Thursday, April 12, 2012

Mental Bookmarks from Muriel Beadle's "A Child's Mind"

This book, A Child's Mind: How Children Learn During the Critical Years from Birth to Age Five (1970), by Muriel Beadle, is too archaic and too shallow a survey to warrant a long-term residency on my bookshelf, but there were several pages I dog-earred for follow-up. Hereby:
  • For terrifying statistics on the significance of early childhood in overall human development, see Benjamin S. Bloom's Stability and Change in Human Characteristics. I will not repeat Beadle's summaries here of Bloom's findings here, because they are terrifying and I can't stand the pressure, man. OK fine, here's a more general summary from a latter-day report on Bloom's life and influence: "He found that it was possible to predict with considerable accuracy—around .8—the probable location, in a distribution of measured achievement, of the position of individuals from data on their performance obtained years earlier. By the second grade or at about the age of 7, the academic position of a student or students when they reached early adolescence could be predicted." To this, I can only respond with (a) AAAAAAAAAUGH, and (b) in the words of the great revolutionary Sarah Connor: "No fate but what we make."
  • Broad conclusions about childhood language development (p. 171): 
    1. Girls are ahead of boys by about a year--until around age eight.
    2. Children from upper class homes are ahead of children from lower class homes--at all ages.
    3. By the time children go to kindergarten most have mastered the basics of language. Templin found that about half the remarks of three-year-olds are grammatically correct, and McCarthy noted that "the development of the sentence is practically complete by age five." The school years, in short, are used for polishing and perfecting rather than for building linguistic structure itself.
  • Team Nature (p. 196): "On the 1962 Merit Scholarship tests, the ratio of fraternal twins whose scores were alike was .64 (boys) and .66 (girls). For identical twins, however, the comparable figures were .90 (boys) and .91 (girls). Environment makes a difference...but within the normal range of a single cultural pattern, the larger factor is the inherited one."
  • Team Nurture (pp. 211-212): "Harold Skeels and several University of Iowa colleagues reported on a project which they had undertaken as a result of an 'unbelievable' event witnessed by Skeels. He was then a consulting psychologist to two State institutions, an orphanage and a nearby hospital for the mentally retarded. Among the youngsters admitted to the orphanage in the early 1930s were two little girls, 13 months old and 16 months old respectively, but in developmental age only 6 and 7 months. In fact, they gave such overwhelming evidence of retardation that they were almost immediately bundled off to the mental hospital. | About six months later, when making his rounds there, Skeels spotted two alert, smiling, apparently normal toddlers--and could not believe that these were his two hopeless cases. He gave them intelligence tests and found them well within the normal range; but he couldn't believe that this improvement was real, so he left them in the hospital. He tested then twice again, at approximately 12-month intervals, and their rating of normal intelligence held steady. What had happened? The only circumstance that distinguished their lives before and after admission to the hospital, he found, was that the women inmates at the mental hospital had adored the babies, had cuddled them, played with them, and provided for them an intense one-to-one adult-child relationship. | So he and three colleagues then set up an experimental project involving the transfer of more orphans--they were called 'house guests'--to the mental hospital. There were 13 children in this experimental group, ranging in age from 7 to 40 months, with an average IQ of 64 (which was the main reason Skeels could withdraw them from the orphanage--they were considered unadoptable). At the same time, a contrast group of 12 children were chosen. They were matched to the others insofar as possible in age, sex, medical histories and family background. However, their IQs were higher; the average of 87. As potentially adoptable children, they remained at the orphanage. | The 'house guests' lived in the mental hospital from six months to over four years, and at various intervals were returned to the orphanage. Eleven of the 13 were subsequently adopted, the other two grew up in the hospital. Two and a half years after their first transfer back to the orphanage, the children were given intelligence tests--and it was found that the group's average IQ had risen to 96. (And that of the 11 who had been adopted rose to 101!) The reverse happened in the case of the contrast group, the children who had never left the orphanage: the average IQ of these youngsters had dropped to 66. | [Paragraph on how American Psych Assoc basically blew a gasket over the results and Skeels was a pariah of sorts for years because intelligence was considered inherited and that was that.] | Anyway, beginning in 1961, Skeels--now with the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland--began an attempt to trace the children on whom he reported in 1938. Astoundingly, he managed to find all 13 of the children in the experimental group and the surviving 12 in the contrast group, who by then were between 25 and 35 years old. | [For various reasons, the experimental group that went to the mental hospital for one-on-one 'parenting' appeared to have been much more successful in life than the control group that stayed in the group-care orphanage, and...] The experimental group averaged 29 IQ points above their initial scores of 30 years earlier, and the contrast group averaged 26 points below their childhood scores." See also: Environment as threshold variable for intelligence.
  • "Enriched environments can boost the IQs of lower-class children by amounts inversely proportional to their age." (p. 215)
