I’ve been thinking and writing about our nation’s obsession with grit and big data recently. I almost couldn’t believe it when I read Jay Belsky’s article in the New York Times entitled “The Downside of Resilience” in which he advocates for genetic testing of young children to decide issues of disposition and, specifically, resilience. What if it isn’t true, says Belsky, that positive interventions like preschool education have the power to help all children? What if, instead, we were able to identify certain alleles of genes linked to seratonin and dopamine early on to decide which children are “at risk” for being less gritty? Belsky suggests that, ethics aside, this would enable us to target “scarce intervention and service dollars” toward “at risk” ungritty “delicate orchid” children who are genetically predisposed to “whither if exposed to stress and deprivation.” Other children, who “are more like dandelions,” … “prove resilient to the negative effects of adversity” and “do not particularly benefit from positive experiences.”
Anthony Cody wrote an insightful commentary about Belsky’s article, pointing out that, if Belsky’s ideas are correct, then the education community’s belief that resilience and grit can be taught is, indeed, incorrect and any instruction in these areas is a waste of time. And there is a darker side to the use of genetic testing to determine resource allocation. The eugenics movement thrived in the years prior to WWII as societies looked to science to produce a better human race. The Nazis wholeheartedly embraced eugenics and we’ve lived with that legacy ever since, vowing to never forget. But it seems that we are forgetting. And now, we want to impose ethically challenged ideas on our youngest members of society.
However, isn’t this a natural extension of our nation’s obsession with testing, measuring, and data collection? Genetic testing at birth is merely another form of data collection. This truly, however, harkens back to Huxley’s Brave New World — schools for Alphas, different schools for Betas, and Epsilons can mop their floors (no need to waste money trying to education them).
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