Magazine article Reason

Parental Leave

Magazine article Reason

Parental Leave

Article excerpt

Hillary Clinton, among many others, has claimed that the first three years of a child's life "can determine whether children will grow up to be peaceful or violent citizens, focused or undisciplined workers, attentive or detached parents themselves." In The Myth of the First Three Years: A New Understanding of Early Brain Development and Lifelong Learning (The Free Press) John T. Bruer--president of the James S. McDonnell Foundation, which issues grants for biomedical and behavioral sciences research--argues that this increasingly popular view is wrong. Brain science, Bruer says, shows that the brain is capable of lifelong learning, an optimistic message that somehow escapes the ken of early-intervention advocates. Freelance journalist Jonathan Ellis recently spoke with Bruer, the father of two adolescent boys, via telephone.

Q: If very young children aren't stimulated properly, are they disadvantaged for the rest of their lives?

A: There are some aspects of early development that require certain kinds of stimulation: development of the visual system, development of first language skills, maybe some social and emotional skills. But the kinds of experiences neurologically normal children need are everywhere around them. The stimulation just occurs. The kind of development that requires early stimulation is quite limited, and it doesn't extend to the kinds of things we learn later in school. It doesn't extend to music. It doesn't extend to sports.

Q: Why do so many people increasingly believe that zero-to-three years is the key to healthy development? …

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