No move made by our administration is without calculation.
That’s certainly the case for the recently announced Geffen Academy at UCLA, a middle and high school planned to replace the graduate students’ recreation center and cater to the children of faculty, staff and, somehow, Greater Los Angeles.
The academy’s foundation will be based on a $100 million gift from big-shot dropout and UCLA’s largest individual donor, David Geffen, and will be sustained through additional donations and students’ tuition.
If you’re thinking that a private school within a public university makes little sense, then you shouldn’t be. There’s a precedent.
The UCLA Lab School already exists as a private elementary school on campus and an extension of the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies. Teachers there treat classrooms as labs, testing innovative teaching methods that reflect the racial and socio-economic balance of the average California classroom. The school was also founded on donations, but has increased tuition as those have declined.
In 1958, news writer Bobbi Ames wrote an article reasoning that the Lab School was responsible for innovating new educational techniques and should avoid revalidating traditional practices.
Innovative practices like child-centered curricula, which give students materials to learn at their own pace, and self-contained classrooms, which use one instructor to teach all subjects rather than creating specialists, were being developed at the time. All this was to remain committed to the Lab School’s part in the University’s research mission.
“The demonstration of techniques of education to parents, university personnel, other educators or the general public is not sufficient reason for maintaining expensive campus schools,” Ames wrote.
It remains true that campus schools make little sense if they only exist to regurgitate knowledge – the UCLA Lab School has remained relevant to our campus community by avoiding such complacency. Without the same commitment to new techniques, the Geffen Academy breaches UCLA’s values as a public research university.
While UCLA has said aspects of the Lab School will apply to the Geffen Academy, it’s unclear which practices will carry over and which will get lost in translation.
To justify its existence, the Academy must retain the Lab School’s fundamental purpose and remain committed to being a testing ground for new educational techniques, not merely a magnet for the faculty Geffen and the UCLA administration believe are missing from the school’s resources.
Otherwise, it might just miss the point and become indistinguishable from any other Los Angeles-area prep school.