May 4, 2005

Freakonomize Your Kid's Way Into Harvard

Those Freakonomics guys are at it again. This time, in USA Today, they're excerpting--or at least giving an executive summary--on how "Parenting technique is highly overrated." It's not what you do, they claim, it's who you are that determines your your kid's scores on early childhood achievement tests.

Sure, research shows there's a correlation between reading scores and the number of children's books in the house, but that doesn't mean reading to your kid will help them, at least not as much as being well-educated and well-off yourself does. As for taking your kid to museums, or keeping the TV off, or playing Mozart for them, none of that crap matters.

It's all great, as far as it goes, but these Freakonomics guys overplay their own hand. They set the stage by talking about "fast-track nursery schools" and early Ivy League admissions, but all their data really shows is correlations to test scores, which are but one facet of achievement, much less development. Hell, with enough homeschooling, you could frogmarch your kid to the top of the spelling bee heap if you want, but all you'll end up with is a little weirdo (and, granted, a great movie for the rest of us).

It's the same with parenting your way towards a test result. Likewise, they boil "parenting technique" down to something to be dismissed out of hand: buying a computer and playing classical music. But what is spending time with a kid, valuing education and creating "an environment that rewards learning," if not parenting?

Things like books aren't causes of intelligence, they say, but indicators. This sounds fishy to me, like predestination or caste theology; "Put down the book, poor person, your kid's already locked in. Community college, max." If the research only shows non-prescriptive correlations, then why are these guys tossing off so much pithy advice?

To sell books, perhaps? Or maybe it's all an intricate plot to deter parents across the country, thereby decreasing the Freakonomics guys' kids' competition to get into Harvard.

Do parents matter? [usat]
Buy Freakonomics anyway, $17 at Amazon

1 Comment

I think I will have to at least partially agree with these guys. It is not what you do with your child that really matters. I would think that it is just the fact that you do something. Taking your child to an art museum may teach them to appreciate art, but what will that do for them later in life? Having your child help you cook dinner will teach them math, which will help them in school. Anyone who thinks that the only way to get your child into Harvard is to play them classical music 24/7 should ask the Harvard graduate from say 1985 what their parents did to prepare them for an ivy league education. We all know that 20 years ago parents didn't do anything special and still turned out fine children, so why can't we learn from our parents now and do the same thing?

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