Pursuant Attached Instructions The Argument Analysis Attached Essay

  • Length: 6 pages
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  • Subject: Children
  • Type: Essay
  • Paper: #31049642

Excerpt from Essay :

pursuant attached instructions. The argument analysis attached article, Ellen Winner. As, instructions I sources -text citations/quotations.

Argument analysis:

"Sometimes our folk theories are correct: Parents do shape their children"

Ellen Winner's essay "Sometimes our folk theories are correct: Parents do shape their children" is a counter-argument to recent claims that 'nurture' is of little importance in shaping children's life paths and personalities. She argues that the results of personality tests have had far too much of an influence on recent theories which suggest that biology shapes the human character more than the environment. She adds that furthermore, the lack of 'mirroring' of parents and children on personality tests is hardly adequate testimony to a lack of parental influence. Children may react to their parents' influence, in a negative way, argues Winner. To substantiate this she cites the hypothetical example of an Alex P. Keaton-like child who reacts against his parent's hippy values by working on Wall Street. Drawing upon the case of this hypothetic 'student', Winner says this behavior reflects parental 'influence' although she does not provide any statistical analysis to support her contention.

Instead, Winner states that she believes that qualitative interviews are the best way to discern the extent to which 'nurture' influences children. She proposes an interview process in which adult adopted children (who are presumably not biologically influenced by their parents) speak about their parent's influences upon them. However, this proposed interview process is somewhat problematic as 'proof' of her contentions. First of all, although qualitative research can be valuable in gathering preliminary information about a particular phenomenon or doing a case study of a specific group's experiences, it does not constitute scientific evidence. And it is scientific studies to which Winner is responding.

The reason for Winner's lack of scientific evidence or a scientific design to prove her thesis lies in the fact that Winner's claim is fundamentally unscientific in nature -- she is disputing data-driven research that suggests an overstated emphasis of parental influence upon children but she argues from anecdotes and emotions. Winner's stress upon her desire to 'prove' that nature shapes children's belief structures also seems to fundamentally misinterpret some of the theories to which she is responding. For example, one of the primary advocates of the hypothesis which Winner disagrees with, that of the sociologist Judith Rich Harris, does not suggest that environment has no influence upon children. Harris believes that the environmental influence, particularly of parents, tends to be overemphasized in both popular culture and the field of psychology in general. But Harris believes that peers have a profound influence as well, the school system, and a constellation of factors that interface with a child's biology beyond the family.

Contrary to Winner's reliance upon folk wisdom, Harris notes that in her preliminary research: "my primary motive was scientific. During the years I spent writing child development textbooks for college students, I never questioned the belief that parents have a good deal of power to shape the personalities of their children. (This is the belief I now call the 'nurture assumption.') When I finally began to have doubts and looked more closely at the evidence, I was appalled. Most of the research is so deeply flawed that it is meaningless. And studies using more rigorous methods produce results that do not support the assumption" (Lehrer 2009). Unlike Winner's stress upon her emotional convictions that parents do influence children, and her stated belief in 'folk wisdom,' Harris did not begin looking at the 'hard data' with preexisting assumptions. It should also be noted that Harris did not merely use personality tests, although that is the focus of Winner's essay. Harris' studies rely upon a cross-section of data from a wide variety of existing literature.

Granted, Harris does believe that biological influences have more of an impact than does Winner. But her main point is that correlation does not imply causation when analyzing research regarding parental influences: "it's no longer enough to show, for example, that parents who are conscientious about childrearing tend to have children who are conscientious about their schoolwork. Is this correlation due to what the children learned from their parents or to the genes they inherited from them? Studies using the proper controls consistently favor the second explanation" (Lehrer 2009:1). Harris' point is that showing causations not mere correlations is essential -- even if it could be verified that Winner's perceptions that liberal parents have conservative children or vice versa, this could be due to the tendency of grandparent's genes to be expressed in the following generation, rather than as a result of children consciously reacting to parental influences.

Evident in Winner's essay is a profound discomfort in using scientific analysis to explicate the relationship between parent and child. Harris acknowledges that challenges to 'folk beliefs' and commonsense wisdom can be extremely disconcerting. Questioning cultural shibboleths always make people angry. But Harris notes that while childrearing patterns have changed dramatically in the past seventy years -- regarding the centrality of children in the household; the extent to which physical aggression is acceptable against children; the role of women and the size of families -- measures of human nature such as aggressiveness have remained largely unchanged. Other factors besides parental influences must be looked to when explaining human behavior patterns. "Despite the increase in praise and physical affection, they [children] are not happier or more self-confident or in better mental health. It's an interesting way to test a theory of child development: persuade millions of parents to rear their children in accordance with the theory, and then sit back and watch the results come in. Well, the results are in and they don't support the theory!" (Lehrer 2009:2).

It could be countered that not all parents have fundamentally changed their parenting styles because of changes in tone in parenting books. Reports regarding happiness or self-confidence can be extremely subjective, challenging Harris' reliance upon statistics that these measures have remained the same. However, even more narrowly-targeted surveys designed to quantify parental influence have found a far more dramatic impact for biology than might initially be proposed. Adopted children from high-education families are 16 times more likely than a child from a low-education family but a biological child from a high-education family is 75 times more likely to go to college than a child from a low-education family, which suggests that 'nature' more than nurture has a great deal of influence ("Freakanomics," Marketplace, 2011).

Harris' theory is slightly more nuanced than a purely nature-driven theory or even a primarily peer-driven theory, although biology and peer influences are the focus of her research. She has proposed a 'modular' model for group socialization. A purely environmentally-driven theory of development, for example, does not explain why "identical twins have different personalities, even if they're reared in the same home and belong to the same peer group. & #8230;the human mind is modular and that it consists of a number of components, each designed by evolution to perform a specific job, and that three different mental modules are involved in social development. The first deals with relationships, including parent-child relationships. The second handles socialization. The third enables children to work out a successful strategy for competing with their peers, by figuring out what they are good at" (Lehrer 2009:2).

Questioning the influence parents have upon their children is not designed to make parents feel bad or inadequate. Rather, it is a call to arms regarding the ways to make profound social changes in a positive manner. Harris says that her research indicates that children's behaviors are often compartmentalized, and children behave in radically different ways at home than they do at school. By creating a system of behavioral rewards for children within the school environment, real social changes are possible, versus simply focusing on parents.

Harris' theory, rather than frightening parents (such as Winner) should instead be regarded as potentially liberating because it suggests that misbehavior by a child is not directly caused by parental actions. In the past, serious psychological illnesses such as schizophrenia and manic depression were largely attributed to cold, unfeeling mothers, a concept reinforced in popular culture in films such as Suddenly, Last Summer and the Manchurian Candidate in which demonic mothers were shown controlling and ultimately destroying their offspring through psychological torture. Harris suggests that changing dynamics of a student's peer group in school can have a far more profound influence than worried parents. "The tendency of kids to split up spontaneously into subgroups also explains the uneven success rate of programs that put children from disadvantaged homes into private or parochial schools. The success of these programs hinges on numbers. If a classroom contains one or two kids who come from a different background, they assimilate and take on the behaviors and attitudes of the others. But if there are five or six, they form a group of their own and retain the behaviors and attitudes they came in with" (Lehrer 2009:3).

Perhaps the main, valid point which…

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