Baby Geniuses – Ready or Not: Why Treating Children as Small Adults Endangers Them – Kay S. Hymowitz
Trigger warning: pedagoghi per cui educare un bambino consiste nello stimolargli il cervello… poi fa tutto da solo – teoria per cui il bambino è il suo cervello – quelli per cui informare è educare – il conformismo di un popolo cresciuto all’asilo – il mito del bambino competente – bambini che mentono sulle violenze sessuali subite – sperimentazioni taroccate per far apparire i bimbi come razionali – genitori dannosi e tiranni per definizione – bambini buoni per natura – strane coincidenze: le donne vanno al lavoro e i bimbi come per magia non hanno bisogno della mamma…
The anticultural fallacy does not imply that Americans don’t pay enough attention to children or don’t recognize them as different from adults. In fact, Americans can be obsessed with children,
Note:NATURALISTI OSSESSIONATI DALL’INFANZIA
Governor Zell Miller of Georgia demonstrated his own concern by proposing in 1998 that the state pay to provide each newborn child with a cassette tape of music by Bach or Mozart. Why this particular gift for his infant constituents? Because “listening to music at a very early age affects spatial and temporal reasoning”
Sera designed an intricate, comprehensive menu of activities intended to stimulate visual, motor, or auditory skills in her children.
Note:STIMOLARE STIMOLARE STIMOLARE
Still Sera worried: “Sometimes I wake up at night and have an anxiety attack—that I’ve forgotten about this or that part of my child’s brain.”
Note:IL CERVELLO DEL BAMBINO
contemporary scientists, to pursue Kessen’s point, have observed infants and found little scientists with computerized brains.
It lends a great deal of support to the myth of anticulturalism—that is, that children develop on their own and do not need to be shaped by culture.
Note:NESSUN BISOGNO DELLA CULTURA
Whereas adults have most commonly been understood as nurturers and representatives of cultural knowledge like manners, values, and morals, their primary job today has been reduced to communicating information
Note:L’INFO È TUTTO
According to biologists, helplessness is one of the distinguishing traits of human infancy. The human brain grows slowly. It remains in an unfinished state far longer than is the case with other animals—so long that Adolf Portmann has called infancy “a special extra-uterine first year.”4 Compared to other primates, Stephen Jay Gould has written, “human babies are born as embryos.
people had subscribed to William James’ turn-of-the-century idea that the infant exists in a hazy netherworld of “booming, buzzing confusion.”
The first sign of change came as the theories of Swiss scientist Jean Piaget …Piaget believed that children do not merely passively register the events around them but actively interpret them. …Piaget’s children are rather like dedicated scientists working in their home laboratory. …Advances in technology allowed scientists to peer into the infant brain and discover talents even Piaget had doubted. …
So fast and furious were the discoveries resulting from these new technologies that by the mid-seventies scientists were ready to overthrow entirely the traditional picture of the helpless infant. The new baby was crowned the “competent infant.”
Note:DALL’INDIFESO AL COMPETENTE
Other researchers found that within minutes after birth infants could pick out their mother’s face from a gallery of photos.
ESEMPIO DI COMPETENZA
In 1989 the competent infant progressed to The Rational Infant, the title of a book by the developmentalist T. G. R. Bower, who refers to the human baby as “the most powerful learning system in creation.”
Note:DA COMPETENTE A RAZIONALE
Alison Gopnik and Andrew Meltzoff have formulated what’s known as “the theory theory,” that is, a theory that babies form “a succession of theories about people and the world” which they then test by experimenting. “We can’t help but be struck,” they conclude, “by how similar [infant] behavior is to the behavior we normally associate with scientists.”
Another, entitled “Babies: They’re A Lot Smarter Than They Look,” informed its readers that “the new baby learns much the same way an adult learns from the very first day of his life.”19 And the hoopla continued. “Your child is a genius,” begins a 1985 self-help book entitled Your Child Is Smarter Than You Think, which goes on to explain that “his or her capacity for learning is virtually limitless.”
Note:PICCOLI GENI CRESCONO!
