When I noticed my parents reading a packet on child development distributed by a school that I otherwise respect, I immediately confiscated it, knowing the likely contents. After reading through it, I wrote this rebuttal. The letter explains the rest.
As part of their back to school process, the school I attend distributed your typically condescending developmental packets, perhaps under the assumption that children don’t have eyes. I am here to tell you that we have eyes and brains.
Is taking offense a skill I should not master until I am thirteen? Do I learn about discrimination, bias, and the collective identity of minorities when I am fifteen? Do you feel safe publishing these pamphlets because only fourteen year olds are capable of expecting sensitivity?
I have decided to inform you what your comments come across as from the perspective of a wronged student of eleven years, and to hopefully help you to incorporate the perspective of your lab rats/children.
I would like to begin by pointing out two massive ironies somewhat detached from the actual text of the pamphlet. To begin with, the name of your corporation is something of a Freudian slip, in which the positive connotations of “foundation” are bulldozed flat by the facetiousness that “Inc.” reveals, offering an insight into your true motives. Then, as if this were not enough, your subtitle states that the pamphlet covers “common” developmental characteristics, yet an inside panel goes on to state unequivocally that “all children go through developmental stages”.
Laughable gaffes aside, the pamphlets are grandiose showcases of a typically callous disregard for such trivial issues as whether you’re deeply offending an entire class of the population. They don’t matter. They’re children. Classifying an entire group of people, and defining inherent characteristics that are common among them is a stunt you could never pull off with adults. Imagine if someone were to publish a pamphlet about common characteristics of a certain race or gender.
They would receive death threats/poor media exposure/frivolous lawsuits.
Your company, unfortunately, works in the position of patronizing a still marginalized minority. It is only because of this that you can list off the features of a human being in a matter that closely resembles a product description.
I would also like to correct your suggestion on the back panel: “Enjoy your child at each age”. The idea has never been to enjoy your child. The point is to raise them to be a member of society. The introduction of a child into the world is a choice made entirely by the parents, and they therefore have the responsibility to care for them. It is not the role of a child to please his parents.
I will now move on to the actual points of information. There is just too much condescension in the sixth grade version of this pamphlet that I have access to for a body of text to treat it all, so I will rebut your points individually. Though I am sure your other pamphlets contain similar epithets, I do not wish to contribute to your unholy enterprise, and thus will not buy them to refute them.
Ten year olds
“Quick to anger and quick to forgive”
It is a continual shock to me that any organization could possibly have the nerve to effectively label an entire section of the population as bipolar. Even if the findings were true, we would not need to hear them from dubious scientists, because they are already mentioned by roughly everybody.
“Enjoy adult recognition”
i.e.: Enjoy portraying children as hopelessly addicted to praise.
“Enjoy precision tasks such as tracing and copying”
“Enjoy collecting, organizing, and classifying”
It truly shows your attitude that you are willing to suggest a tendency toward menial labor. You even take one step further, and suggest it for ten year olds. There are more efficient and straightforward ways to turn children into coal miners.
“Ready start using tools such as compasses, rulers, and templates”
My instincts tell me that many people use rulers before they turn ten. As a matter of fact, they teach you about it in second grade.
“Very good at memorizing facts”
I should probably be happy about this one, because at least the insult of saying ten year olds are trivial and specious is thinly veiled under the pseudo compliment you give to their memory.
“”Hardworking: take pride in school work”
There is a surprisingly large group of people, me among them, who at this age had already realized how trivial school work is, and had stopped taking pride in it, for the simple fact that they are hardworking and intelligent. Considering the type of schoolwork that is typically given, the ideal response is scorn.
Many of the other points in this section are compliments, but even in some of those cases, I caution against ascribing a certain habit or enjoyment in general, such as your suggestion that ten year olds enjoy singing.
Eleven year olds
“Like to challenge adult rules, argue, and test limits”
“Need adult empathy, humor, and light attitude to help them take things less seriously”
The picture you paint is truly entertaining. I would never have guessed that ten to eleven year olds pass from bipolar disorder to outright depression. Even better is your supposed solution. How about taking the children seriously, rather than trying to tell them that it’s no big deal. You suggest that eleven year olds can begin to recognize abstract concepts; maybe this is merely a recognition of the concept of oppression.
You finish the section off with a suggestion that eleven year olds are appeased by a faked sensation of being “grown-up”, tied to the suggestion that all eleven year olds must at heart be immature, fickle, and trivial. I will deal with this later.
Twelve year olds
“Peer opinions matter more than those of teachers and parents”
Considering that children have no say in who their parents or teachers are, but pick their friends, this should be commonsense.
“More willing to accept guidance from adults other than teachers and parents”
As above, the average child will know enough adults, that probability swings toward guidance from those other than parents or teachers. I cannot stress enough the fact that there is nothing intrinsically different about a relationship with a parent or teacher than a relationship to someone else. It is completely random. The fact that children obey statistics is not worth noting on a fact sheet about behavior.
“Question and argue with adults about rules; need adults to listen to their ideas”
It seems that in this case, you identify the correct solution, though suggesting the same behaviors.
“Need ceremonies and rituals to mark turning points on their way to adulthood”
This ties in with your closing note about eleven year olds. I think you grossly underestimate a child’s ability to tell between matters of actual weight, and the patent nonsense you would have lavished on them.
