A pathbreaking psychologist explodes the myth of parental influence by revealing the power of peers--who play a far more critical role than parents do in the development of children.
As a college teacher I've always noticed the ways in which adolescents ape each other. One thing that has always been abundantly clear to me is how really uninterested in me my students are; they turn to one another for social validation and a shared sense of what is normative. It's not that I'm unimportant; it's that I, as an adult, am in a different social category, a category that matters less. Yet, in the psuedo-religious literature of the social sciences, parents shape children; Lockean epistemology said that each child was a tabula rasa -- a blank slate to be carved by society. We've taken this extreme claim a step farther. Our "experts" tell us that the blank slate is carved by only two people: mom and dad. Therapy reinforces this crude belief by suggesting that all other relationships are mere forms of disguise: patients reach back into their putative memories to find the "origins" of their adult relationships in some largely imagined past. This is not a scientific method; it takes for granted that which it sets out to prove, and so reinforces the nurture assumption.
Another thing that has always seemed obvious to me is that the formative period of a human being's life is in late adolescence, not early childhood, as the soothsayers claim. In the late teenage years mental illness emerges, personality traits codify. After late adolescence people lose the ability to learn languages. And of course this is a period of intense social activity away from parents.
In reading previous reviews I'm amused that a simple claim like "nurture is not environment" -- which Harris makes early on -- can elicit such hostile responses. By pointing out that we should not conflate these two terms and reduce a human being's entire experience to his or her parents, Harris exposes a valuable bias built into popular beliefs about developmental psychology. We should be thanking her, not excoriating her! Her effort is all the more laudable because she is a mother -- who is willing to put aside parental vanity and admit that peers influenced her children more than she did. This is a brave step and one that few are willing to take in a culture such as ours, that sentimentalizes motherhood. Harris has complicated our notions of how people become who they are. Her work has implications for other disciplines: history, women's studies, and literary studies.
One quibble: Harris ends her book by admonishing troubled people not to blaim their parents for their problems in adult life. I think she should have also admonished narcissistic parents not to take undue credit for their successful children's accomplishments. Our achievements are, after all, our own, as he book ably shows.
The book does not pretend to be a child-rearing manual, and in fact offers little advice for raising children. Its purpose is to make us question the assumptions by which we raise our children. The confrontational, irreverant, and occasionally flippant tone of the book is necessary to help the reader step outside the box and look objectively at what we as parents have considered our sacred duties.
The reviews critical of the book from homeschoolers are laughable. ... For the record, I think Ms. Harris is wrong about homeschool, but that's no reason to ignore 400 pages of paradigm-shifting thought.
As a father of two, I feel this is the most important book I have ever read. And the funny thing is, I have developed a much better relationship with my children since I took the book's principles to heart. Once I set myself free from the responsibility to "mold" my children into good adults, I began to enjoy my children, and they me, so much more.
While the author views going to public school herself as painful due to lack of friends and not being a... Read more