Sunday October 02, 2016

When it comes to raising children, be a gardener, not a carpenter

A mother with her children buys school supplies on August 18, 2016 at a supermarket in Englos, northern France, ahead of the start of the new school year.

A mother with her children buys school supplies on August 18, 2016 at a supermarket in Englos, northern France, ahead of the start of the new school year. (PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images)

Listen 25:11

When it comes to raising children, one thing there is no shortage of is advice. Experts tell us how to deal with sleep issues and potty training; how to raise toddlers who are disciplined, curious and capable; how to help children score A's at school; and how to turn teenagers into responsible, caring and independent adults. 

The growth industry in this area is nothing short of stunning. There are courses, public lectures, blogs, videos and, of course, books. An online search reveals almost 150,000 titles, covering everything from yoga for babies to how to raise an eco-friendly kid to tips on equipping young children with executive skills. We have labels like tiger moms, wolf dads and, of course, helicopter parents.

Alison Gopnik

Alison Gopnik (From The Charlie Rose Show interview)

Alison Gopnik has added one more book to this literary stack, but with an important difference. Hers is about what it means to be a parent, the noun; not about parenting, the verb.

Teaching is a very effective way to get children to learn something specific — this tube squeaks, say, or a squish then a press then a pull causes the music to play. But it also makes children less likely to discover unexpected information and to draw unexpected conclusions. - Alison Gopnik

Professor Gopnik teaches both psychology and philosophy at the University of California at Berkeley. She has a distinguished career studying children's learning and development. And she is both a mother and a grandmother.

Her new book is called The Gardener and the Carpenter.

Click the button above to hear Michael's interview with Alison Gopnik.