Friday, 25 May 2007

Truby King - a good parenting style...?

If you've never heard of Truby King, his father Frederick was an original member of the Committee of Colonists appointed in October 1840 at Plymouth, Devon, New Zealand. Born in 1858 in New Plymouth, New Zealand he was notable in his day, and in 1917 received the C.M.G. and in 1925 was knighted. He was well meaning in his work, and in the the last 30 years of his life reduced infant mortality in New Zealand from 88·8 to 309 per 1,000 childbirths. He founded the Plunket Society in 1907 to help infants receive a nutritious diet (Source and more detailed bio can be read here. The article was written in 1966 and shows the high esteem in which he was held even then.)

The point is, that the world was a very different place then, and the regimes Truby King suggested were in context at that time which is very different to now. Nothing was known about how the infant brain develops, the importance of forming secure attachments and how this impacts on future development. So what what was so different and what did he suggest? Google his name and a whole host of sites will come up, but a good enough summary is here from a piece by Sebastian Kraemer called Resilience.
Note how the task of childrearing is related to the prevailing moral code. In earlier times God's will was the driving force, but by the early twentieth century it was the survival of the nation that mattered most. The most influential expert of those days was Dr Frederic Truby King, originally based in New Zealand, who launched a successful movement to convert mothers to breast feeding. Besides this laudable aim, almost everything else he preached was quite horrific. The key to the Truby King method was to feed your baby by the clock every four hours and never at night. If you gave in to him he would become spoiled and spineless and, by implication, no use as a soldier when he grew up. To toughen them up, babies were to spend much of the day on their own outside in the fresh air, and should not be cuddled or comforted even when in distress. Mothers were not encouraged to play with babies, because it would excite them too much. Fathers had no role except earning money.
The full piece can be read on this Blog by clicking here

Maybe Daisy Goodwin (Silver River founder) and Hamish Mykura (Channel Four) are not aware of Truby King's methods, but to base part of a show on his principles, and to then say no damage to children will be done is frankly, unacceptable.
Clive Dorman
The Children's Project

Recruiting email for Bringing up Baby, July 2006

This is the email that first alerted me to what could be a dangerous show.
Dated 5/7/06

To Whom It May Concern:

I am writing from a television production company called Silver River Productions.

We have recently been commissioned by Channel Four to make a new documentary series, working title ‘Bringing Up Baby’.

The series concerns itself with the experience of pregnancy and early childhood over the last 100 years, and the changing methods of preparing a parent for the birth and arrival of her child.

The programmes will explore different approaches to child rearing by actually following families as they go through the process from birth to baby’s first year and at this stage we would very much like to consider Dr Truby King’s theories within the series as one of the three approaches that we will explore.

Each family will select an approach they think will fit in with their lifestyle and ideals and we will follow them as they get to grips with it. We will ask expectant parents to try out three of the most popular handbooks of the last century and we will follow expectant mums through stages of her pregnancy, to childbirth, to the beginnings of her infant’s life.

To make this series possible we are looking for onscreen experts or ‘mentors’ who will guide, teach and advise our families throughout the process. I am aiming to find someone who is passionate about Truby King’s theories – or perhaps other manuals and guides to childrearing that we are looking to focus on within the series.

‘Bringing up Baby’ is set to be fun, yet also serious and educational, it is timely and evocative aiming to challenge the viewers sensibilities considering the social constructs that have governed the last ten decades of baby care.

Thank you so much for your time, it would be great to chat to someone in more detail about the project – perhaps you could point me in the right direction of the correct person to speak to.

I will look forward to hearing from you soon

Kindest regards


Claire Lloyd-Evans
Associate Producer
Silver River
Brook House, 2 - 16 Torrington Place
London, WC1E 7HN
T: 020 73072720
F: 020 79073411

About Bringing Up Baby by Clive Dorman

Channel Four and Daisy Goodwin at Silver River are keeping tight-lipped about this series.

I first received an email in July 2006 asking for help in finding on-screen mentors who are passionate about about Truby King's methods!

I spoke at length with Claire Lloyd-Evans warning her of the dangers in Truby Kings methods and sent her copies of The Social Baby Book and DVD which clearly show how to attend to the needs of infants.

I never heard back, so I wrote to Daisy Goodwin and Hamish Mykura at Channel Four.

In short I have never received satisfactory answers to my simple questions, which is why I have taken the decision to make public the feeble replies I have received.

