Po Bronson

Stories by Po Bronson

  • A Conversation on Teaching Emotional Intelligence in the Classroom

    After a week of debating with Daniel Goleman, we round up our thoughts. MERRYMAN: Goleman admitted that there was no real data to support his premise when he wrote his book in 1995 – that only now the science is starting to find out the truth. I'd expected to hear outrage from people who felt duped by Goleman. BRONSON: I suppose if Goleman had sold five million copies of a diet book, then he came out a decade later to admit that he'd just sort of cobbled a bunch of things together – but that he didn't actually have any research that supported his actual diet, it would have been a scandal. MERRYMAN: Instead, from the emails we’ve received, I’ve been struck by how deeply many feel that Goleman is a sacred cow. And that it was impolite of us to ask him such probing, “gotcha” questions – like we were bad hosts – ignoring the fact Goleman asked us to participate, and he publicly complimented us for the thoughtfulness and civility of our questions.BRONSON: Let me say that...
  • Mike Lanza: Emotional Intelligence is Better Learned Outdoors Than in Classrooms

    Mike Lanza writes the Playborhood blog. Having followed our thread on the shoddy science for teaching Emotional Intelligence in classrooms, Lanza had an interesting take: if kids today are lacking in “emotional intelligence,” it’s not because schools have failed to teach kids to get along. Rather, he writes, it’s because “Children in 21st Century America don’t play outside on their own any more. Thus, they have far fewer opportunities to develop social skills, leadership skills, sense of mastery, and creativity.”Lanza’s point is that when kids went outside to play in their neighborhood, they learned tremendously from the experience of having to self-organize:"Remember pickup games?  Every time we did it decades ago, we were deciding what to play, who would play, where we would play, and what the rules would be.  We adjudicated disputes and interpreted rules.  We made exceptions to the rules for kids who were less fortunate than us – special needs kids, little kids, or just less...
  • How Biased Science led to Emotional Intelligence Curriculum in all UK Schools

    In 2005, elementary schools in England were told by their Department of Education to include, in their curriculum, a program known as SEAL─which teaches children how to develop their social and emotional skills. In 2007, this mandate was extended to high schools─English children now get this curriculum every single year of their student life. It’s nothing less than an official governmental national strategy for the future. SEAL's rocketing through British schools was really launched by a single evaluation of a pilot program, which had been conducted in 80 elementary schools from 2002 to 2005. In the pilot, schools used activities such as group discussion, stories, puppet play, games, and role playing, to teach topics such as antibullying, the hurtfulness of gossip, and "uncomfortable feelings"─such as bereavement over a loved one's death. When children were kind to each other or acted appropriately, teachers would publicly reward the children with prizes and...
  • Should Socio-Emotional Learning Be Taught In Schools? Part 1

    This week, we’ve hosted Daniel Goleman here to hash out our disagreements over emotional intelligence in children. Dan has been a good sport, and we respect his willingness to engage in this dialogue. We've extended an invitation to Dan to return, if he'd like to respond to more of our questions; if he does, we will make sure to let you know.Over the course of the week, Dan seems to have agreed that at the time his book Emotional Intelligence was originally published, in 1995, he was covering the burgeoning science of emotions – but the construct of Emotional Intelligence itself, as a master unifier, had yet to be proven. So the real question is whether the data in the last 14 years has now proven the validity of Emotional Intelligence. And over the course of the week, our debate over that data boiled down to two competing factoids, at least as it relates to children: On one hand, scores of Emotional Intelligence in students have a very weak, to nonexistent, correlation...
  • Daniel Goleman Defends Emotional Intelligence

    Yesterday, Daniel Goleman was generous enough to let us fire some tough questions at him about Emotional Intelligence. Today, he answers the first four of our questions.  BRONSON & MERRYMAN: You mention Yale Dean Peter Salovey is your friend and...
  • Questions for Emotional Intelligence's Daniel Goleman

