Navigate to the Hoboken, NJ, public schools website –a town just across the Hudson from New York City — and you’ll find a front-page announcement that since 2008, Hoboken has based its pre-school and kindergarten curriculum on “Tools of the Mind,” also known as “Cultural-Historical Theory.”

Based on the work of Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky, the Tools of the Mind website proclaims that it is “rooted in cutting edge neuropsychological research on the development of self-regulation/execution functions in children.” Dig a little deeper on your site, and they describe how regulation of the child is accomplished:

  • Children practice delayed gratification.
  • Children learn to suppress their impulsive behavior because to stay in the play, they have to abide by the rules.
  • Children practice regulating each other’s behavior.

The site describes the role of parents in encouraging their children to be regulated with tips like playing “stop and go” and “freeze” games:

Parents can encourage children to practice self-regulation at home by establishing routines. For example, they can help their child to set an alarm clock that will ring when it is time to go to bed, so the child can “regulate” his or her own bedtime. Now it’s the child, not the parent, saying, “It’s time.”

And:

A good way to have children practice physical self-regulation is to involve them in “stop and go” or “freeze” games, in which children stop and start different actions, as directed by the leader. Parents can play these games with their children on the playground or while they are in the supermarket. This practice is a fun way to develop better emotional control as well.

I’m certainly not the first person to question whether Vygotskian theory sounds appropriate for educating the next generation of American children.

One parent, writing on Yahoo! voices, described it as more focused on socialization than on reading and writing, and experimental trials do not appear to affirm its academic success. Others find it has even more troubling aspects.

Chuck Roger, writing in 2011 in the American Thinker, provides excellent analysis of Vygotsky and his broader goals:

Vygotsky intended to “create the new Soviet Man, the kind of being that would be needed in the Soviet society of the future.” The psychologist conceived the “Zone of Proximal Development” (ZPD), a tool for reconditioning young minds and forming a new society from the old. Vygotsky aimed to deliver young collectivists to ruling class elites intent on “societal reconstruction….”

….In kindergarten and preschool classrooms all over America, tiny young humans are being taught to regiment each other’s behavior. Obedient little collectivists are learning to submit to group wishes in order to be judged “correct” — politically correct. Resistance is futile.

An article in the Wall Street Journal refers to “Tools of the Mind” as a “fast-growing curriculum that builds deliberate training in self-control right into the daily routine.”

Count the Hoboken Board of Education as part of that bandwagon. Its website states that the implementation of Tools of the Mind is part of a larger curriculum overhaul, overseen by assistant to the superintendent Dr. Anthony Petrosino:

The Hoboken Public Schools began using a new curriculum model in September 2008.  The decision to make this change involved various teachers and administrators, included visits to other districts and was followed by many discussions.   This change coincided with the work of the curriculum committee headed by Dr. Petrosino and will assist our district in providing a seamless educational program, preschool through 12th grade.

Hoboken is not alone; other school districts have been implementing it across the country.

Many of us have been awakened to the Common Core threat to public and private education. It is helpful to understand it’s not just Common Core; other curricula such as Tools of the Mind accompany a broader movement to reshape the children we ship off to school each day.