In 1995 the linguist Stephen Pinker announced with the same breathless enthusiasm, “The three-year-old is a grammatical genius.”
One anthropologist has observed that lab settings themselves limit the universality of scientific findings; for example, in many cultures mothers would not allow their babies to be separated from them and placed on a plastic seat.23 Moreover, the myriad articles and books testifying to the subject of infant competence leave out just how much this competence depends on the right props and coaching. Consider just one of the competent infant’s many gifts—the ability to reach for an object as early as a few days after birth, far before the long-accepted five months or so once recorded in textbooks.
the fact is that the environment of many of their experiments is as strangely bleak as a Beckett play, a minimalist stage set featuring objects like balls and boxes and physical events like falling and thumping. Human beings appear only to make boxes vanish, to pull faces for imitating, to bang drums for counting. But there is reason to believe that babies rely constantly on gestures and signs, many of them minute and unconscious from their elders about what to make of the strange things they are encountering.
In order to produce the competent infant, research scientists have also had to edit out irrational behaviors, such as crying or sleeping, that might confuse this picture. …They measure only the most Pollyannaish behaviors—surprise, curiosity, and concentration—and ignore fear and misery. …
It’s worth noting as well that the picture of the competent, rational infant that emerges from the research lab is something entirely new in the history of the world. Earlier in the nation’s history, as we saw in the last chapter, Americans had come to prefer to keep their babies active and alert. But they were also deeply aware, often due to painful personal experience, of the fragility of the newborn.
Note:IL BAMBINO COMPETENTE: UNA NOVITÀ ASSOLUTA
the most popular experts: Benjamin Spock, T. Berry Brazelton, and Penelope Leach (who, though English, has an enormous following in the United States). All of them evoke a lucid, independent, and self-regulating baby.
Babies “want to fit into the family’s way of doing things, with only a minimum of guidance from you,”
The unspoiled child, Penelope Leach announces, will try new foods easily and will ultimately choose a balanced diet: “Trust him to know best.”
Advice about toilet training offers a fascinating minihistory of the emergence of this miraculously independent and self-regulating baby.
Luther Emmett Holt, the famous pediatrician-author whose stern advice cast a pall over Spock’s own childhood, recommended beginning bowel training as early as two or three months.
A more recently popular book, What to Expect: The Toddler Years, responds to the question of when to begin toilet training with what has become conventional wisdom: “Look no further than your toddler for the answer. Only your child can tell you.”
Note:SOLO LUI SA QUANDO
Like the research scientist, popular experts airbrush irrational behaviors that might ruin the picture of their competent, independent child. Willfulness has faded into archaic history.
Note:FORZA DI VOLONTÀ… UN RESIDUO DEL PASSATO
consider how great a leap is contained in this view. The architects of republican childhood believed that adults had to shape an independent, rational, and self-regulating individual; today’s experts appear to be convinced that children naturally evolve to such a state.
Note:IL GREAT DIVIDE
in a survey of research on the effects of day care, Allison Clarke-Stewart concedes that in some studies day care children appear to be more rebellious and irritable than their stay-at-home counterparts. But, she reasons, this is a good thing, because it means that day care kids are “developmentally advanced”
Take the common approach to teaching manners, one of the universal tasks of socialization. Manners serve a profound social function: they offer a ritualized means of transcending our latent egotism. Saying please or thank you allows us to recognize the efforts others take on our behalf. …experts seem to have forgotten altogether the purpose of manners. … Carol Gilligan refers to as “the tyranny of the nice and the kind.” …
Today psychologists believe that children suffer no ambivalence or conflict. They want to be good and they will be good—with maybe just a gentle nudge or two.
Note:BUONI PER NATURA. ZERO CONFLITTI
Empathy theorists point to other examples of the supposed spontaneous empathy of children, examples of behavior familiar to parents: the eighteen-month-old who brings his mother to comfort a crying playmate, the three-year-old whose eyes fill with tears at the sight of an injured dog.