    First off, we want to thank Daniel Goleman for taking the time to join us here at NurtureShock. We hope the conversation over the next few days leads to a new understanding of emotional intelligence (EI) and Dan's work. We also would like to clarify two points made by Dan yesterday, just to avoid confusion. Dan began his response by refuting an allegation made by some – that he has said emotional intelligence accounts for 80% of one's career success. Instead, Dan said his point has been that, if IQ reportedly only accounts for 20% of success, that leaves 80% unaccounted for – and some part of that may be due to EI.We note that we have never attributed such a statement to Dan, so his point was not a critique of our reporting. Instead, it was just a general point of clarification – for us, and our readers. Secondly, Dan wrote that we argue that emotional intelligence and executive function are in competition as psychological concepts. However, we did not say that: it was...
  • Introducing Guest Columnist Daniel Goleman

    Over the next four days, we will be hosting a guest columnist, Daniel Goleman - author of Emotional Intelligence. Goleman's first column will go up later today. We will answer him tomorrow. On Thursday, Goleman will respond to our post, and then we'll wrap things up on Friday.Goleman has written insightfully about the science of emotions and given this field the widespread attention it richly deserves. However, as readers of this blog have heard us say before, the theory behind emotional intelligence is one thing. Measurable emotional intelligence isn’t predictive of all the positive life outcomes that had been promised.Goleman has heard all these critiques before – we’re far from the first – and so we’re especially grateful that he’s willing to come sort out his ideas with us. We look forward to his thoughts. Here are three of our previous posts that touch on emotional intelligence.In Defense of the SATIs Emotional Intelligence Real?Is the Science of NurtureShock Just a Fad?
  • Patterns in Pattern-Seeking

    Because of the holiday weekend, my daughter has the day off from kindergarten, and we’ll soon be driving down to the pumpkin maze in Half Moon Bay, California.“I’d better buy two pumpkins,” she said.“Okay. What for?”“Because a rat will eat the first one, and then I’ll have another for me.” Amazingly, she’d recalled a long forgotten event. Last year, we came downstairs one morning to find her not-yet-carved pumpkin had been half-eaten by some sort of small rodent. It wasn’t the only household item the rodent ate – my soccer shinguards and a few empty Gatorade bottles also got partially consumed. I still wear the mangled shinguards, but we got my daughter a new pumpkin to carve.My daughter is five, and her brain is going through a year where it exhibits a relentless tendency to sort the world into categories and find patterns. So the rat who ate her pumpkin wasn’t being considered a funny one-time event. From the N of 1, she saw it as a pattern and extrapolated: every year, rats will...
  • Motivation and Flow: The Teenager Edition

    Over the past week, I've been writing about the importance of motivation in improving the rate at which kids learn. Typically, when we think about such examples, we tend to think in terms of a particular activity that a kid becomes emotionally invested in. (In my son's case, it was Pokémon, now it's sports.) However, motivation is also affected by structural factors—by how a subject, skill, or sport is taught. Certain ways of teaching enhance motivation, and other means of teaching weaken motivation. This becomes particularly clear in the research on the concept of "flow."  ...
  • How Long Does Your Child Play With Their Favorite Toy?

    Here’s one more take on Dr. Walter Mischel’s famous marshmallow study, which I analyzed last Friday. If you recall, one third of the pre-K children were able to resist the temptation to eat the marshmallow for a full fifteen minutes. The usual way to describe those kids was that they had self-control and restraint. But that’s not the only interpretation. Mischel described them as being able to distract themselves from eating the marshmallow. They pretended it was a cloud and held it in the air. Then they pretended the marshmallow was a plane, flying around in circles and coming in for landings. Or they smacked the edge of the plate and started a game to see how high they could flip the marshmallow. Or they pretended the marshmallow was a character. They weren’t supposed to leave the chair; coming up with scenarios with the wonderfully-scented marshmallow right in front of them wasn’t easy. But many of the kids who waited the longest found a way to turn that boring, unstimulating...
  • Marshmallow Boy vs. The Pokemon Kid – The Neuroscience of Children’s Passions

