Friday, May 31, 2013

Weekly Book Post (The Shallows, How Children Succeed)


This week I've read two books about our malleable brains.

The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr came out a couple years ago, so I'm behind the curve on talking about it, but I enjoyed this story of how the intellectual technologies we use change the way our brains are 'wired'.  Part defense of old-fashioned book reading, part natural history of the human brain, and part warning and social analysis of our new digital selves, this is a well-written and engaging book.  My take-away was the notion that our brains are always malleable, and that we expose ourselves to and habitually do will have neurological consequences for us.  So while I'm not ready to ditch the internet altogether, I am noticing how and when I use it, and I'm trying to stop mindlessly surfing just because I'm bored, and stop multitasking such as surfing the internet while also watching a TV show.

How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character by Paul Tough is a more recent book.  The author sets out to look at what makes children succeed (success seems to mean graduating from college and earning more money as an adult, with some other markers being health and avoiding jail and early pregnancy) and how we can influence this success.  Character traits, rather than cognitive scores, are identified as the largest influence on success, and those character traits are revealed to be both malleable and teachable.  Tough tells the story of the KIPP programs, a successful chess program in a low-income public school, and the efforts in an exclusive and expensive private school to address character issues in kids who never get to experience failure.  He also tells us about the latest research in Adverse Childhood Experiences, stress-management, and long-term health and mental consequences.  It's a well-told story, and one I think parents and educators should read.

The pairing of these two books, along with The Power of Habit, which I read a month ago, has me cogitating about our malleable, changeable brains and the notion that in many ways we become what we habitually do and are habitually exposed to.

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