NurtureSchlock, Part 1/3

The bookstore had 50% off and NurtureShock was getting rave reviews.

The Introduction explains the title:

“Nurture shock” as the term is generally used, refers to the panic–common among new parents–that the mythical fountain of knowledge is not magically kicking in at all.

This book will deliver a similar shock–it will use the fascinating new science of children to reveal just how many of our bedrock assumptions about kids can no longer be counted on.

The central premise of this book is that many of modern society’s strategies for nurturing children are in fact backfiring — because key twists in the science have been overlooked.

The resulting errant assumptions about child development have distorted parenting habits, school programs, and social policies. They affect how we think about kids, and thus how we interpret child behavior and communicate with the young. The intent of this book is not to be alarmist, but to teach us to think differently–more deeply and clearly–about children. Small corrections in our thinking today could alter the character of society long-term, one future citizen at a time. (pp. 6-7)

This book shocked me; but not with the idea that some social science findings are naive, and others are enlightening. I was shocked that the authors don’t see that, just as “key twists” were overlooked in interpretations of yesterday’s studies, “key twists” are waiting around the corner for today’s findings.  The authors came to the wrong conclusion from their descriptions of wrong conclusions.

I call the book NutureSchlock because it not only fails to “teach us to think differently–more deeply and clearly–about children” (p. 6), but it also obscures the philosophical basis of child rearing. The most devastating “errant assumptions” are not those that emerged from past studies. They are those that presume social science provides correct child rearing guidance. Nurtureshock assumes this by arguing that new studies offer correct guidance because they restore common sense (p. 7).

I like common sense, too. Common sense tells me that, if we have not defined what it means to be educated, there is no such thing as correct or incorrect child rearing guidance.

NurtureShock is based on more than 100,000 pages of journal articles and hundreds of interviews with scientists. It has 62 pages of “Selected Sources and References.” Even after all these findings have been gathered and interpreted, the truest and wisest advice to parents and teachers is still: “In all situations, it depends on the situation and the meaning of ‘educated.'” Child rearing is essentially a philosophical endeavor, not a social scientific one.

How can the findings of researchers who have never been in a parent’s or teacher’s situation provide better guidance than the experiences of those in the situation? They would have to do two things: (1) provide insight that is not evident to those in the situation; (2) explain all the ways in which the experimental situations that produced the findings are similar to and different from the actual situation. Social science can do the first, but not the second.

Raising children starts with the philosophical question of what it means to be educated. Once that is answered, the right thing to do is always the same–model and teach that meaning.

The next two blogs use the book’s specific child rearing findings to illustrate why a deep, meaningful philosophy of education is more useful than either old or new social science findings.

Click on “Leave a Comment” to reply.


#1 sarah shoemaker on 03.19.12 at 1:11 am

This book is one sitting on my home shelves, waiting to be read. So this caught my eye. Hmm, now I don’t know!

#2 casey on 03.19.12 at 9:04 pm

It is good to read social science books, if they foster understanding and don’t devalue judgment. I want the publication of every social science, educational, or psychological study to be accompanied by the following true statement:

“The strategies and suggestions related to these findings may not be true, effective, or applicable in certain situations. Parents, teachers, and clients should remember to always use their judgment about when to apply, modify, or reject these behavioral suggestions.”

Common sense tells us that this is always true, so why have you never read it in the “Conclusions and Recommendations” section of a social scientific study? Is it because saying this would be saying the obvious, or is it because saying this would put their findings in a perspective they don’t want readers to take?

#3 sarah shoemaker on 03.20.12 at 1:25 am

This is great. Encouraging others to think for themselves – exactly the type of child rearing/education I’d hope for, yet I know I personally didn’t receive. So I agree with you – are these publications hoping that you will not think for yourself? Interesting.

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