Science Book a Day Interviews Alfie Kohn


Special thanks to Alfie Kohn for answering 5 questions about his recently featured book – The Myth of the Spoiled Child: Challenging the Conventional Wisdom about Children and Parenting

Alfie Kohn writes and speaks widely on human behavior, education, and parenting. The author of thirteen books and scores of articles, he lectures at education conferences and universities as well as to parent groups and corporations. Kohn’s criticisms of competition and rewards have been widely discussed and debated, and he has been described in Time magazine as “perhaps the country’s most outspoken critic of education’s fixation on grades [and] test scores.” – From Alfie’s Homepage

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#1 – What was the impetus for The Myth of the Spoiled Child?

I’m always intrigued, and often irked, when I notice that the conventional wisdom about something rests on a combination of dubious values and unsupported empirical beliefs. My writings on a variety of topics have emerged from that divergence: People do (or assume) this, but the evidence supports that. In the case of this book, the divergence had to do with what is widely assumed about what kids are like, how they’re being raised, and how they *should* be raised.

#2 – You talk about how the definition of ‘permissiveness’ has changed over time. What did it once mean?

“Permissive” used to mean treating children more humanely, acknowledging their preferences — for example, when they were hungry or tired — rather than trying to bend them to our will. Today, the word denotes coddling kids in a way that’s unhealthy by definition.

#3 – As different waves of ‘advice’ about how to raise children are proposed, are they simply value-laden reactions to the previous generation? Or is it more complicated than that?

Some people who offer parenting advice are no doubt reacting against what they see as the excesses of earlier advisors, or of current parenting practices of which they disapprove. But there are deeper issues at work that reflect people’s deeper values and their assumptions about children and human nature. Even during periods when less authoritarian parenting has been popular, there has still been a widespread tendency to look for ways of getting compliance. The dominant question is always more likely to be “How do I get my child to do what I want?” than “What does my child need?”

#4 – What has been the response to your book from parents? Educators? Politicians?

There’s been a wide range of reactions, exactly as you might expect. Those enamored of the more traditionalist views that I try to dissect and rebut have responded with predictable fury.

#5 – Are you working on any new books/projects you can tell us about?

My next book — Schooling Beyond Measure . . . And Other Unorthodox Essays About Education, to be published in the spring — will be a collection of some of my earlier articles.

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