    If I could use subtitles on this blog, this one would read: Why the most famous study of child-distraction is itself a huge distraction.But give me a minute to set this up.Over at The Daily Beast today, I have an essay about how Pokemon changed my son’s brain. Or at least that’s how The Daily Beast is packaging the story. The real point of the article is that my son’s passion changed his brain. Passion, or motivation, is experienced by the brain as the spritz of dopamine. Dopamine increases neural signaling speed – the brains performs better and learns better. Think of dopamine as the turbocharger for learning. You want dopamine on your child’s brain. You want your child motivated.In my son’s case, because he was in love with Pokemon, he used the cards to learn math and reading. And because he loved Pokemon, he did a lot of math and reading, which made him very good at both. Prior to his love of Pokemon, he was entirely unexceptional at either. Now I want to talk about how passion...
  • Playing the “Conditional Love” Card

    It’s interesting to see the term “conditional love” reenter the zeitgeist, as Ashley wrote about yesterday. Conditional love, everyone can well remember, is being hot and cold with a child – accepting them only when they are polite, honest, bring home good grades, get into name-brand colleges, and marry well. Generations went into therapy and realized this was the dominant loving-style of their parents; it traumatized them by making them feel that any natural exploration off the predetermined path was taboo. Individualism and curiosity were forbidden – children felt like showpieces, useful only to impress other parents at the country club.Since the dawn of the age of therapy, we’ve all understood that conditional love was the wrong message to send children. Unconditional love is what kids need. Ever since, we’ve heard the emphasis on unconditional love. Conditional love is almost unspeakable, unmentionable – something we were supposed to eradicate from children’s lives, like lead...
  • Clarifying the Science of Building Early Language Skills

    In today’s Science Times, Jane E. Brody conveys a dozen tips on how to develop infants’ and toddlers’ acquisition of language. She makes several very important points – the most vital one being don’t listen to an iPod while pushing your infant in a stroller, because you can’t hear the infant’s vocalizations and then respond accordingly. However, several other tips in the article contradict the scientific record and need clarification.1. Baby Talk. Brody’s article suggests that when parents use Baby Talk, it confuses toddlers. We’ve heard this concern often, but the science is remarkably clear on this point – Baby Talk clarifies language for kids, well into their second year. The scientific term for the speech pattern of Baby Talk is parentese – the emotional affect is giddily upbeat and the vowels are stretched, with highly-exaggerated pitch contours.** It’s not cultural – it’s almost universal. The phonetic qualities help infants and toddlers distinguish discrete sounds. Many...
  • What is Mature, Extended, Pretend Play – Exactly?

    On Sunday, Paul Tough published an article in the New York Times Magazine about how the Tools of the Mind curriculum for preschools and kindergartens enhance children’s self-control. He covered the some of same ground as we did in our chapter of NurtureShock, and it was nice to see the material covered thoughtfully by another journalist. (Full disclosure: Tough has been Po’s occasional editor, but we had no input or influence on his reporting.)So we thought we spend some more time addressing the 60 to 90 minute section at the core of Tools – mature pretend play. How does it unfold, and how can this be recreated at your preschool, or even in your home?In a typical Tools classroom, the majority of the room is split up into several different centers, each decorated to look like a different location. Before the kids ever play in any one center, they spend a week learning about the location it represents. If the new location is a fire station, they read storybooks about life in a fire...
  • Does Labeling Bias as "Bullying" Hide the Real Problem?

    Yesterday, we were struck by Tony Dokoupil's piece on Alex Merritt, a young man bullied by his teachers. As Dokoupil movingly reported, the taunts were cruel, and the remarks were almost entirely based on the teachers' allegations that Merritt was a homosexual. Of course, the fact the bullying was spearheaded by teachers – then spread to the student-body – makes the situation seem all the more unforgivable. But it reminded us of the work of University of Arizona professor, Stephen T. Russell. Russell went to public and private schools in California, surveying 235,000 kids in 7th, 9th, and 11th grades. Russell asked each student if he had been bullied within the past 12 months, and if they answer was yes, to describe the incident. 37.4% of the kids said that they had been bullied. Then Russell broke that data down by category. 14% of the kids had been bullied because of their race, ethnicity, or national origin. 9.1% of the kids said they'd been bullied because of...
  • High School Grades vs. The SAT vs. Family Income

