Tuesday, June 9, 2015

The Noble Prize for Parenting

Well...not exactly.  But James Heckman won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2000 for the evaluation of public policy bang for the buck and he has spent a great deal of time evaluating interventions that include improved parenting. Here's a paper by him:
"The larger message of this paper is that soft skills predict success in life, that they causally produce that success, and that programs that enhance soft skills have an important place in an effective portfolio of public policies."

Some highlights from the paper:

1. The paper has good things to say about Tools of the Mind:
2. Soft skills training has a long-term effect, and more so than early cognitive skills training. Measured effects are more persistent. Enrichment enhances kids' early IQ scores but this enhancement tends to fade away.
3. Soft skills training enhances cognitive skills, but not visa-versa.
4. At least some of the Big Five personality traits can be enhanced via soft skills training, so the notion that genes and peers are the only factors determining these traits is flapdoodle.

Some discount Heckman's work as being applicable only to low socioeconomic status(SES) groups, but I am not so sure. Soft skills deficiencies can be a limiting factor for a high SES kid.  A prospective parent can probably look at how soft skills deficiencies limited their own success and make some predictions about where the problem areas might be for their own kids, on the assumption that deficiencies tend to be inherited.

But it's true that Heckman thinks that, for maximum bang for the buck, public policy should focus more on:

  • low SES groups
  • kids before age five
  • prevention
  • soft skills.

Three of those are relevant for high SES parents.

Teachable skills like bicycle riding, juggling, swimming are retained long-term.  Same goes for teachable soft skills.

"Heckman sums up by saying "traits learned young, like perseverance and self-discipline, make it easier to acquire skills during the teenage years. Skills, that is, beget skills."


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