I have found both Channel Four and Silver River dismissive in their responses, which can only mean they either choose not to hear, or do not believe that neglecting the needs of infants can cause long-lasting social and emotional damage.

Worringly neither have thus far let me know who are their experts and advisors. Channel 4 have not said if Claire Verity is involved as has been reported.

Tuesday, 22 May 2007

Stop Claire Verity

Clive and Helen Dorman of The Children's Project are so concerned about Claire Verity, we have started a Blog to show the public why we believe she and those like her are dangerous to the wellbeing of children.

The Sun published an article about her on 12th May 2007. To read the article in a new window Click here.

Claire is reportedly working with Silver River who are producing a series for Channel Four called Bringing up Baby. We have written to both but have not yet had a reply. We will publish their responses.
Claire is speaking at the Baby Show at Earls Court (she recently appeared at NEC Birmingham).
Her regimes are harsh, and if followed to the letter, are highly likely to damage children.

There is a worrying increase in self-styled (and often childless) parenting gurus who enjoy celebrity status by offering parents techniques of managing babies and children that have been discredited in research for decades.

It should no longer be acceptable to ignore the basic needs of children.

This blog is somewhere for people worried about these trends to write objective reasons why Claire Verity and others in the same genre should no longer be tolerated in the parenting field. Please click here to submit your support. Your submission will be checked and posted as quickly as possible.

Alternatively, you can comment on a post - use the link below and please leave a name.

Let's make this a national campaign that the media and broadcasters cannot ignore.
Help us please.
Clive Dorman
Director & Co-founder
The Children's Project

Friday, 11 May 2007

No 10 Health Visiting Petition

We like health visitors! They are a brow beaten and demoralised profession, seeing their role undermined and training numbers cut for reasons incomprehensible to anyone in early years work. At a time when the government pours millions into schemes such as Sure Start, Children's Centres and Every Child Matters aimed at helping families, they cut the very lifeline to support and guidance for thousands of families. HVs are the only group that visit every home in the country and research shows families overwhelmingly enjoy the support they receive from their health visitor.

Poor standards in health visiting has everything to do with high case loads, insufficient training and low moral. Please visit the Number Ten petitions website and sign your support.

Copy this URL and post where you can to support these overworked and undervalued people...

It says
"We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to to make a commitment to establish a well-funded, well-trained universal health visitor service available to all parents of children under five, with specialist support for the most vulnerable families."

Or to go to the petition Click here

Cheers, Clive

Thursday, 10 May 2007

Sign the Breastfeeding Manifesto for Breastfeeding Awareness Week 13-19th May 2007

A UK breastfeeding manifesto is to be launched on 16 May 2007. Acting on this manifesto would, it is hoped, help reduce inequalities in health, improve the health of the nation, and save the NHS money while ensuring that the UK government fulfils its existing commitments to women. Campaigners say that if all babies were breastfed for at least three months, the reduction in the incidence of gastroenteritis alone would save the NHS in England and Wales more than £35m (€51m; $70m) a year. (Sebastian Kramer)

To download the manifesto only from here click this.

As Maggie Fisher (CPHVA) said "I would encourage you to respond and encourage others to do so. There are pre printed cards available to send to your local MP as well. You can e-mail your MP directly from the website. The CPHVA is a signatory to this. I will be attending the official launch of the breastfeeding manifesto next week representing Amicus/CPHVA in my role as professional officer."

Over 190 MPs have signed up. Why not ask them when they will act on this?

To visit their site, sign the petition and send a card to your MP click Breastfeeding Manifesto

Cheers, Clive

Monday, 7 May 2007

The Truth About Homework - Needless Assignments Persist Because of Widespread Misconceptions About Learning

By Alfie Kohn
September 6, 2006

The Homework Myth by Alfie Kohn can be bought in our online shop. Click here to view.

There’s something perversely fascinating about educational policies that are clearly at odds with the available data. Huge schools are still being built even though we know that students tend to fare better in smaller places that lend themselves to the creation of democratic caring communities. Many children who are failed by the academic status quo are forced to repeat a grade even though research shows that this is just about the worst course of action for them. Homework continues to be assigned – in ever greater quantities – despite the absence of evidence that it’s necessary or even helpful in most cases.

The dimensions of that last disparity weren’t clear to me until I began sifting through the research for a new book. To begin with, I discovered that decades of investigation have failed to turn up any evidence that homework is beneficial for students in elementary school. Even if you regard standardized test results as a useful measure, homework (some versus none, or more versus less) isn’t even correlated with higher scores at these ages. The only effect that does show up is more negative attitudes on the part of students who get more assignments.