    My posts over the last two days compared how the SAT predicts college success against Emotional Intelligence scores. I received a lot of emails in response, and the vast majority of them were readers telling me their individual story through the statistics that defined their life. People would list their SAT score, name the college they attended, and then state their college GPA. Often their stories continued into their adult years, as their GPA rose over time, or jumped dramatically when they hit graduate school and were finally studying a subject of genuine interest. Sometimes, in place of grad school GPAs, people told me their annual income. I wasn't sure what to do with these stories, because they were sent to me as evidence of how the SAT does, or does not, predict the near future. However, while each anecdote is true and has integrity, no single anecdote proves or disproves the point. The statistics are cumulative of everyone's story. So this brings up an interesting...
  • In Defense of the SAT

    One of the most popular ideas of our time is the notion that in judging a young person’s future success, we’ve become imbalanced, giving too much credence to whether a child has learned the stuff of textbooks, and too little value to whether that child has learned the stuff of real life. The latter is a whole constellation of behaviors and skills, from creativity to emotional-intelligence to self-discipline to practical judgment. In this modern paradigm, the elements of real life success are characterized as highly generalizable, useful everywhere from the urban street corner to the boardroom. Meanwhile, the elements that go into book learning are characterized as being narrowly applicable, useful only for getting into college, at which point the other factors take over. No matter who is making this argument–whether it’s Daniel Goleman, Dan Pink, Robert Sternberg, Malcolm Gladwell, Thomas Stanley, or some college president–it always stands on a few key bricks. One of those bricks is...
  • The Social Hierarchy of Preschoolers

    At my daughter’s preschool, there’s occasionally a“boo-boo report” in her cubby at the end of the day. Via a series of checked boxes and a half-sentence description, the report cryptically conveys why my daughter might have a bump on her head, a scrape on her hand, or a bite mark on her wrist.The report never mentions the offender by name, but my daughter usually offers all the details the second she sees me. Her wounds are trophies of survival; she relishes them, a little ─ they’re visual proof of having been wronged, which is implicit evidence then that she was in the right.I don’t fall for it, of course. I recognize that the moment before she got pushed from the wagon, she was probably trying to climb aboard when it wasn’t her turn. The moment she got bit, she was probably trying to “borrow” a 3-year-old’s toy when he wasn’t inclined to share.My wife and I always get a laugh over the boo-boo reports. We know our daughter is quite socially adept. She dishes like she takes, and if...
  • By Third Grade, Black Students Who Self Segregate Are More Popular

    We have this image that friendships in schools today are all High School Musical HSMThe odds of a white high-schooler having a best friend of another race are actually only about 8 percent. And the story isn't much better for minorities, either: for black kids, 85 percent of their best friends are black, too. The long-accepted solution to this problem has been school diversity. But the science is quite clear that this solution has failed to fix the problem: as schools get more diverse, kids just tend to self-segregate more, so kids in more diverse schools end up not having more friends of other races. Kids in diverse schools do not necessarily have better racial attitudes, and commonly have worse.Fifty-five years after Brown v. Board, why do kids choose to self-segregate? Why do they accept it?In NEWSWEEK magazine this week, we suggested that part of the problem stems from white parents' refusal to talk to their young children about race and ethnicity. This inadvertently...
  • Can Extracurricular Activities Solve the Self-segregation Problem?