“Careless with “unimportant” things such as cleaning their room and keeping track of assignments”
How does this have any place whatsoever in a list of common developmental characteristics? It reflects especially badly on the reputation of these researchers that they not only cite a behavior, but quote an entire block of the population as believing a specific thing.
“Understand and enjoy sarcasm, double meanings, and more sophisticated jokes”
I truly hope that you will take a hint from this letter written by an eleven year old, and begin to understand that those under twelve aren’t so stupid that they take everything at face value.
“Very interested in civics, history, current events, environmental issues, and social justice.”
This is one of the only full on compliments given in the pamphlet. This is, in fact, more than can be said for the average American.
One final note concerning your research: Adults have a clear incentive to prevent children from voting, because, like a second offering, the introduction of children into the electorate would reduce the value of every person’s vote. The less mature they are thought to be, the harder it will be to engage at a civic or civil level in politics and current events, thus creating a bias in the minds of your researchers. This, coupled with the utterly subjective nature of behavior and personality, indicates that your findings cannot be trusted.
Misinformation is truly the scourge of our times. The blame for many issues can be laid squarely at the feet of those who spread a lie. This is the basic problem of your pamphlets.
Member, National Youth Rights Association
P.S.: If and when you should reply, please indicate whether I can post your response publicly. Thanks.
In response, I received the following
Dear Mr. *******,
Thank you for sharing your thoughts about the child development pamphlets that we publish. Our intent in publishing these pamphlets is to provide teachers and parents with general information about child development at various ages. I understand your concerns about some of the generalizations included in the pamphlets and appreciate you taking the time to share your point of view. I will share your feedback with others at my organization. We are always working to improve our publications and interested to hear what readers have to say about our resources, whether positive or negative. And it would be fine to post this response publically. Thanks for asking.
Mary Beth Forton, Director of Publications
Northeast Foundation for Children, Inc.
85 Avenue A, P.O. Box 718, Turners Falls, MA 01376-0718
800-360-6332, ext. 120, www.responsiveclassroom.org
Responsive Classroom®: Educators creating safe, challenging, and joyful elementary schools
“I’ll ignore your comments and kick it upstairs.”
It really is a rare occurrence to find someone who has truly mastered the art of using everything to say nothing. This is actually a credit to the PR department of this company, that they would find such a creative way to avoid a question while at the same time leaving it answered.
It is pamphlets such as these that cause the most damage to the cause. They instill prejudices and assumptions that cannot be corrected, because they bear the stamp of science. For the long term success of our movement, it behooves us to defeat such bias.
Spencer, thank you so much for posting on this vitally important topic. When I was younger I was always offended by my mother reading “parenting books.” Similarly, I have always been offended by books about relationships that talk about “typical male” and “typical female” behavior because it reduces people from complex individuals to collections of stereotypes. And you are so right about the ways that pseudoscience oppresses youth by providing a veneer of legitimacy to bigoted attitudes. It is very similar to the ways in which women, disabled people, racial minorities, poor people, and LGBT people have also been oppressed when medical and scientific authorities have used their position and supposedly specialized knowledge to fuel widely held prejudices. Phrenology, scientific racism, and the concept of “hysteria” are all historical examples of this phenomenon. Thank you so much for making this often invisible issue visible, Spencer. I look forward to reading more of your writing and hope that your involvement with NYRA continues to deepen and widen.
One quick thing to note: Inc. can also indicate a non-profit or “foundation” – just because it is incorporated does not make it a for-profit corporation.
All good points. I have the pamphlet with me, but unfortunately, their copyrights are just as valid as ours.
Sam: I’m actually pretty sure that incorporated is corporations only, but I could be wrong.
righteouswind: Thanks. I hope that my post doesn’t take away from interest in your fantastic post about feminism.
NYRA is incorporated. Most non-profits are. But you are still on point about their decision to put that forward. You never see it written Red Cross, inc. or Habitat for Humanity, Inc, that’s because they also believe there is a connotation with “Inc” that they (and NYRA) seek to avoid but your pamphleteer likes.
Great critique though. While there is certainly a process of development all people go through (which never really stops) but people really lean on it too much. One classic developmental trick they did in my high school psychology class was to ask a young kid (like a 5 year old) who was older, the 5’2” teacher or a 6’0” student. The expectation is that people that age are just unable to determine the age of others based on characteristics other than size. That it is a developmental stage they need to pass through to know how to do that. Generally it does, indeed, work out that way.
At the time, and still today, I wonder though how much of that has to do with perspective instead of ‘brain development’. Like 10 years ago I could look at someone and have a pretty good idea whether they were in high school or college. Now, not so much. By the time I’m like 70 I’m sure, when meeting someone aged 10-30 I’ll be making a guess as to how old they are mostly by size. The more distant you are from someone the less you can relate to them. That can work with age or geography or race or anything.
But when it comes to childhood development or really anything with youth, people never look at other possibilities to explain a certain behavior, they automatically assume it is because of age. Age may be a part of it, but it isn’t necessarily the case.
What I really don’t like about pamphlets like these is they label specific ages, Age is the number of times you have traveled around the sun, It has nothing to do with your brain or your developmental process. There are 40 year olds who look and act like babys…
I knew people believed some weird things about child development, but I had no idea it was this blatant. There is more science in analyzing someone’s personality based on their horoscope than saying they are hardworking at the age of ten but moody and self-absorbed at the age of eleven. Props to Spencer for writing this brilliant takedown.