So what does empathy have to do with guilt? In Hoffman’s view, children feel guilty when they experience what he calls “empathic distress”; that is, they identify with the pain they may have caused others.
Note:SENSO DI COLPA
since the beginning of the century experts and scientifically influenced advocates have often looked with suspicion on parents, regarding them as inefficient and overemotional in their dealings with their children. But by giving us a portrait of the child as competent information processor, science today goes much further. …Yes, parents have to provide nourishment and love, but that’s about it. They have no positive role to play in shaping their children’s individual urges or in helping them contain their egotism. …Leach advises against almost all attempts to guide a child’s behavior. …
Note:GENITORI: DA LORO IL PERICOLO
In the chapter entitled “The Second Month” in What to Expect the First Year is the warning “Make sure your baby, not you, is in the lead.”
It’s important to distinguish the healthy wariness toward raw parental power that Americans have demonstrated since the invention of republican childhood from the paralyzing ambivalence we see at work in passages like these.
Note:RESPONSABILIZZAZIONE E ANARCHIA… DISTINGUIAMO
There is one important exception to this anxiety of parental influence. Adults do have one indispensible role to play: supplying their infants with stimulation. Recent brain research has asserted that babies are dependent on adults to help them “grow their brains.”
How to Have a Smarter Baby recommends a fifteen-minute-a-day program to exercise your baby’s senses so as to “increase his concentration span.”
In fact, the apparent dedication to the child’s individual development that is so much a part of anticultural thinking actually disguises a tendency to downsize his social—and emotional—life.
Note:INTELLIGENZA VS SOCIALITÀ
Those children who had not been too severely enlisted in their parents’ war against idleness had unheard-of amounts of freedom for imaginative play with siblings and neighboring children.
Note:NOIA E IMMAGINAZIONE
The collaboration between learning experts and the toy industry is nothing new, nor is the notion of achievement play. After World War I, experts were known to lecture at department stores about the importance of “graded” toys. “Toys that teach” were common in the twenties and thirties; the products developed by Playskool Toys, founded in 1928, were actually inspired by IQ test materials.
Note:ESPERTI E INDUSTRIA GIOCATTOLI
Under the reign of anticulturalism the task of mothering is drained of much of its conventional feeling and given a mechanical cast.
Judith Rich Harris’ controversial 1998 book, The Nurture Assumption, employs similar language; parents, she writes, “are an aspect of the environment, like light and pattern, that a baby’s brain needs to develop normally.”
Note:JUDITH RICH HARRIS
Mother is a reporter interviewing her baby, a personal trainer working out his brain.
The discovery of the self-sufficient information processor who does not need a mother in any recognizably human sense came at a particularly opportune time in American social history. As women moved into the workforce in massive numbers
Note:GUARDACASO TUTTO SBOCCIA AL TEMPO DELLA DONNA LAVORATRICE
These days many feminists argue that attachment theory was never really hard science so much as a mythology formulated to keep women out of the workplace.
Note:FEMMINISTE IN CAMPO
It is no accident that by the midseventies, just as women started going to work in great numbers, the popular image of the baby began to transform from helpless neediness into competent information processing and, at the same time, the mother-infant relationship and attachment theory faded from the headlines.
The infant’s emotional and social welfare began to seem a simpler matter, one that adults could take for granted with hugs, kisses, and quality time. It was cognitive development that merited anxious attention.
Note:TUTTI CONCENTRATI SULLA RAGIONE
An explosive growth in toddler classes over the last decades—with many parents insisting that their children be allowed to enroll even if they have not reached the recommended age—is part of the same phenomenon.77 Day care advocates are also well aware of the implications of the baby information processor;
Note:INTERESSI IN CAMPO
It is doubtless the case that the large majority of children who attend day care centers will grow up “normal.” …But it is also without question that children who spend the bulk of their time in an institution are going to learn a fundamentally different way of constructing an inner life than those who spend most of their days with an adoring parent. The architects of republican childhood had a vision of shaping an American personality, one that was simultaneously intensely individual and resolutely public-spirited. Such a child is unlikely to be the product of eight or ten hours a day in a center. …
Note:COSA MANCA A CHI VA ALL’ASILO
day care centers are institutions whose atmosphere is determined by regulations, budgets, staffing, contracts, and formal rules. In centers, babies sleep in rows of cribs, they are fed in rows of high chairs, they are tied together in wagons for outings to the park.
