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Rethinking "scientific parenting"

Holy cow! I often hear people evoke "research" to prove their point and it drives me crazy. In all fairness, though, media covers social science research in either/or terms. Some refer to this as "scientific parenting" - that is, trying to parent the "right" way by reading research. For example, you can find research "proving" that:

"All children MUST HAVE phonics to learn how to read"

"There is HUMONGOUS, ENORMOUS covid learning loss".

"Only traditional mathematics will create successful adults in successful careers"

"You have to do some learning, EVERY SINGLE DAY or you will fall behind"

In reality and according to the bulk of research:

  • many children - but not all - benefit from phonics (and all need other methods, too).

  • some children have been seriously impacted by covid learning loss - but others have not at all Read more here.

  • traditional mathematics has a place, but it lacks the rigor needed for 21st century careers.

  • breaks in learning allow the brain to organize and synthesize information - breaks promote learning.

The Problem with Scientific Parenting

So here's my thing - In the social sciences, one or two or even 10 studies DO NOT PROVE ANYTHING. When studying humans - and especially children - there is unlimited variation and unpredictability.

Think of social science research as a conversation. Researcher A presents a finding, which the community reads - and pokes holes in. Researcher B has doubts and decides to test the question in their own study. They find some of the same results - and some different. Researcher C duplicates the study and adds another perspective - and so on.

In social sciences, we only gain confidence in results after many, many iterations and many, many discussions. Even then, no one solution is best for all people - and that should surprise absolutely no one.

In my line of work, I see parents and community members who cling to that one finding, that one idea which they believe will support their child and all children. If only schools would do things "the right way".

Unintended Consequences

Of course, applying a black and white understanding to educational research (and to humans in general) has unintended consequences:

  1. Fear - Parents become afraid - inevitably their children will not fit into the research.

  2. Poor Public Policy - Communities create poor public policy, based on what some percentage of what students. These policies lack the nuance and the depth to actually provide a deep, meaningful education.

  3. Mental Health - When parents try to stuff their children into the box of say, advanced mathematics, and the child isn't a good fit? We exacerbate mental health issues for kids.

  4. It Doesn't Work - and lastly, because these decisions are not made by experts - by people with ALL the background knowledge - not just a few articles - kids don't learn as much or as well as they could.

Can I back all that up? You betcha. Reach out to me for all the background. In the meantime, take a deep breath and remember - less is often more in parenting. When you avoid the latest parenting/educational trend - you are most likely doing the best possible thing for your child.

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