By Oswald Sobrino, J.D.; M.A. (Econ.); M.A. (Theo.); M.L. (Master of Latin), doctoral student, University of Florida.

Friday, January 25, 2013

The Perry School in Ypsilanti: Character Over IQ

A recent NPR report noted a study of preschoolers in Ypsilanti, Michigan, which showed that preschool made a significant difference in the long-term future of kids by yielding greater educational achievement and freedom from criminal activity. Nobel winner James Heckman, an economist at the University of Chicago, has studied this phenomenon and argues that our educational system overemphasizes IQ and other test scores when, in fact, life skills such as self-control and persistence are what make the difference in the long run. One of the signature traits, for example, of the Perry preschool in Ypsilanti is that the kids planned their activities, engaged in them, and then reviewed them. Well, if more adults reviewed some of their activities on a daily or weekly basis, I firmly believe life would be better for all of us. Adults, even highly educated adults, even adults with high IQ scores, go through life repeating the same inane behaviors that lead nowhere. A little daily review just might lead to changes in course that will benefit everyone. Recently, the New York Times ran an article illustrating how self-awareness can be a key to success in life (see http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/20/opinion/sunday/secret-ingredient-for-success.html?smid=pl-share). Reviewing our activities is self-awareness. There was some Greek from long ago who said something about the unexamined life.

I have always been suspicious of the cult of IQ scores. Human nature and human intelligence are too complex, rich, and variable to be reducible to such crude measures, although many love to draw excessive inferences from IQ scores. Human nature loves to classify people and loves to rank people. IQ scores feed into that distorting predisposition of who is better than whom. The better predisposition is to ask: how can I make myself and others better?

The lessons from Heckman's work are that character counts and that good character traits can be encouraged and taught and can make a big lifetime difference. We are not constrained by IQ scores but only by our openness and daring to improve ourselves and others.

Here are some links to follow this story:

http://chronicle.uchicago.edu/040108/heckman.shtml

http://scienceblogs.com/cortex/2009/08/11/the-perry-preschool/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HighScope

http://americanradioworks.publicradio.org/features/preschool/teachers.html .