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May 26, 2008


Filed under Computers, Gadgets, Reviews

image I finished my first audiobook last week: Freakonomics.

I downloaded "Freakonomics: Revised Edition (Unabridged)" from iTunes for $21.95. The audiobook is about 7 hours long.

I started listening to Freakonomics on my iPod for my walk to/from work.

This is a very interesting, thought-provoking read/listen.

Probably the most memorable topic was about the dramatic drop in crime (40% drop in homicides) in the early 90's and its connection to legalized abortion. It's a touchy subject, but handled in a factual manner without choosing sides in the abortion debate.

Other topics were about what parenting techniques work and which ones don't:

  • Reading to your child every night (doesn't help)
  • Letting your child watch TV (doesn't hurt)
  • Stay at home moms (doesn't help)

The findings are that kids do well when their parents do well, independent of how the child is raised. It's who you *are* as parents that is important, not what you *do* as parents.

Another question the book tackles...which is safer: a house with a gun or a house with a pool? The answer: a child is 100 times more likely to die at a house that has a pool than one with a gun present.

I recommend both Freakonomics and the medium of audiobooks.

I already finished another audiobook, Stephen King's "The Gingerbread Girl (Unabridged)." It was a short listen (about 2 hours) and kept me entertained.

My next audiobook is Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451.

Comments (16)

May I heartily recommend "The Areas of My Expertise" as read by the author, John Hodgman.
It used to be available, abridged, for free on iTunes.

It's not what you do as parents? Fail. I haven't read it (the book), but the synopsis sounds fairly ridiculous, at least to this parent. We're right in the crosshairs, it sounds like, as we read to our children, limit TV time and their mom stays at home!

I'll probably go to the bookstore and check the parenting section out, but my knee-jerk reaction is that this sounds like a justification to not be involved in your kids' lives.

I'm totally on board with the gun findings, though!

You need to read the book.

Their conclusions are purely based on actually results, not "conventional wisdom."

I'm not talking about conventional wisdom, just personal experience. I don't have evidence that it's not applicable, I have proof!

I'll save personal details for another time, but my brother and I were raised differently, but with same parents. Different academic, athletic, social results. Parents didn't change.

My oldest son is the best reader in his class and is doing math at least two grades above his current grade. I don't feel like he is getting those results JUST because we are nice people, good parents, etc. It's because he wants it and we work with him.

Some of his friends (same age/grade) have unlimited access to TV as well as TV in their rooms (!!). Their reading and math are nowhere near his, even though their (the kids') parents are intelligent, nice people.

While I'm definitely not prepared to say this book is junk science, I'm also not inclined to think that I live in a world of outliers to the data. Is it the author trying to shoehorn *.people.* into whatever the sample size of the data is? Not sure.

If I get a chance, I'll swing by the bookstore this week to check it out. It looks like it should be no problem finding it at B&N. I'm prepared to be dazzled.

Here is a USA Today article by the authors about parenting and how they got their data.

Do parents matter?
By Stephen J. Dubner and Steven D. Levitt

By now, the letters have landed.

The fast-track nursery schools and the "gifted and talented" public schools and the Ivy League colleges have mailed their acceptance letters, and parents everywhere are either a) congratulating themselves for having shepherded their children into the dream school or b) chiding themselves for having failed.

In the first case, the parents may tell themselves: It was those Mozart quartets we played in utero that primed her for success. In the second case, they might say: I knew we shouldn't have waited so long to get him his first computer. But how much credit, or blame, should parents really claim for their children's accomplishments? The answer, it turns out, is a lot — but not for the reasons that most parents think.

The U.S. Department of Education recently undertook a monumental project called the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, which tracks the progress of more than 20,000 American schoolchildren from kindergarten through the fifth grade. Aside from gathering each child's test scores and the standard demographic information, the ECLS also asks the children's parents a wide range of questions about the families' habits and activities. The result is an extraordinarily rich set of data that, when given a rigorous economic analysis, tells some compelling stories about parenting technique.

A child with at least 50 kids' books in his home, for instance, scores roughly 5 percentile points higher than a child with no books, and a child with 100 books scores another 5 percentile points higher than a child with 50 books. Most people would look at this correlation and draw the obvious cause-and-effect conclusion: A little boy named, say, Brandon has a lot of books in his home; Brandon does beautifully on his reading test; this must be because Brandon's parents read to him regularly.

But the ECLS data show no correlation between a child's test scores and how often his parents read to him. How can this be? Here is a sampling of other parental factors that matter and don't:

•Matters: The child has highly educated parents.

•Doesn't: The child regularly watches TV at home.

•Matters: The child's parents have high income.

•Doesn't: The child's mother didn't work between birth and kindergarten.

•Matters: The child's parents speak English in the home.

•Doesn't: The child's parents regularly take him to museums.

•Matters: The child's mother was 30 or older at time of the child's birth.

•Doesn't: The child attended Head Start.

•Matters: The child's parents are involved in the PTA.

•Doesn't: The child is regularly spanked at home.

Culture cramming may be a foundational belief of modern parenting but, according to the data, it doesn't improve early childhood test scores. Frequent museum visits would seem to be no more productive than trips to the grocery store. Watching TV, meanwhile, doesn't turn a child's brain into mush after all; nor does the presence of a home computer turn a child into Einstein.

Now, back to the original riddle: How can it be that a child with a lot of books in her home does well at school even if she never reads them? Because parents who buy a lot of children's books tend to be smart and well-educated to begin with — and they pass on their smarts and work ethic to their kids. (This theory is supported by the fact that the number of books in a home is just as strongly correlated with math scores as reading scores.) Or the books may suggest that these are parents who care a great deal about education and about their children in general, which results in an environment that rewards learning. Such parents may believe that a book is a talisman that leads to unfettered intelligence. But they are probably wrong. A book is, in fact, less a cause of intelligence than an indicator.

