Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Reggio Emilia and Goo-gle Ga-Ga

So let's move from Dale Carnegie to Reggio Emilia, while getting Paul Bragdon mad at me at the same time. You see, I'm not going to go to the original sources, but instead rely on this InformationWeek account:

Google already had reasonably priced day care, when it decided to open a vastly more costly Euro-style operation, called the Woods, which uses something called the Reggio Emilia philosophy. Then Google also decided to upgrade the first, cheaper day care to mimic the Woods. Corporate push has come to shove because the more expensive approach is the pet project of Google VP Susan Wojcicki, who also happens to be Sergey Brin's sister-in-law.

So what is Reggio Emilia? Let's ask brainy-child.com:

Hailed as the best pre-schools in the world by Newsweek magazine in 1991, the Reggio Emilia approach to early childhood education has attracted the worldwide attention of educators, researchers and just about anyone interested in early childhood education best practices.

Well, that's worrisome. If there's anyone more trendy than a Web 2.0 expert, it's an early childhood education expert. But I shouldn't be negative without hearing them out.

Loris Malaguzzi (1920-1994) founded the 'Reggio Emilia' approach at a city in northern Italy called Reggio Emilia. The 'Reggio' approach was developed for municipal child-care and education programs serving children below six. The approach requires children to be seen as competent, resourceful, curious, imaginative, inventive and possess a desire to interact and communicate with others.

The 'Reggio' vision of the child as a competent learner has produced a strong child-directed curriculum model. The curriculum has purposive progression but not scope and sequence. Teachers follow the children's interests and do not provide focused instruction in reading and writing.

Noe comint. (Although to be fair, how much reading and writing should you be doing in preschool anyway? Familiarization is OK.)

So why is Google's day care so danged expensive now? Perhaps this offers a hint:

Within the Reggio Emilia schools, the educators are very concerned about what their school environments teach children. Hence, a great attention is given to the look and feel of the classroom. It is often referring to the environment as the "third teacher"

The aesthetic beauty within the schools is seen as an important part of respecting the child and their learning environment

Patricia Tarr delved into this more deeply:

The term "aesthetic codes" comes from Rosario and Collazo (1981) who looked at the kind of children's artwork valued by teachers in two preschool classrooms. Rosario and Collazo drew on Pierre Bourdieu's work on the sociology of perception in which Bourdieu described aesthetic perception as a social construction which is learned consciously or unconsciously (Rosario & Collazo, p. 74). My purpose is to explore how these aesthetic qualities, or codes, operate within these early childhood classrooms and what these codes might be teaching children both formally and informally. In the context of this paper, aesthetic will refer to both the visual qualities of objects and the environment and to those experiences which permit deep feeling (Flannery, 1977).

Of course, Google isn't the first organization to set up a Reggio Emilia operation out here. There's a whole alliance out here:

Mission Statement

The North American Reggio Emilia Alliance (NAREA) is a network of educators, parents, and advocates seeking to elevate both the quality of life and the quality of schools and centers for young children.

We envision a world where all children are honored and respected for their potential, their capabilities, and their humanity.

Our mission is to build a diverse community of advocates and educators to promote and defend the rights of children, families, and educators of all cultures through a collaboration of colleagues inspired by the philosophies and experiences of the 0-6 education project of Reggio Emilia, Italy.


To serve as a conduit for dialogue and exchange with Reggio Children and other international organizations that promote the rights of young children

To strengthen professional relationships among members by facilitating collaboration and exchange

To strengthen access to professional development initiatives and resources through communication tools, including Innovations in Early Education: The International Reggio Exchange, the NAREA website, and other related resources

To create professional development initiatives that are responsive to the needs and requests of our members

To encourage the diversity of membership within our organization to include individuals from a full range of social, economic and cultural communities

But if you want to find a Reggio school in your area, you'd have better luck finding an authoritative non-Arabic version of the Quran. You can't have Reggio outside of Reggio:

Many educators around the world, who share the fundamental values of education and childhood as those in Reggio Emilia, have studied the Reggio experience and, as a result, their educational philosophy and their work with children, teachers and parents have been influenced. In some cases, an entire school has made a commitment to pursue this journey of reflection and evolution. Yet the only "Reggio schools" are located in Reggio Emilia, Italy. Educators in other parts of the world may instead refer to themselves or their schools as "Reggio-inspired."

Back to Google. Dean Takahashi mused:

Google can’t afford to lose the perception that it’s a special place to work. Hiring sharp employees has certainly been the key to its competitive advantages over rivals like Microsoft and Yahoo. The company has lower turnover rates than other companies in Silicon Valley, where poaching is common and employees are accustomed to seeking greener pastures at the next hot company....

I’m not saying a bad childcare-fee increase is going to bring Google down. But it’s certainly a bait-and-switch on employees who signed up because of the promise of such benefits.

But then again, I'm sure that there are other day care facilities in this area:

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