In high school, some studies do find a correlation between homework and test scores (or grades), but it’s usually fairly small and it has a tendency to disappear when more sophisticated statistical controls are applied. Moreover, there’s no evidence that higher achievement is due to the homework even when an association does appear. It isn’t hard to think of other explanations for why successful students might be in classrooms where more homework is assigned – or why they might spend more time on it than their peers do.

The results of national and international exams raise further doubts. One of many examples is an analysis of 1994 and 1999 Trends in Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) data from 50 countries. Researchers David Baker and Gerald Letendre were scarcely able to conceal their surprise when they published their results last year: “Not only did we fail to find any positive relationships,” but “the overall correlations between national average student achievement and national averages in [amount of homework assigned] are all negative.”

Finally, there isn’t a shred of evidence to support the widely accepted assumption that homework yields nonacademic benefits for students of any age. The idea that homework teaches good work habits or develops positive character traits (such as self-discipline and independence) could be described as an urban myth except for the fact that it’s taken seriously in suburban and rural areas, too.

In short, regardless of one’s criteria, there is no reason to think that most students would be at any sort of disadvantage if homework were sharply reduced or even eliminated. Nevertheless, the overwhelming majority of American schools – elementary and secondary, public and private – continue to require their students to work a second shift by bringing academic assignments home. Not only is this requirement accepted uncritically, but the amount of homework is growing, particularly in the early grades. A large, long-term national survey found that the proportion of six- to-eight-year-old children who reported having homework on a given day had climbed from 34 percent in 1981 to 58 percent in 1997 – and the weekly time spent studying at home more than doubled.

Sandra Hofferth of the University of Maryland, one of the authors of that study, has just released an update based on 2002 data. Now the proportion of young children who had homework on a specific day jumped to 64 percent, and the amount of time they spent on it climbed by another third. The irony here is painful because with younger children the evidence to justify homework isn’t merely dubious – it’s nonexistent.


So why do we do something where the cons (stress, frustration, family conflict, loss of time for other activities, a possible diminution of interest in learning) so clearly outweigh the pros? Possible reasons include a lack of respect for research, a lack of respect for children (implicit in a determination to keep them busy after school), a reluctance to question existing practices, and the top-down pressures to teach more stuff faster in order to pump up test scores so we can chant “We’re number one!”

All these explanations are plausible, but I think there’s also something else responsible for our continuing to feed children this latter-day cod-liver oil. Because many of us believe it’s just common sense that homework would provide academic benefits, we tend to shrug off the failure to find any such benefits. In turn, our belief that homework ought to help is based on some fundamental misunderstandings about learning.

Consider the assumption that homework should be beneficial just because it gives students more time to master a topic or skill. (Plenty of pundits rely on this premise when they call for extending the school day or year. Indeed, homework can be seen as a way of prolonging the school day on the cheap.) Unfortunately, this reasoning turns out to be woefully simplistic. Back “when experimental psychologists mainly studied words and nonsense syllables, it was thought that learning inevitably depended upon time,” reading researcher Richard C. Anderson and his colleagues explain. But “subsequent research suggests that this belief is false.”

The statement “People need time to learn things” is true, of course, but it doesn’t tell us much of practical value. On the other hand, the assertion “More time usually leads to better learning” is considerably more interesting. It’s also demonstrably untrue, however, because there are enough cases where more time doesn’t lead to better learning.

In fact, more hours are least likely to produce better outcomes when understanding or creativity is involved. Anderson and his associates found that when children are taught to read by focusing on the meaning of the text (rather than primarily on phonetic skills), their learning does “not depend on amount of instructional time.” In math, too, as another group of researchers discovered, time on task is directly correlated to achievement only if both the activity and the outcome measure are focused on rote recall as opposed to problem solving.

Carole Ames of Michigan State University points out that it isn’t “quantitative changes in behavior” – such as requiring students to spend more hours in front of books or worksheets – that help children learn better. Rather, it’s “qualitative changes in the ways students view themselves in relation to the task, engage in the process of learning, and then respond to the learning activities and situation.” In turn, these attitudes and responses emerge from the way teachers think about learning and, as a result, how they organize their classrooms. Assigning homework is unlikely to have a positive effect on any of these variables. We might say that education is less about how much the teacher covers than about what students can be helped to discover – and more time won’t help to bring about that shift.

