Thursday, September 22, 2005


I've been meaning to write this particular post for some time. I need to return this book so I have to just get this out or I’ll never return the book.

Anyway, I recently read _Freakonomics_ by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner. It was interesting and I enjoyed it, but I was struck by a large flaw and had to comment on it. Part of the book discusses the "mistaken belief" that parents can positively influence their children by raising them well. They go into more detail about what studies have shown to work and not to work, but clearly, the authors believe that peers and genetics and maybe wealth have a lot more to do with successful child-rearing than good parenting.

Then, in the next breath they say that good adoptive parents can have a good influence on their adoptive children. Genetics aside, adopted children do seem to grow up to have better jobs and be happier people with better lives than children raised in poor, single-parent, etc., etc., homes.

So which is it, folks?

The problem, as I see it, lies in relying too heavily (in the first place - with the first argument) on the criteria measured by a lot of studies. Those studies are not proving that parents can't have a positive impact on their kids with attentive, good parenting. They may well be proving that this sort of parenting doesn't raise public school or SAT test scores, but I’m not raising my kids to be tested. Those tests will affect their lives of course, but it is their lives I am raising them for, not someone else's standardized test.

When they examined a study that measured the general lives of adults (not scores on the tests that minors took) they saw that parenting does matter. Which frankly, makes sense. Adulthood isn't about test scores. (Thank heavens.) Adulthood is about jobs and relationships and creating and striving for personal goals. It's about being a part of a marriage and a community and raising one's own children. Or at least, those are the things that adulthood is about for the vast majority of Americans.

So I suggest that the authors of this otherwise very engaging book reexamine this chapter. I think they need to take another look at the baseline assumptions underlying their point. Basically, I think they goofed.

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