  • "If, in countless ways and every day from birth onward, a child is not responded to, he will come to school age with over two thousand days of that kind of learning behind him and no one should be very surprised if a teacher's effort to 'give individual attention to each child' isn't a huge success with that particular one." (p. 70)
  • "...the establishment of good affective relations is of signal importance to good cognitive development..." (p. 489)
  • Marcelle Geber study of Ugandan mother-child pairs: "Babies remain with their mothers day and night. They are talked to, cuddled, and stroked; they are fed whenever they wish to eat; and they are watched for cues as to what they want to do--sit up, for instance--and are then helped to do it. The Uganda mother is wholly child-centered...At 7 weeks, for example, [the Ugandan child] can sit up unaided and watch himself in a mirror; at 7 months, for another example, he can walk to a box and look inside it for toys. These accomplishments occur in our children at 4 months and 15 months, respectively." (pp. 59-60)
  • Team Crazy Grandiosity (p. 84): "The dominant historical figure in behaviorism was, of course, John B. Watson, a contemporary of Thorndike. It was Watson who said, 'Give me a dozen healthy infants, well-formed, and my own specified world to bring them up in and I'll guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select--doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant-chief, and yes, even beggarman and thief, regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations, and race of his ancestors.'...(Watson, incidentally, left academic life in the mid-1920s and wound up in the advertising business.)" See crazy Pepsodent guy from Power of Habit.
  • "Robert B. Livingston of the University of California at La Jolla has a nice last word on motivation. He says, 'Feelings provide the 'go/no go' switch for all behavior.' " (p. 107)
  • "In other words, parents having had a college education or their possession of a high income do not necessarily promote the growth of intelligence in their children; it's overall emphasis within the home on intellectual activities that matters." Some stuff that matters for building brains, besides class and money: 
    • Emphasis on use of language in a variety of situations
    • Emphasis on correctness of usage
    • Quality of language models available
    • Availability of books
    • Availability of other learning supplies
    • Nature of intellectual expectations of the child
    • Nature of intellectual aspirations for the child
    • Amount of information possessed by parent about the child's intellectual progress
    • Nature of rewards given for intellectual accomplishment
    • Opportunities provided for learning in the home
    • Opportunities provided for learning away from home (excluding school)
    • Nature and amount of help provided for the mastery of intellectual tasks... (pp. 223-224)
  • Psycholinguist Basil Bernstein of University College, London believes "that the language modes characteristically used by the upper and lower classes initiate then reinforce different patterns of behavior and personality...1. A person who habitually uses the simpler and less individualized mode of language will tend to ignore small and subtle differences among objects, persons, and situations, and thus the perceptual relationships that he forms will stabilize rather early. Of the twin processes of differentiation and abstraction must occur together, a child whose discrimination powers are low will have trouble with higher-order abstractions...2. It will be difficult for the speaker of such language to make his wishes or feelings explicitly enough either to identify them to himself or to convey to others...3. He will become relatively insensitive to emotions in other people, and to individual differences in general. He will find his personal identity within a group of children...and will categorize other people on the basis of their status in life rather than on the basis of individual qualities. For example, he will consider it proper to obey the boss because he is the boss, and not because the boss is an admirable person or a good leader...All this from the way one talks? Yes, if one agrees with Bernstein that 'language marks out what is relevant, and experience is transformed by that which is made relevant.' Once a group has chosen to stress one rather than another of the different possibilities inherent in language use, the resulting linguistic form will mold its members' ways of thinking and feeling. Bernstein says, 'As the child learns his speech, so will he learn his social structure; and the latter will become the substratum of his innermost experience.' " (pp. 244-245)
  • "'The predominant effect of parent behavior upon the preschool child is to raise or lower his willingness and ability to behave actively toward the environment,' [Alfred L. Baldwin] concluded. To parents of four-year-olds, he offered little hope that they can have it both ways: a quiet, obedient, unaggressive child who at the same time is full of zest for living and learning." (p. 247)
  • "Imagine, for instance, a 'real' situation familiar to every mother: the telephone ringing while a child of about two is entertaining himself by banging two pot lids together. In going to answer the ring, the mother might say, 'Be quiet'; or she might say, 'Billy, will you be quiet for a minute. I want to talk on the phone.' In comparing these two sentences, Hess says, 'The first message is simple and uncomplicated; it requires no response from the child other than compliance. The second message, however, asks the child to relate his behavior to a time dimension and to consider the effect of his behavior upon another person--all in all, a much more difficult task because it requires reflection and mental discrimination. Given these two kinds of communication networks within the family, repeated thousands of times in many different situations in the preschool years, children from the two kids of families can hardly fail to enter school with quite different capabilities for receiving and processing information...for defining the world, understanding it, or developing strategies for ordering it.' " (p. 251)

1 comment:

  1. Interesting... Nurture vs. Nature is always a big deal with us because my sister is was adopted.