Thursday, July 06, 2006

Oops - I missed an element

I had previously described the David Brooks path to a successful life:
The wealthy of our society are able to hire nannies, who can love their children and teach them how to resist the temptation of marshmallows before the age of three. Children of privilege, having both the love of an nanny and the power of self-distraction inculcated within them by the age of three, will be all-but-guaranteed that a suitable personality in high school, and success in their future lives. Unfortunately, this may leave the nanny too busy for her own children, who will succumb to the temptation of marshmallows and thus fail to achieve the American dream. Because, darn it all, good child care is just too expensive to provide to people who can't afford to pay for it themselves.
The missing element, filled in by Brooks a couple of days ago, is that the love of a good nanny raises the child's oxytocin levels. So I guess we can fix all of society's problems pretty easily, as oxytocin is injectable. Apparently oxytocin also makes school more interesting:
The dropout rates are astronomical because humans are not machines into which you can input data. They require emotion to process information. You take kids who didn't benefit from stable, nurturing parental care and who have not learned how to form human attachments, and you stick them in a school that functions like a factory for information transmission, and the results are going to be horrible.

The Gates Foundation recently sponsored focus groups with dropouts. The former students knew how detrimental dropping out would be. Most were convinced they could have graduated if they wanted to. But their descriptions of school amounted to a portrait of emotional disengagement: teachers were burned out and boring; discipline was lacking; classes weren't challenging; there weren't enough tutors and wasn't anyone to talk to; parents were uninvolved.
Brooks also notes, "In humans, oxytocin levels rise during childbirth, breast feeding and sex." Hm. I wonder if Brooks would nominate this gal for a teacher of the year award - she seems to be three for three.


  1. Oxytocin? Is he maybe thinking of serotonin?

  2. You believe he was thinking? I think you're giving him too much credit. ;-)

    He does mean oxytocin, but like his "marshmallow" editorial it really translates to "I read something I didn't really understand, and want to make a breathaking generalization on the basis of my superficial misunderstanding of its implications."

    Incidentally, it seems that Brooks hates bloggers. It seems to me, though, that if he were more careful in his reasoning and writing he would find the "blogosphere" less threatening. But then, thinking hard won't earn him any more money, and might actually cut into his speaking fees.


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