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Monday, April 13, 2009

Why Scientists Can't Be Trusted

Scientific American, a marvelous magazine in many respects, recently published an article which not only demonstrated the foolishness of one scientist, but highlighted the foolishness of specialists in general.

In it, Dr. Judith Rich Harris opines that parents don't matter when it comes to child-rearing. According to Harris, a child's peer group and teachers make a far larger impact on a child's life and habits than do parents. The most a parent contributes is a handful of DNA, most similarities between children and parents can be chalked up to this DNA contribution, and the actual lifestyle results are really not imparted by parents at all.

Now, it is clearly the case, as any parent can attest, that individual children have individual quirks of personality wholly unrelated to how they are raised. A father who gets on all fours and growls like a lion at his little girl will likely see the young lass scream and run away, while a father who does the same to his little boy will see the young lad scream and attack. Some children are born with naturally outgoing personalities, others are naturally introspective. Certainly it is not all nurture - nature plays its part.

But, to say that a child's peer group and teachers have more impact than his parents is missing the point. Who controls the child's access to other children his age? Who determines which teachers the child will be exposed to?

Who among us has not had a parent tell us, "Why don't you make friends with X? They're a wonderful family!" or "If I discover that you are hanging around with Y, you will be grounded until you are 18."

Similarly, are there no parents who have said, "That is the school for my child!" or "We're going to have to get you moved to a different teacher. This one is not helping you."

While Dr. Harris has some interesting observations, some of them even worthwhile, she doesn't appear to ever have been a parent herself. Even if we grant her thesis, even if we agree that teachers and other children more direct impact on a child's socialization outside the home than parents do, we still must acknowledge that those other people only have this influence because they are permitted to have it by the parents.

Parents are the guardians, the gatekeepers.
For this we were born, even if myopic scientists don't want to admit it.


Patrick said...

This again shows how narrow-minded scientists tend to be to the last data they have and not the overall field of evidence. We know that an abused boy has a much greater chance to abuse or bully growing up. A child who is taught to give to charities as a child does so in greater amounts or more frequency as an adult. National teachers unions talk about the overwhelming evidence that the more parents are involved in their childrens education the more likely those children will perform better and have fewer obedience issues in class (which means they are unknowingly stating the success of homeschool education). I wouldn't be surprised if some unmentioned financial backer or science organization was twisting the information for their own agenda as is done in way too many of todays science articles and research.

SteveG said...

Dr. Gordon Neufeld wrote an awesome book about this very topic called Hold on To Your Kids:Why Parents Need to Matter More than Peers.

In it he describes what Dr. Harris discusses regarding the influence peers and outside forces have on our children.

But Neufeld (a preeminent psychologist in the Attachment Theory field) takes the next step you are talking about, and describes the history over the past 60 years or so, where we as a society have chosen to create a culture in which children are oriented towards peers and not towards parents.

Thus, the title...Hold On To Your Kids.

Though he doesn't comment on homeschooling one way or the other, this book was very influential in our decision to home-school.

I highly recommend it.

Anonymous said...

Read the article. She doesn't say that parents don't matter. This is just Steve trying and failing to reduce the article to a sound bite to sound cute.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Yeah, me and the editor who summarized it for Scientific American:

"Do Parents Matter?
A researcher argues that peers are much more important than parents, that psychologists underestimate the power of genetics, and that we have a lot to learn from Asian classrooms."


Anonymous said...

And where in that summary does it say that parents don't matter?