Amidst this hustle and bustle, I still make time to stay on top of trends in education, and one of my favorite things to do in this regard is listen to podcasts. One that I enjoy particularly is called Hidden Brain. Hosted by Shankar Vendantam, the podcast, originally a segment on NPR’s Morning Edition, investigates unconscious patterns in our brains that drive our actions and thoughts. Using storytelling, research, and interviews, Vendantam leads the listener through different experiences and ideas involving such disciplines as psychology, anthropology, neurobiology, and, often, education.
I recently was catching up on episodes and came across a fascinating exploration around parenting types. The main guest on the episode was Alison Gopnik, a professor of philosophy and psychology at the University of California, Berkeley. She has written several books, including one that focuses on how we view parenting – a term, she says, that is relatively new. By referring to parenting as opposed to being parents, we imply a more active role in raising our kids, which certainly does make sense given how the role of parent has changed over the last several years. Gopnik argues that many parents today view their children as something they can shape, mold, or cut a certain way. She calls these parents carpenters – they have an idea of how they want their children to turn out, and they believe that if they sign them up for the right classes, send them to the right schools, and do everything just so, they can create children who will turn out exactly as they plan – just like a carpenter creating a bookshelf or a chair.
Gopnik claims that this goal-oriented view contradicts child development and does not give our children the freedom to develop into their own best selves. Children are messy and unpredictable, and to expect otherwise will lead to tension and strained relationships. She argues that we should instead recognize that our job as parents is to create a safe and nurturing space for our children to explore, to develop, and to become who they will become. Parents who do this are like gardeners, who may not know exactly how their plants will turn out but instead strive to nurture and care for their plants by giving them love, attention, and the nutrients they need to grow. A successful gardener has to let go of strictly defined outcomes and must be comfortable with change and unpredictability.