School & District Management

Social Science Gone Bad: Book Debunks Expert Advice on Children

By Debra Viadero — August 28, 2009 1 min read

“Experts” are always backtracking on the advice they give to the rest of us. Remember Scared Straight, the program that sent hardened convicts into schools and youth programs to “scare” errant teenagers into cleaning up their act? When the program was subjected to rigorous study, researchers discovered that it actually worsened kids’ delinquent behaviors. The teenagers apparently thought the prisoners, with their tough demeanor and bulging muscles, were pretty cool.

When it comes to raising and teaching children, science is littered with tales of good-advice-gone-bad. Now a new book, NurtureShock, gathers up all that soured wisdom in one place and offers some new scientific evidence to take its place.

The book attempts to debunk all that focus in the 1970s and 1980s on building children’s self esteem, skewers the benefits of teaching tolerance and promoting diversity in classrooms, trashes once-popular drug-prevention programs, such as DARE or Drug Abuse Resistance Education, and questions schools’ use of IQ tests to predict children’s achievement. Some of this debunking is not news; some appears to be based on just a few studies.

But the book and its authors, Po Bronson and Ashley Merriman, are attracting a lot of media attention this week. To find out more, check out this book review in the online version of The Wall Street Journal and this interview with Bronson on National Public Radio. Look for a column from the authors in the Aug. 31 edition of Newsweek, too.

AUG. 31 UPDATE: In case you missed today’s debut of Newsweek’s new NurtureShock column, you can find it here. While I’m at it, the authors of the new book also want you to know that they read over 100,000 pages of journal articles for the book, interviewed hundreds of scientists, cite over 700 sources, and list over 7000 words of footnotes in their book. This is in reply to my smart-alecky comment above that some of the findings “appear to be based on just a few studies.” I got my copy of the book today so now I can assure you firsthand that it offers some engaging, cutting-edge scientific reading.

Related Tags:

A version of this news article first appeared in the Inside School Research blog.