Now, the city of Providence is set to put this theory to the test through new high-tech means, in the much larger setting of a city population—and then try to narrow the word gap for children in real time. Earlier this month, the city won the $5 million grand prize in Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Mayors Challenge, based on its proposal for a project called Providence Talks. The plan is to equip low-income children with recording devices that calculate how many words they hear, and then coach parents on how to boost their children’s language exposure.
Through Providence Talks, researchers and policy makers are likely to learn much more about whether pulling this language lever can really help level the academic playing field. At the same time, however, by asking scores of regular parents to opt into massive, data-driven recording and analysis of all the language their children hear in their first few years, and then encouraging them to change the personal matter of how they talk to their kids as a result, they are launching a project of unprecedented scope and audacity—one that opens up fascinating questions about language, social engineering, privacy, and parenting.
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