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RS 207 - Alison Gopnik on “The wrong way to think about parenting, plus the downsides of modernity”

Release date: April 29th, 2018

Alison Gopnik

Developmental psychologist Alison Gopnik explains why modern parenting is too goal-oriented. Alison and Julia discuss whether anything parents do matters, whether kids should go to school, and how kids learn discipline if you don't force them to do things. They also discuss Alison's reservations about Steven Pinker's book Enlightenment Now, and her concerns about potential downsides of modernity.

Alison Gopnik's website

Alison Gopnik's "The Gardener and the Carpenter"

Noam Chomsky's "Rules and Representations"

Jerry Fodor's "The Language of Thought"

Alison Gopnik's "Words, Thoughts, and Theories"

Alison Gopnik's "The Scientist in the Crib"

Alison Gopnik's review of "Enlightenment Now"

Edited by Brent Silk

Music by Miracles of Modern Science


Full Transcripts 

Reader Comments (10)

Definitely parents should involve their children in activities such as cooking. Parents should actually also include children in their work to the extent possible. Otherwise, children tend to view their parents' work as something evil that separates them from the parents. Furthermore, involving children in the family's finances and decision making will make the children more responsible in adulthood.

People should home school or neighborhood school their kids up until the vocational, technical, and university level. Especially with the internet, families now have access to excellent academic materials. We waste a tremendous amount of energy moving kids back and forth from schools. Instead of dropping kids into a massive bureaucracy that often times prefers to serve the interests of its employees instead of the needs of the kids, we should let kids spend more time at home and in their home neighborhoods learning from their families and community.

Parents do need to instruct children in self discipline. Children at an early age generally lack the ability to learn this for themselves. Certainly kids will learn a lot of this by imprinting on their parents' behavior.

People do live happier lives now than a few centuries ago. In earlier times, people spent most of their time suffering from starvation, disease, and war. Although we perhaps have more social isolation now, people definitely have greater opportunity to participate in diverse social groups and develop themselves intellectually.
April 30, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJameson
Perhaps the most important revelation of Pinker's work on historical improvement -- and responses to it -- is that people overwhelmingly tend to interpret the quality of life in a particular time/place in terms of a "default" individual who's not suffering from debilitating disease, in imminent fear of being murdered, enslaved, etc., instead of properly putting strong emphasis on the rates of those non-default conditions.

I seriously injured both of my ankles six years ago, and today I'm totally fine, but in the past I would've been the town cripple, an object of charity from a fairly early age. How many of the people instinctively pushing back against Pinker's thesis have had similar events in their early lives?
May 2, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJ. Goard
Holy not answering questions!

"According to your model, is there a bottom level above which parenting doesn't matter?"

"You know, 20% of American kids are not getting a high enough level of parenting"

What have that got to do with the question? At best, it is an extremely roundabout way to say "Yes", but it seems like the guest more used it as "That's a good question, now let me ignore it and talk about something unrelated I wrote in my book", and did that through at least the half hour of the podcast I could make it through.
May 3, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterSøren Furbo Skov
The New York Times Feb. 28, 2018

Steven Pinker Wants You to Know Humanity Is Doing Fine. Just Don’t Ask About Individual Humans.

"But he seems surprisingly blind to how he fuels such fatalism by playing to the worst stereotype of the enlightened cosmopolitan: disdainful and condescending — sympathetic to humanity in the abstract but impervious to the suffering of actual human beings."

Ray Dalio Published October 23, 2017

The Two Economies: The Top 40% and the Bottom 60%

To understand what’s going on in “the economy,” it is a serious mistake to look at average statistics. This is because the wealth and income skews are so great that average statistics no longer reflect the conditions of the average man. For example, as shown in the chart below, the wealth of the top one-tenth of 1% of the population is about equal to that of the bottom 90% of the population, which is the same sort of wealth gap that existed during the 1935-40 period.

Death rates are rising and mental and physical health is deteriorating for those in the bottom 60%. For those in the bottom 60%, premature deaths are up by about 20% since 2000. The biggest contributors to that change are an increase in deaths by drugs/poisoning (up two times since 2000) and an increase in suicides (up over 50% since 2000). The odds of premature death for those in the bottom 60% between the ages of 35 and 64 are more than two times higher, compared to those in the top 40%

Seattle Times published April 17, 2018

Our Loneliness Epidemic

"...Robert Hall, drew out the lesson in his book “This Land of Strangers,” noting: “The truth is, relationships are the most valuable and value-creating resource of any society. They are our lifelines to survive, grow and thrive.”

"There’s a mountain of evidence suggesting that the quality of our relationships has been in steady decline for decades. In the 1980s, 20 percent of Americans said they were often lonely. Now it’s 40 percent. Suicide rates are now at a 30-year high. Depression rates have increased tenfold since 1960, which is not only a result of greater reporting. Most children born to mothers under 30 are born outside marriage. There’s been a steady 30-year decline in Americans’ satisfaction with the peer-to-peer relationships at work."

CNN April 17, 2018

More than 95% of world's population breathing unhealthy air, says new report

"The report says exposure to air pollution led to strokes, heart attacks, lung cancer and chronic lung disease, causing many of those premature deaths."

The New Yorker April 30, 2018 Issue

Japan’s Rent-a-Family Industry

"In this light, transference, a key element of Freudian psychotherapy, may be viewed as a process by which the therapist becomes the patient’s rental relative—as Freud put it, “the reincarnation of some important figure out of his childhood or past.”

Thinking about transference, I found myself wondering who the masseuse was a substitute for. The swordsman who didn’t succeed in making me cry? The psychotherapist whom I hadn’t been able to see that week? The parents whose relationship to my childhood self I had presumably hired the therapist to replay? "
May 9, 2018 | Unregistered Commenteranon.
Man, this Gopnik had my mental alarm bells going off quite a bit. Most of her evolutionary speculation felt both overconfident and irrelevant. When Galef specifically asked whether her thesis was simply the addition of a lower bound to the "parenting affects little" (to grossly oversimplify) thesis, Gopnik's strong "No!" was followed by a lot of words that really seemed to add up more to "yes". I really got the impression that Gopnik's primary concern was defending her academic raison d'être. I get why one wouldn't want to have their work explained in terms of slight deviations of someone else's, and I'm sure this would be great for anyone not already familiar with the original stuff, but this really felt like an overpriced game expansion that added very little.

To say this episode fell short of the usual, though, is only to say how astonishingly high the bar has reached here. Julia's incisiveness and charm make her by far the most delightful interviewer that regularly covers such fascinating and diverse topics.
May 13, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJason Barnes
I am looking to learn more about this issue. Thank you for sharing. I will follow this site regularly.
May 28, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterhappy wheels
June 5, 2018 | Unregistered Commentervera
I think the disadvantage of modern education is the over-expectations of parents for their children, the demands of society for children
June 5, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterroll the ball
A kidney is worth less than five batches of sperm?
June 6, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJ. Goard
What a great guest. I agree that Children should be learning and growing up in Communities that are more tight-knit and share the same values and ideals about what it means to be thriving in Life.
January 14, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterErnesto

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