Nurture Shock: Inverse Power of Praise

So, I'm reading Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman's Nurture Shock because it is inescapable. Not only was it recommended at Curriculum Night at my daughter's school, chosen as the first book to be discussed for the school "book club," and made available for parents to check-out in the in the resource room - all that I would have merely taken as a very gentle reading recommendation. When I came home yesterday, though, the neighbors explained to me that my generation praises children too much, and that research shows that this makes our children lazy, entitled and feel a constant need for new iPhones. The literary reference is not lost on me, since this is pretty much how Nurture Shock was summarized for me at Curriculum Night (minus the bit about phones).

Now, I've got a bit of a love/hate relationship with social science... you might call me an avid skeptic. This is because the studies most widely reported in the press are often transparently ill-designed, and because some of the best known-studies have been later shown to have fudged or even faked their results. Still, I love it. I love reading a study, thinking about the whys and hows of its execution, looking for what we can or can't learn about ourselves through asking children not to eat their marshmallows until we return. Humanity is ready for some navel-gazing? Count me in.

That's why I checked out Nurture Shock from the resource room today, turned on my computer, and decided to "live-blog" my way through it...


Style points here... the prose is jaunty and fast-paced. I get the feeling that this will be an fun read and am enjoying a (somewhat forced but still fun) anecdote about Carey Grant when this line catches my attention,
Each (child development study) gets its ten minutes of fame, more for our entertainment than our serious consideration. The next day, they are tossed aside, lipstick asmear, as the press wire churns out the science du jour.
Wait, lipstick asmear? Just like a ____ on the morning after ??? I can't help but feel a bit of casual misogyny implicit in the metaphor here. Who is your target audience here again? Women? Copyright 2009 - no excuse there. Maybe Po is really, really old and Ashley just raised an eyebrow but decided to let it slide.

Then there's the line, "According to lore... As a mother, you will know what to do... This fountain of knowledge is supposed to come as part of a matched set of ovaries and a desire to wear expensive high heals." Yeah, women are genetically pre-dispositioned to expensive, uncomfortable shoes. Good one, Po, you charmer. (Ironically, I totally agree that the whole idea of "maternal instinct" is oversold and can feel oppressive sometimes.)

Chapter One: The Inverse Power of Praise

I like the first study described here- basically, children praised as smart after completing a first puzzle give up more quickly on a harder second puzzle than a group praised as hard-working. My one quibble... The data here isn't quantified. I know you can't include the entire article for every study you discuss, but I'd like an appendix with some charts. Statements like this:
...Dweck found this effect of praise on performance held true for students of every socioeconomic class. It hit both boy ad girls - the very brightest girls especially (they collapsed the most following failure). Even preschoolers weren't immune to the inverse power of praise.
...could be followed-up with a chart showing how quickly different students from different groups tested (class, gender, age) praised as smart gave up compared to those praised as hard-working. My interest is piqued, I'd like to see a bit more of the data.

*Also, the above study seems not to suggest an "inverse power of praise," so much as hint that there is an inverse power of praise that highlights innate ability over effort. 


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