Monday, September 7, 2009

Review: NurtureShock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman

In a world of modern, involved, caring parents, why are so many kids aggressive and cruel? Where is intelligence hidden in the brain, and why does that matter? Why do cross-racial friendships decrease in schools that are more integrated? If 98% of kids think lying is morally wrong, then why do 98% of kids lie? What's the single most important thing that helps infants learn language? NurtureShock is a groundbreaking collaboration between award-winning science journalists Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman. They argue that when it comes to children, we've mistaken good intentions for good ideas. With impeccable storytelling and razor-sharp analysis, they demonstrate that many of modern society's strategies for nurturing children are in fact backfiring--because key twists in the science have been overlooked. Nothing like a parenting manual, the authors' work is an insightful exploration of themes and issues that transcend children's (and adults') lives.

Received from the publisher for review.

This was the unabridged audiobook on CD edition (7 discs/8 hours).

Just a warning before you read the rest of the review, it's a bit lengthy because of how much I truly hated it. And I do mean hated. I am completely frank about this below. Prepare yourself.

First of all, this was read by one of the authors, Po Bronson, which was nice, but he was a bit on the boring side - think kindergarten teacher voice for 8 hours. He did write the material so he read it at the perfect pace and timbre.

The self esteem and praise experiments conducted on young children just struck me as sick and sadistic. How can these researchers play god and potentially screw up entire groups of children in the name of "science"?

The section on race was the most disturbing by far. It started off with this gem "The odds of a white highschooler in America having a best friend of another race is only 8%.". They casually mentioned later, in passing, that 85% of black teens have a black best friend. But they implied that it was only the white children who were racist. They continued this idea that only white people can discriminate throughout the entire section. Apparently they felt no need to research discrimination by other races. Yup, only white people are racist. Good to know. They continued this lovely theme by asking only the black children if they felt discriminated against during the previous three months. No one asked the white children. So, after reading this you should just assume that the authors feel it is okay for white children to be discriminated against. Are you kidding me? There was also a lovely mention of why it's great for black children to have "ethnic pride" but, wait for it, "It's horrifying to imagine kids being proud to be white.". So, if you're proud to be French, English, Irish, whatever, and you're white, it's "horrifying". Yup. Horrifying. That was an "Oh no they did not just say that" moment for me and I almost stopped listening right there. Also, all the studies appeared to have been run on only WASPs. So all this "research" of an entire race is based solely on a single subgroup of rich white people. That is horrifying. My favorite comment of the section was that children with medium skin tones were accused of "acting white" by their peers if they did well academically. The authors made no mention whatsoever of that being anti-white. Nope. Not racist at all since it wasn't a white person who said it.

The section on bullying was also disturbing (heck, 90% of the entire book was!). The authors seemed to find bullying among children okay, as long the bullying was done strictly by the popular children to ensure their social status. Why is bullying acceptable at all? I don't understand their blase attitude towards popular children abusing others. Heathers anyone? I do not want to meet the author's children if this is what they're teaching them.

Slightly less disturbing was the entire section dedicated to how admittance tests for gifted programs should be held off until a later age so more children could qualify. In no part of the entire portion was there a single mention of how this would hurt the truly gifted children if they had to waste their time being brought down by average students for that extra year or two while they were waiting for others to mature. That extra time could really harm the gifted children's futures. I guess the authors just don't care about the truly gifted children. What is this? "Sorry Johnny, we know you're smart but we can't put you in a special class with others like you until you're older because Jane might or might not catch up to you next year." Come on people!

The section on sibling unrest was interesting, but was ruined for me by the completely unrelated introduction on why only children are apparently an anomaly and should be studied. As an only child I really, really resented this. The authors discussed various studies done on only children - from testing whether they have more warts to whether female onlies are more likely to have an eating disorder in high school (no to both). Seriously? What is wrong with people? And what is wrong with the authors for mentioning this in their book?

I did come across some beneficial information on language development in babies. The information about why baby DVDs don't actually help children build their language skills was fascinating. And a bit disturbing since I routinely give Baby Einstein DVDs as baby shower gifts. No more of that!

Reading this book made me realize how much parents are screwing up their own children by pushing them so hard, so fast, to be perfect in so many activities. I guess my parents did a better than average job of raising me if these freaky tests are to be believed.

This one gets six stars. I really, really hated the authors. Their choices of research materials disturbed me, as did their rather odd views of what is acceptable behavior in children. Perhaps parents will find this a bit more to their taste, but there were several passages that left me ready to fling my iPod across the room. The whole book just left a bad taste in my mouth and a furrow on my brow. I was not impressed. The only thing that rescued this from a five, or lower, was the section on language development.

Rating: ★★★★★☆☆☆


lilly said...

Kudos to you for sticking with the book until the end. I would fling it across the room at the racist section. Thanks for an honest review.

Ryan G said...

Thanks Beth for the reveiw. I was interested in this book until you told me some of the issues with it and now that I've read the review I think I will pass on it.

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

Man, Beth, this must have been torture for you; I'm with Lilly. I'd have thrown it across the room.

Actually, when we got to that Gifted part, I'd have done worse. Much, much worse.

I can go on a rant about how difficult it is to educate a Gifted kid, but I won't. Let me just say that it truly IS special ed, only if anyone suggested treating kids at the other end of the bell curve so cruelly (and yes, it's cruel to deny a kid with a thirst for learning -- gifted or not), there'd be lawsuits flying.

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