Time To Rethink How To Best Raise Your Kids?
Parents can peruse through volumes of studies about to raise their children. But in their new book, Nurtureshock: New Thinking About Children,Ashley Merryman and Po Bronson challenge decades of literature, which they suggest is often riddled with errors and bad assumptions.
What inspired you to write this book?
AM: Carol Dweck's research on how praising kids for their intelligence can backfire: kids become averse to learning new challenges because they want to protect their self-image as smart and talented. When Po and I first read about Carol's work, I was actually scared by it, because it went against so much of what I had believed. I'd been tutoring inner-city kids for years: I spent almost a decade telling kids they were smart, thinking it was good for them. But after we read some more of Carol's work, talked to her and other scholars about her research, I became convinced. And then I got angry that I hadn't heard of her work before. And I wondered what other research was out there, that I'd never even heard about, that could make a difference in kids' lives.
PB: Finding an elementary school for my children. We pursued every option for a year. In San Francisco, the public school slots are given away in a ranked-lottery, and that process wrapped up so many issues – from how our school district attempts to promote racial and economic-class integration, to our feelings of what makes a good education. But like many aspects of childhood, it was out of our control, at the whim of a lottery we went through three rounds with. At the same time, our five year old son was evaluated, then rejected, by many private schools, and that was excruciating – he was just five! The whole thing was so stressful, and I was so uninformed. I needed knowledge to stabilize my mind. I needed to parse out hearsay from the real scientific record.
What surprised you the most during the writing process?
AM: If I told you every thing that surprised me, I'd have to read you the entire book – plus another 100,000 pages of science we've read. Beyond the specifics, I've been surprised how much more fun it is to be around kids, since having learned all this science. I find them so much more interesting, because I understand more of what they are doing. I feel like the scientists have handed me a magic decoder ring to kids, and I go around listening to their decoded secrets.
PB: Before we started this book, I worried the story would run dry quickly. I assumed that the science of child development was completely covered by the media spectrum. Between television news, blogging, and press releases, I thought no stone was unturned. Yet I was constantly and consistently surprised to discover just how many rocks hadn't been looked under, and how much exciting material there was to write about.
What would you be doing, if you weren't a writer?
AM: My fantasy version of the answer is that I'd be singing in a Broadway show. The closer to reality version is I'd probably put my law degree to some use. Or maybe do advance work for political campaigns (which I've done and loved doing). But the question is a little like asking what color my eyes would be if they weren't green. I've had other jobs, but I'm always still a writer. The way words come together is important to me, even when what I'm writing isn't important. I can spend an hour on a five-line email.
PB: I would work for Google to make sure the migration to eBooks is done right. I would love to help solve the dilemma of how book publishing will survive in a digital age. In fact, I should call Eric Schmidt about this.
What else are you reading right now?
AM: The foot-tall stack of papers that Po and I got from scientists at the UC Berkeley Conference on Neurocognitive Development and the American Psychological Association convention.
PB: Yes, unfortunately, I don't have any time for leisure reading. But my son is interested in sports and African American historical figures, so I am also reading his books – young adult biographies of Jesse Owens, Jackie Robinson, and Arthur Ashe.
What's next for you?
AM: We've just started a NurtureShock blog for Newsweek, and we're both spending all Fall going around the country speaking about the book. That's where all my focus is right now. That, and trying to get home in time for my niece's birthday party. Afterwards, I'll probably need some sleep.
PB: Thankfully, the well hasn't run dry, not even close, and there are so many more topics in this field that fascinate me. I'm eager to get back to writing about them.
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