Alongside an overemphasis on time is the widely held belief that homework “reinforces” the skills that students have learned – or, rather, have been taught -- in class. But what exactly does this mean? It wouldn’t make sense to say “Keep practicing until you understand” because practicing doesn’t create understanding – just as giving kids a deadline doesn’t teach time-management skills. What might make sense is to say “Keep practicing until what you’re doing becomes automatic.” But what kinds of proficiencies lend themselves to this sort of improvement?

The answer is behavioral responses. Expertise in tennis requires lots of practice; it’s hard to improve your swing without spending a lot of time on the court. But to cite an example like that to justify homework is an example of what philosophers call begging the question. It assumes precisely what has to be proved, which is that intellectual pursuits are like tennis.

The assumption that they are analogous derives from behaviorism, which is the source of the verb “reinforce” as well as the basis of an attenuated view of learning. In the 1920s and ‘30s, when John B. Watson was formulating his theory that would come to dominate education, a much less famous researcher named William Brownell was challenging the drill-and-practice approach to mathematics that had already taken root. “If one is to be successful in quantitative thinking, one needs a fund of meanings, not a myriad of ‘automatic responses,’” he wrote. “Drill does not develop meanings. Repetition does not lead to understandings.” In fact, if “arithmetic becomes meaningful, it becomes so in spite of drill.”

Brownell’s insights have been enriched by a long line of research demonstrating that the behaviorist model is, if you’ll excuse the expression, deeply superficial. People spend their lives actively constructing theories about how the world works, and then reconstructing them in light of new evidence. Lots of practice can help some students get better at remembering an answer, but not to get better at – or even accustomed to -- thinking. And even when they do acquire an academic skill through practice, the way they acquire it should give us pause. As psychologist Ellen Langer has shown, “When we drill ourselves in a certain skill so that it becomes second nature,” we may come to perform that skill “mindlessly,” locking us into patterns and procedures that are less than ideal.

But even if practice is sometimes useful, we’re not entitled to conclude that homework of this type works for most students. It isn’t of any use for those who don’t understand what they’re doing. Such homework makes them feel stupid; gets them accustomed to doing things the wrong way (because what’s really “reinforced” are mistaken assumptions); and teaches them to conceal what they don’t know. At the same time, other students in the same class already have the skill down cold, so further practice for them is a waste of time. You’ve got some kids, then, who don’t need the practice and others who can’t use it.

Furthermore, even if practice was helpful for most students, that doesn’t mean they need to do it at home. In my research I found a number of superb teachers (at different grade levels and with diverse instructional styles) who rarely, if ever, found it necessary to assign homework. Some not only didn’t feel a need to make students read, write, or do math at home; they preferred to have students do these things during class where it was possible to observe, guide, and discuss.

Finally, any theoretical benefit of practice homework must be weighed against the effect it has on students’ interest in learning. If slogging through worksheets dampens one’s desire to read or think, surely that wouldn’t be worth an incremental improvement in skills. And when an activity feels like drudgery, the quality of learning tends to suffer, too. That so many children regard homework as something to finish as quickly as possible – or even as a significant source of stress -- helps to explain why it appears not to offer any academic advantage even for those who obediently sit down and complete the tasks they’ve been assigned. All that research showing little value to homework may not be so surprising after all.

Supporters of homework rarely look at things from the student’s point of view, though; instead, kids are regarded as inert objects to be acted on: Make them practice and they’ll get better. My argument isn’t just that this viewpoint is disrespectful, or that it’s a residue of an outdated stimulus-response psychology. I’m also suggesting it’s counterproductive. Children cannot be made to acquire skills. They aren’t vending machines such that we put in more homework and get out more learning.

But just such misconceptions are pervasive in all sorts of neighborhoods, and they’re held by parents, teachers, and researchers alike. It’s these beliefs that make it so hard even to question the policy of assigning regular homework. We can be shown the paucity of supporting evidence and it won’t have any impact if we’re wedded to folk wisdom (“practice makes perfect”; more time equals better results).

On the other hand, the more we learn about learning, the more willing we may be to challenge the idea that homework has to be part of schooling.

Copyright © 2006 by Alfie Kohn. This article may be downloaded, reproduced, and distributed without permission as long as each copy includes this notice along with citation information (i.e., name of the periodical in which it originally appeared, date of publication, and author's name). Permission must be obtained in order to reprint this article in a published work or in order to offer it for sale in any form. Please write to the address indicated on the Contact Us page. -- © Alfie Kohn

The Homework Myth by Alfie Kohn can be bought in our online shop. Click here to view.