Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Why Darwin matters

One of the more popular baby handling technique books around is called The Contented Baby and it seems to have quite a circulation. We have been given with a copy on loan from friends, and most other new parents I know have bumped into it one way or another. However, I am aware of a nurse who claims that whenever she visits a bookstore she makes sure that all the book’s copies are well hidden to prevent potential victims from accidentally buying the book.
The reason is simple and very obvious to readers of the book: it specifies a very disciplined and tough agenda for handling babies and kids, with things like very strict feeding times and even stricter sleeping times for both parent and child. To me this agenda seems so unrealistic and far fetched I never even bothered browsing through the book. Today, however, the book managed to infuriate me.
I had a chat with a friend and a soon to be mother that got the book on loan from a friend. She was telling me about relatives of hers who go by the book, implementing amongst others policies such as putting their four year old alone in his room during the afternoons, on a daily basis, for what the book refers to as “reflective times”.
Now, on the face of it, if someone comes up to you and tells you about this little idea of theirs, that little children should have regular time in solitude, you are very likely to say something like “mmm… now here’s something to think about”. And if you were also to be told that this idea came from Gina Ford, a world authority on raising children, you cannot be blamed for saying something like “oh, if such and such authority says to do this, then it must be true”.
That is, you cannot be blamed until you would meet me. Rest assured, I will blame you.
Gina Ford might be someone who makes tons of money out of selling books, but let me add this tiny bit of an argument and let us see what you think of her advice afterwards:
For millions of years we primates grew up without any child intentionally having regular reflective times on their own. For tens of thousands of years, the same has applied to us of the homo sapiens species. The invention of “reflective times” as a policy is so recent that it only applied to a tiny fractions of human history, a fractions so small we would all disregard it as irrelevant.
With that simple argument in mind, the question then becomes – based on what authority did Gina Ford give us her superior advice? Well, allow me to answer for her. It’s based on her authority and her authority alone, and there’s no scientific evidence to support her claims at all. She came to us from the exact same place out of which came the people telling our forefathers the earth was flat; it worked for them for quite a while, and it certainly works for Ford’s bank account.

My point is simple.
We humans now have quite a lot of information out there that could help us figure out what makes us, babies, children and adults, tick. With this thing called the internet that information has never been as easy to access as it is now. Yet we seem to be tricked left and right; we’re like the Israelites of the old testament, told to worship the supposedly one true god but running away to worship idols with every opportunity we get, only that our idols are not physical idols but rather baseless ideas, or to use the more professional terms, baseless memes.
On one hand we are so advanced with our science, but on the other hand our science faces stiff competition from sources who want to maintain a hold of their power. True, we are all geared towards accepting authority’s word because for most of our days it was the most reliable way for getting information that would keep us alive, but I will also openly argue that books such as The Contended Baby can only get away with it in a culture where fictitious religion related brainwash is accepted as completely normal and regarded as something deserving our respect. Once numbed enough to accept that as the norm it is of no wonder scientific fact such as evolution is being driven to the margins, in the process rendering our ability to question charlatans of the Contended Baby likes greatly diminished.
We need to learn to look for the scientific proof behind the claims that are poured over us. We need to be skeptics: our children’s future depends on it.


Wicked Little Critta said...

Well said!
Parents (and people in general) should more frequently be skeptical of the "scientific" information and ideas that come their way. Just because something is written in a book doesn't mean it's reliable or valid. The same goes for books on gender roles as for parenting books.

Wicked Little Critta said...

Ok, so I just read the subtitle: The Secret to Calm and Confident Parenting.
Can parenting be calm and confident? Should it be? I'm not so sure...

Moshe Reuveni said...

Generally speaking, people seem to have many false expectations with life, as if we're all here for a pleasure ride. Sells books, though.