The most interesting conclusion here is one that many modern parents may find disturbing: Parenting technique is highly overrated. When it comes to early test scores, it's not so much what you do as a parent, it's who you are.

It is obvious that children of successful, well-educated parents have a built-in advantage over the children of struggling, poorly educated parents. Call it a privilege gap. The child of a young, single mother with limited education and income will typically test about 25 percentile points lower than the child of two married, high-earning parents.

So it isn't that parents don't matter. Clearly, they matter an awful lot. It's just that by the time most parents pick up a book on parenting technique, it's too late. Many of the things that matter most were decided long ago — what kind of education a parent got, how hard he worked to build a career, what kind of spouse he wound up with and how long they waited to have children.

The privilege gap is far more real than the fear that haunts so many modern parents — that their children will fail miserably without regular helpings of culture cramming and competitive parenting. So, yes, parents are entitled to congratulate themselves this month over their children's acceptance letters. But they should also stop kidding themselves: The Mozart tapes had nothing to do with it.

Stephen J. Dubner and Steven D. Levitt are the authors of Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything.

Interesting, but I've still seen the opposite. While it won't change my mind, I can see some parents using this as an excuse not to read (even if it's just for bonding) or non-parents countering parents' arguments with, "but it doesn't matter!"

apple mike:

Good insights here. I look forward to your thoughts on Fahrenhiet 451. Whenever I teach American Lit. I always use it. Over 50years old now. Interesting that you are not actually reading it. It is only about 180 pages. Crack a book sometime.

When you say you've seen the opposite...that means you know high school drop outs, married in their early 20's, with low income jobs that have raised their kids to be over achievers by reading to them?

@apple mike:

I don't have time to crack a book...it takes away from my time at the bars! I listen on my 15 minute walk to work...30 minutes a day works nicely with my schedule.

How do you get all that free time to read...oh yeah...you are a stay at home dad. :)

Nope - it means I've seen the opposite as detailed in my earlier comment. I can only comment on what I have seen first-hand. My personal experience, not conventional wisdom, not extrapolations, does not match what these "rogue economists" have detailed. That doesn't mean their data isn't valid - it just means that obviously one size doesn't fit all.


I don't think a study of 20,000 American schoolchildren from kindergarten through the fifth grade represents every child, especially pre-k.

You also can't tell me that a child is not better off with a mom who stays at home and spends more time with the child (as long as she is involved) versus a mom who doesn't stay at home.

I do see how income level can play a role in a child's development. But the income level will afford the opportunity for the mom to stay at home which will again, help in the child's development.

I don't think you can easily group the topics or say that because of one statistic that it represents everyone.

If we go off the statistics then parents should:
Never read to their kids.
Work as much as they can and not spend any time with their kids.
Let the kids watch as much TV as possible along with any kind of programming (of course the kid is watching on his own because the parents are working..see above bullet).
Purchase 150 books so their kid can get better test score than the 100 book kid.


> You also can't tell me that a child is not
> better off with a mom who stays at home and
> spends more time with the child (as long as
> she is involved) versus a mom who doesn't
> stay at home.

The study shows kids with stay-at-home Mom's score about the same as kids in similar situations with Mom's that work.

Are there benefits to having a stay-at-home Mom?

Is higher test scores one of them?

>> If we go off the statistics then parents
>> should:
>> Never read to their kids.

That is not what the results say.

The test results say you are wasting your time if you are reading to your child for the purpose of making them do better on a test. The results say nothing about the bond created, a child's interest in books, a child creativity, etc.

Also, people that never read to their kids at night may be spending more time playing with their kids or other activities. Don't assume not reading to your child means not giving your child attention.

The only real argument on this topic is the validity of the data collected and how it is interpreted.

The data is available online and you can do your own analysis...but I doubt you'll be able to make the data say, "reading to your child will make your child have better test scores" no matter how you manipulate it.

You should read the book. The book points out the traits of parents that *do* improve test scores. For example, parents that attend PTA meetings have children with above average test scores.

Stop your bitchin'...read the book and have an informed opinion.

There was a saying my grandparents generation had:

"There is more caught than taught".

'nuff said.

Mo Fo Chill:

I used to read a book to SuperDave Lenihan sometimes on the basketball court called "Check out my High Tops while I Dunk on Foolz."

It did not affect either of our test scores in Mr. Davis caluclus class, however (as far as I know).


@ David

A bitch is a female dog and I am not…

I read the USA Today article that you posted and made my informed decision.

You didn't say in your original post "The test results say you are wasting your time if you are reading to your child for the purpose of making them do better on a test" but instead stated “other topics were about what parenting techniques work and which ones don't:

Reading to your child every night (doesn't help)
Letting your child watch TV (doesn't hurt)
Stay at home moms (doesn't help)"

I was addressing the parenting technique and the result on the child overall, not the direct result on test. Is the simple fact of reading to your child going to automatically get them a 100 on their next test? No. The child is going to have to study and understand the material. But reading to your child can stimulate their brain and help them grow.

Look at your little nephew as an example. He would be totally different if his mom didn’t stay home and spend the entire day interacting with him, reading to him, and not allowing him to watch TV. He already knows who his uncle Dave is from picture books and that is from spending time at home reading to him.

Michael Cammack:

The book has been out for some time - I'm surprised that you are just now reading it. Maybe now you need to read the blog on Freakanomics from the NY Times, the book - From Good to Great, the book - Nudge, and try - The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. All are what I consider pretty good business books that can be applied to everyday living - if you have the time to read them!

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on May 26, 2008 12:48 PM.

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