bad for everyone else. By prioritizing kids now, we are ensuring that the future is one that they (and us) can live in without fearing losing their house to the rising tides or getting their rights minimized by our politicians, among many other things. The issue is that, as of right now, we have crafted the majority of our laws to accommodate white males, who won’t be able to even benefit from the policies they have put in place. Still, instead, their children will be the ones suffering the consequences. A child-centric model would instead allow us to be more malleable with our laws, adapting and evolving alongside the children.

His lecture was eye-opening and, as I later told him, “frustrating in the best way.” I had the opportunity to partake in a dinner following the event, where I could ask for advice and pick his brain about some questions I had after reading his book A Minor Revolution. The two-hour dinner flew by with the help of conversations surrounding his own story, the work of the CCFP, how my ambitions translate into the academic path I’ve chosen, and some advice on how to navigate the rest of my time in undergrad and law school. His most valuable advice was, “Find a mentor you admire, someone that will inspire you and remind you why you decided on this career path.” I left this dinner not only inspired but also extremely aware of how our current political system has continuously put aside the basic needs of children to prioritize the older generations who hold a different outlook on the state of our country. It is evident that things must change to ensure the safety and well-being of the generations to come.

Phoebe Ducote is a third-year undergraduate at Duke University, pursuing a major in Public Policy, a minor in Education, and a certificate in Child Policy Research while also pursuing her teaching certification. Phoebe hopes to attend law school in the future to further explore the connection between education and law.