NY Times review of Alison Gopnik’s latest book, The Gardener and the Carpenter: What the New Science of Child Development Tells Us About the Relationship Between Parents and Children.
“Gopnik does not bother sniping helicopter parents or hunting tiger moms, who at this late date are easy prey for parental pontificators. Instead, she takes aim at the whole premise of modern parenting, “that if parents just practice the right techniques, they can make a substantial difference in the way their child turns out.” Raising children has become a job, Gopnik writes, and it’s a high-pressure one even for those of us who fancy ourselves to be low-key types. These days, even letting one’s children play outdoors has become an official philosophy, with its own label (“free range”), guidebooks and rules. Her diagnosis will resonate painfully with anyone trying to raise good humans in a relentlessly outcome-obsessed culture.”
“In the end, Gopnik’s woodworker starts to look more like a straw man. Only cartoonish control freaks are obsessive about turning their children into scientists or senators and nothing else. On the other hand, how many parents could possibly be so blithe about “gardening” that they could accept Gopnik’s laissez-faire openness to “watching that most promising of sprouts wither unexpectedly”? Whenever Gopnik edges up to confronting what this looks like in practice, she gestures to “paradox” and “mystery” and “moral depth” and pulls back to reassure the reader that this is really about the species as a whole. “From the point of view of evolution,” she writes, “trying to consciously shape how your children will turn out is both futile and self-defeating.” It’s all well and good to know that humans will be fine “from the point of view of evolution.” But no one gets up early to do laundry for a species.”