Great Ideas? What were these teachers thinking?

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TGIF!  Hate to be a buzz kill but this story was just too disturbing not to post.  Clearly the story stands alone as horrific, but hosted on NOVA the video and book also came with a Teacher’s Guide.   I am all for the power of knowledge but take a look at the grade levels taught from most of the teachers who sent in their ideas regarding how to integrate this into their classroom curriculum…  WOW!  I removed the names of those who submitted but I stand by my decision to keep the names of the schools.  ‘Genie’ had her childhood stolen from her by monsters and using this as a teaching tool for a 9th grader … My child would be out of that class quicker than you can say prepaid therapy — What were these schools and educators thinking ?


In the fall of 1970, social workers took custody of a 13-year-old child who had spent much of her life chained to a potty chair in her bedroom. She could not speak, walk, or respond to other people. She was called “Genie.” Her case attracted psychologists who were interested in finding out whether she could still learn to speak. At the time, some linguists, led by MIT’s Noam Chomsky, believed that human speech is a genetically programmed ability. Eric Lenneberg, a neuropsychologist, agreed with Chomsky and added further that if a person did not learn to speak by adolescence, then the natural ability to learn language might be lost forever. This theory was the so-called “critical period hypothesis.”

Although Genie’s situation was one that scientists would never create intentionally to test their theories, her unfortunate circumstances made her a prime candidate for experimentation. Genie was past puberty. If she could still learn language, it would cast doubt on the critical period hypothesis. Ultimately, Genie’s caretakers were criticized for combining their research with her treatment.

(Gr. 9-12)
I use NOVA’s “Secret of the Wild Child” program as an introduction to the nature vs. nurture issue.

Before viewing, we brainstorm as a class a list of basic skills that a 6-year-old has when he or she enters school for the first time.

After viewing, we compare this list to Genie’s skills. The next day, the students free write on their position on the nature vs. nurture issue—are we who we are because we were born that way, or does our environment make us who we are?

After the free write, I organize the students according to their viewpoints, making some play devil’s advocate. The students then prepare a debate, complete with initial statements and rebuttals. The kids really enjoy it.

Thomas Stone High School
Waldorf, MD

(Gr. 9-12)
I introduce the notion of language acquisition and lead to a discussion of language and the ways in which we use it in verbal interaction by showing NOVA’s “Secret of the Wild Child” program about Genie, the 13-year-old found in California who survived years of isolation and abuse. This program also launches a discussion of ethical behavior, the need for nonverbal communication, and usually leads my students to indict the social services system and the manipulation of the legal system—all excellent topics for discussion in an introductory communication class.

I understand that this program is frequently used in psychology and sociology classes at the secondary and collegiate level.  (YES BECAUSE AT THAT LEVEL IT IS AGE APPROPRIATE!!!!!)

Westlake High School
Austin, TX

(Gr. 9-12)
Before, during and after watching NOVA’s “Secret of the Wild Child” program we discussed how the brain learns. We did an experiment on learning time by hiding the food of our rats in a covered dish. They had to learn how to open it. Then we took the covered dish away for a time and recorded how long it took the rat to remember or re-learn how to get the food.

This was then compared to Genie and how she learned language and how to walk and interact with others.

Students seemed to enjoy the experimentation parts best!

Vincent High School
Milwaukee, WI

(Gr. 10-12)
This activity could be used with NOVA’s “Secret of the Wild Child” program. With additional readings students debate the critical period hypothesis for language development between such folks as B.F. Skinner and Noam Chomsky.

Thomas Jefferson Science & Tech
Alexandria, VA

(Gr. 10-12)
I have my Advanced Placement European History class watch NOVA’s “Secret of the Wild Child” program during our study of the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment. The basis for the lesson is to determine to what extent these intellectual movements helped Genie and to what extent they betrayed her.

The program is also useful for teaching John Locke’s concept of “tabula rasa” (that a person’s mind is a blank slate at birth) and for Rousseau’s critique of the limitations of pure rationality.

Arroyo Grande High School
Arroyo Grande, CA

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