Saturday, June 18, 2016

An Au Naturel Learning Experience: Or Where Have You Gone, Dr. Skinner?

An Au Naturel Learning Experience:  or Where Have You Gone, Dr. Skinner?

A post today on Peter Greene’s Curmudgucation reminded me of the compelling appeal of simplicity wedded to technology when even I was a child many decades ago.  My mother, a personal secretary to Dr. B.F. Skinner at Indiana University, was convinced by the good doctor that her newborn’s participation in his groundbreaking research on “Baby Boxes” and the positive effects of a continuous optimum climate on a child’s rearing would be beneficial – to her, to me, and probably to her regular and assured appearance at work.   

Nearly 300 infants were placed in these temperature and climate controlled enclosures, but early new media releases of the invention did more, understandably, to dissuade the public from accepting the concept rather than flock to this “brave new” science.  In fact, the early accounts of his own daughter Deborah’s happiness in “his box” accompanied pictures of the infant with her nose and hands pressed against the glass.  It was no great stretch after that for critics to connect her condition to any other rat looking for levers or reward pellets for good behavior. 

By the way, I find myself partial to artisanal cheeses.

When I read the following blog-post by Mr. Greene, who remains an articulate and ever-present warrior against the danger of these “new sciences” of educational testing and accountability gone terribly awry, I am reminded of the darker sides of B.F Skinner’s conceptualizations in the hands of companies like Pearson.

His entire blog is attached and available at

Posted: 18 Jun 2016 08:08 AM PDT
So I stumbled across the Connections Academy blog Virtual Learning Connections (a friendly resource supporting K-12 school from home). In particular, I stumbled across this post-- "5 Reasons Why Parents Choose Virtual School Kindergarten." The piece is written by Carrie Zopf, a teacher at one of the Conections Academies. Connection Academy is the virtual charter chain purchased by Pearson in 2011, and they would love to just hook your five year old up to a screen. And it is from way back in 2014, but it still gives me the heebie-jeebies.

 It's a great little listicle, combining the sales pitch with the "everybody's doing it and here's why" peer reinforcement. So what are these five great reasons to put your child in virtual kindergarten?

It's easy!! You can have breakfast and then walk into the next room and plunk your child down in front of the computer! Or go to the store and then plunk. More family time, more adaptability to your schedule. More like not actually sending your child to school at all.

Frequent parent-teacher communication. Though Zopf says this is "much like in a traditional school," talking to your child's teachers is super-easy! And since all the learning is online, you can see everything right there. In fact, you can see everything the teacher can see. Plus you actually have the live child there with you. Actually, why would you even need to talk to the teacher. What is the teacher even doing?

Active participation. You can get right in there and help, because you can see every lesson, see every assignment. When your child is trying to work through worksheets assignments, you'll be right there. Right there. Boy, I hope you have some educational training. I also hope that you have the self-control and toughness not to just feed your child the answer when she gets frustrated. Zopf notes that being involved in the child's education is the primary reason that parents go this route.

Real world learning opportunities. Cyber-k still has field trips and stuff, so your child will still get out in the world and occasionally interact with her "classmates." Also, your five year old can sign up for a foreign language.

A safe learning environment. Your child doesn't have to go out into the big scary world. According to Conection's own parent survey, keeping their child safe and in the home was a major motivator for parents. So if you are the biggest helicopter parent ever, cyber school is a good choice for you.

Zopf also cites a study that suggests that small children are great at figuring out "unusual machines," though she completely skips the issue of screen time for children and the controversies around reading comprehension and computers. There's also an app to help you obsess over academic skills while your toddler is still toddling.

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