    In American high schools today, it’s taken as a given that extracurricular activities bring students of different races together. What’s more, it’s on clubs and sports teams that the conditions of Allport’s Contact Theory are actually met – students are working together toward a single goal, rather than competing against each other. Duke University’s Dr. James Moody, who studies social networks, has written, “The strongest effect of school organization on racial friendship is through extracurricular mixing. Schools that succeed in mixing students by race in extracurricular activities have lower levels of racial friendship segregation.” Other research has shown that extracurricular activities are the #1 place that interracial friendships get started.In other words, if school districts can widely integrate their sports teams and clubs, then they might see less self-segregation in the hallways and lunchrooms.It fell to another Duke University scholar, Dr. Charles Clotfelter, to figure...
  • The Four Conditions of Intergroup Contact

    You've probably never heard of Gordon Allport. But his research affects the lives of everyone in the U.S., on a daily basis, and it has done so for over 50 years. Back in 1954, Allport was one of 32 social scientists who had signed on to what was known as "the social science statement" – a document included in the NAACP's submissions to the Supreme Court in Brown v. Board. In the social science statement, the scholars enumerated the damaging psychological effects of racial segregation.  One of Allport's theories – something he called "contact theory" – was one of the underpinnings for the scientists' work. The modern premise behind desegregation is that when people are exposed to people of different races and ethnicities, that will inherently reduce their racial bias – and that concept is often described as Allport's contact theory. However, that's a misnomer. Allport didn't postulate that merely throwing people together will...
  • The White-Nonwhite Gap in Racial Acceptance

    Dr. Walter Stephan, a professor emeritus at New Mexico State University,made it his life’s work to survey students’ racial attitudes after their first year of desegregation. He is one of the most respected scholars in the field,and he is fervently supportive of school integration. It’s important to note this in advance, because there’s two broad conclusions to be drawn from his data, both of which made me uncomfortable to confront. The first, tragic conclusion is that school integration just as often decreases racial acceptance as improves it.But right now, we want to focus on the second conclusion:white students come out looking worse when it comes to racial attitudes.Stephan found that in only 16 percent of the desegregated schools examined, the attitudes of whites toward African-Americans became more favorable. In 48 percent of the schools, white students’ attitudes toward blacks became worse. African-American attitudes were also mixed, but overall were significantly less dismal....
  • NurtureShock Cover Story for Newsweek – "Is Your Baby Racist?"

    This week's cover story for Newsweek is an excerpt from our new book, NurtureShock; the article's an abridged version of a chapter titled, "Why White Parents Don't Talk About Race."But the piece is just beginning of our dialogue on race: we'll be continuing the conversation with related posts on kids and race relations all this week. We're very excited about this, and we can't wait for you to join us.
  • The Red-Herring Solution for Redshirting Kindergartners

    A follow-up to yesterday's post on redshirting.Looking at Bedard and Dhuey's study, both Malcolm Gladwell and Elizabeth Weil highlighted a particular quirk in the scholars' findings. On average, in Denmark and Finland, kids born earlier in the year performed no differently from those born later. And in both nations, kids don't start primary school until the age of 7.Both reports sort of left you with the impression that the best way to level the playing field in America was to follow Denmark and Finland’s model─keep kids out of any schooling until they are 7 or older. As if kids in Northern Europe spend their early years just dancing through some sort of Rousseauian frozen tundra─and that American kids' development is cruelly slowed because of all this kindergarten.The reality is that the Finnish and Danish kids don't wait to begin school. They actually begin their education much earlier.The year before they start primary school, 98 percent of Danish...
  • Should Children Redshirt Kindergarten?

    Every September, the class of incoming American kindergartners is ever slightly older.In the U.S., kids who start kindergarten must be at least 5 years old. In theory, that seems like a clear-cut, easy enough rule─like the "You must be this tall to go on this ride" sign at an amusement park. But what’s driving the trend toward an older kindergarten class is the increasing number of 6-year-old “redshirted” kids whose parents have delayed their entry.In 1980, about 10 percent of kindergartners were redshirted. Since then, the proportion has doubled.It seems that fewer parents are comfortable with their child being one of the youngest in the class, the runts of the litter. By simply holding them back, parents can ensure their child begins the rat race as one of the oldest, most mature kids in class.It’s not surprising that the older kindergartners, on average, are slightly better students when they begin school. The real question is, does that initial age advantage last, or...