I’m really conflicted about this. There are very few organizations, local or otherwise, whose missions I respect more than Kevin Johnson’s St. HOPE. But the educational org’s newest project has me a little weirded out:
Imagine taking your child to a preschool that could scan each little brain, take blood samples, administer psychological tests or do genetic testing to help decide which teaching techniques best suit each youngster.
I don’t know, I mean it’s a little derivative…I think there was a newer episode of Twilight Zone like that… Oh wait, you’re not describing a horrifying dystopian future setting for a sci-fi movie, that’s an actual plan for a school.
You had me at “genetic testing,” St. HOPE–sign me up! In fact, why not just put my kid in a occupation time machine, and if it doesn’t come up “Doctor” or “Lawyer” I’ll just send the kid to a kindergarten that focuses mostly on block building and not on words or numbers.
That’s where the conflict comes in. I do think St. HOPE, and to a lesser extent UC Davis, who are providing the brain scanning, are in this for the right reasons. They do want to find a better way to teach children and ensure the success of public education. They do seem to understand that a lot of parents will be turned off by the idea of making their preschooler (starting at 2 1/2!) into a lab rat.
But a few things need to be said here. This school will have a large percentage of kids with special needs, emotional problems, or who are at risk for learning disabilities. The idea that kids learn better in a more inclusive environment is both commonsensical and inspiring. However, common sense should also provide some guidelines. The Bee quotes Dr. Robert Hendren, a UC Davis professor of psychiatry and head of the M.I.N.D. Institute: “By mastering something well enough that you help someone else do it well, you learn it better yourself.” In other words, part of the concept for this school is for 2 1/2 year olds to be teaching each other. I do think that approach is worthwhile for high schoolers, but is it appropriate for preschool aged children? I say no.
Second, this planned “preschool” is a full-time, five-day-a-week daycare.
There will be two teachers for every 16 to 18 kids, guiding them from playground to nap time, with lots of stops in between at activity stations rich with blocks, sand, art supplies and more.
So the one thing not being considered for its effectiveness in increasing brain development is whether 40 frakkin hours of school a week is too much for a toddler. You’re not just asking parents to lend their kids to science for a few hours, this is full-time scientific observation, complete with lab coats watching them through two-way mirrors (who among you isn’t creeped out yet!!?)
Lastly there is the whole concept of identifying the teaching technique that best suits each youngster. I know this is a matter up for debate, but I believe that a good education should not merely meet children where they are, or merely cater to their “interests,” but should merely be a good education. Well rounded, rigorous, multi-disciplined. Targeting techniques to specific learning styles and helping kids develop by exposing them to diversity are at odds with each other–do you attempt to widen kids horizons or do you attempt to find one technique and stick with it? Again, this is a much larger debate.
Surely the parental oversight and waivers the school will employ will ensure that the demands of science are not overshadowing the needs of the children. I have no doubt that the things UC Davis and St. HOPE do together will greatly benefit Oak Park, Sacramento in general and hopefully global education. But I also think that there are some things we don’t do because they are bad ideas, including turning our toddlers into lab rats en masse.
St. HOPE and UCD will have a lot of selling to do to make sure people don’t see this as science-fiction, in the classic sense of science gone wrong. Perhaps they should start by making sure reporters don’t lead with genetic testing and blood samples!