Note:REGOLE REGOLE REGOLE
Observers have found that even the better caretakers sometimes forget their charges’ names and refer to them as “little girl” or “little boy.”
Forced to rely on their peers for much of their identity, day care kids are on the road to becoming conformists.
children in day care centers for many hours a day will have to learn to downsize their emotional expectations. The anthropologist Margaret Mead, although she was hardly a champion of the American middle-class home, recognized that the Samoan children she studied who were reared communally demonstrated less emotional intensity than their Western counterparts.
Day care workers are being paid to watch over their charges, who, after all, come and go; they cannot possibly be expected to devote their strong affections to them. Furthermore, there is an enormous rate of turnover among day care personnel.
Note:ALL’ASILO IL TUO BIMBO È UNO DEI TANTI
The picture of infant and toddler competence vastly understates just how dependent babies are on adults, not to learn in any technical sense but to render the world meaningful.
Note:LA DIPENDENZA DALL’ADULTO
Young children do not merely need information punctuated by kisses. They need to bring order to their chaotic perceptions and to know how to interpret them.
Note:ORDINE DEL CAOS
Recent studies have begun to flesh out the way young children depend on adults to help them interpret their experiences.
Young children’s reliance on adult perception became obvious during several notorious trials in the 1980s involving day care workers. In all of these cases, children accused their teachers of the most bizarre acts: licking peanut butter off their genitals, forcing them to drink urine and eat feces, pushing a sword up their rectum, killing a horse with a baseball bat, eating a human head. Many parents and onlookers concluded that children couldn’t possibly make up these horrors, that they must be true. “Believe the children,” became the mantra surrounding these cases. And so people did, despite the fact that some of the accusations depicted acts that were just about physically impossible and despite the fact that many of the accused had worked successfully with children for years.86 What happened here was that social workers, parents, lawyers, and judges were duped by a particular form of the anticultural fallacy. They assumed that very young children already have a firm grip on an independent reality. When they questioned their young witnesses—and questioned and questioned again—they failed to realize how much the children were depending on them, as experienced members of their culture, to guide them into understanding the world around them.
Note:IL BAMBINO ACCUSATORE SVELA LA DIPENDENZA DALL’ADULTO
Transcripts show that in several cases interviewers asked children to show them where a teacher had touched them by pointing to a doll. If the children poked the doll in the eye or knee, interviewers often continued to ask, “Where else?” But if the children touched the doll’s vagina or anus, or otherwise confirmed
Note:ESEMPIO DI INTERDIPENDENZA
the mistake made by MacFarlane and all of those who “believed the children” was an understandable one. They have learned from science that children interrogate the world on their own:
Note:L’ERRORE: AL BIMBO NON INTERESSA LA REALTÀ MA L’AMORE E L’APPROVAZIONE DELL’AULTO
Anthropologists find that children are recognizably American or Indian or French, that is, that they interpret the world in ways typical of their culture, by the time they are five years old—and possibly even as early as several months.90 For the most part, science has no way of accounting for how this transformation occurs. This means that science is silent about what is perhaps the most important thing we have to teach our children: how they should view the world.
Note:FRANCESI DALL’INIZIO… COME VEDERE IL MONDO?
Our baby geniuses do not need “someone else” to show them how to enter their world. They merely need information and input for their own achievement.
Stripped from their cultural context, Matisse drawings or Mozart sonatas are no longer food for the soul but data for the computerized brain.
Note:MOZART SENZA CULTURA… COSA RESTA?
By draining the content of culture of any significance and by usurping the terms of childrearing—the most culturally loaded task there is—science becomes culture. Such is the sterile worldview we are passing down to the next generation.
LA SCIENZA DIVENTA CULTURA