Saturday, September 29, 2012

Non-Cognitive Development

Image from This American Life/Theo Takes the Marshmallow Test on YouTube

I just re-listened to part of a This American Life entitled "Back to School."  I actually started it during the week, didn't finish it, left it open on the computer, it disappeared (imagine that), then I found my notes on the desk and had to think and think what they were from.  Finally I figured it out, couldn't find the link to the broadcast on Facebook, but then just Googled it, got it, listened to it, then actually remembered that I had actually listened to it.  Oh, the life of a mother -- in one ear and out the other!  I suppose that's why I write things down:  I just know it's not going to stick for long.

Anyway, "Back to School" was quite fascinating.  It was inspired by a new book called How Children Succeed by Paul Tough.  I wanted to jot down a few of the highlights.


  • Do teachers really make a difference?
  • What should kids be learning in school?
  • Is passing the GED really equivalent to actually earning a high school diploma?  If so, all 8th graders should take the GED -- if they pass, it would sure save a lot of time (32 hours to prep for the GED and over 1000 hours/year of HS) and money (it was kind of a joke).  They wondered if people who passed the GED were really as successful as people who graduated from high school.  They were more successful at life than high school dropouts who did not take & pass the GED, but they were far less successful than HS graduates.  GED-passers were more prone to drop out of anything:  jobs, marriage, military, etc.  So, the GED shows people are just as (book) smart as HS grads, but they're still missing something.  I wonder if college grads are even more successful at life.  I'm assuming yes.  What about college dropouts?
  • So should we be teaching non-cognitive skills (character, behavior, personality etc.) in addition to cognitive (book smarts) in school?
  • We may not be able to change a person's cognitive ability/IQ, but we can improve their non-cognitive skills at any age.
  • People who struggled the most with non-cognitive skills were those who suffered major stressors when they were young, such as extreme violence.
  • People with adverse childhood experiences had worse health as an adult, and were 2-4 times more likely to have heart disease, depression, suicidal, hepatitis, and other problems.
  • Because as young children they suffered great stress, the stress pathways were ingrained in their brains.  The development of the pre-frontal cortex, where the non-cognitive skills are controlled, did not develop like it should.
  • If a person had more than 4 adverse childhood experiences, they were 32 times more likely to have problems in school.
  • What can we do to help people who struggle with non-cognitive behavior/skills?  They can be coached/mentored at any age.
  • A child born into poverty or a bad neighborhood or whatever can be guarded against delinquency if he/she has at least one adult/person who shows care and concern for him/her.  Good parenting can revers the negative effects of stress/trauma.
  • In rat studies, baby rats that had more attention in the first few weeks of life had more secure attachment (were happier, more well adjusted?) than baby rats that didn't.
  • 2/3 of children are identified as having a secure attachment to a parent/parents; whereas, 1/3 are not.
I think this reminds me of how important it is to have a loving, caring, nurturing parent, especially in the early years of life.  It also tells me book smarts aren't the only thing that bring us success.  We also need good character and personalities.  

2 comments:

swedemom said...

I thought the broadcast was fascinating. It actually was very heartening to me because of some events in my own life that I have worried about. When I was pregnant with my fifth child, my health deteriorated seriously and I could only do about 5 things a day. It was a traumatic experience and I worried daily how my ill health was affecting my young children and my husband. My daughter was 2 1/2 at the time and I would lay on the couch beside her as she watched Nick jr. I suffered a lot of guilt because what kind of good mother lets her child watch t.v. all the time? And yet, I wasn't capable of more at that time. In order to survive the pregnancy and get our baby to earth safely, I was relegated to the couch. During that time, my husband gave me a blessing and I was surprised to hear that the Lord thought I was doing a good job as a mother. Anyhow, years later, after hearing the back to school American life podcast, I realized that even though I wasn't doing all the things I expect of myself, I was still connecting to my children during that stressful time. I was still there for them. And we all weathered that storm.

Families are so important and powerful!

Emily said...

You are so right. We probably do often judge ourselves more harshly than our Heavenly Father does, and it really was a great broadcast!