Gardner’s parents vs. carpenter’s parents: How modern education puts the straitjacket to children


In 2011, a team of psychologists made a very interesting experiment with preschoolers. The researchers gave them a toy consisting of several plastic tubes, each with a different function: one emitted a sort of squeak, another lit up, one more emitted some music and the last one had a hidden mirror.

In some cases, an experimenter entered the room and scolded, apparently by accident, the tube that emitted the squeak. In other cases the investigator was acting like a teacher showing the children how the toy worked, only teaching them to activate the pipe that emitted the squeak. Later, the children were left alone with the toy.

In this way, the psychologists discovered that children who had been "taught" played in more limited and repetitive way, were bored and did not discover all of the tubes functions. In contrast, children who had been simply given the toy without a guide, played with more freedom, more creatively and found all of the tubes functions.

For Alison Gopnik, a professor of psychology at the University of California, this experiment shows one of the worst mistakes we make in child education: think that the task of parents is to help children successfully develop a series of activities throughout life.

She says that "in the last thirty years the concept of parenthood, and the industry around it, have transformed the care of children into something obsessive, apprehensive and controlling which is not good neither for the parents, nor for the children."

Many parents see in their children a projection of themselves so that pour upon them their dreams, hopes and plans. Without realizing it, the education focuses on the formation of the personality of the little one so that he realizes the dreams that they have not been able to accomplish. According to Gopnik, these parents would be "carpenter parents."

How to recognize the carpenter parents?

These parents, such as carpenters, believe that their mission is to shape the wood/child. So, they strive to shape it so that it follows their rules, adopt their values ​​and pursue their dreams.

Some of the features that distinguish these parents are:

- They organize even the smallest detail of the lives of their children, because they do not accept the idea that something gets out of their control. In fact, often they become their agenda because of their obsession to control the lives of their children.

- They care to judge, condemn and/or belittle all the dreams and illusions of their children that do not correspond with them. In fact, they make sure to always have the last word.

- Transmit the cone values ​​like were doctrines, so that for children there’s no space left for reflection and freedom of thought.

- They make sure to enroll their children at the greatest possible amount of extracurricular activities and give them all the educational toys they consider appropriate because they think it will stimulate better their skills.

- They think that their children have a debt with them and thus feel entitled to manipulate their lives, even if these children have already become adults.

- They consider their children as their most valuable asset, so often close them under a crystal bowl so that end up isolating them from the real world and prevent them from developing the necessary tools to face life.

There is another way to educate: The gardener parents

The carpenter parents are worried about the material used for the education of their children and give it a leading role, so that often turn into love and attention substitutes that children should receive from their parents.

In contrast, the gardener parents know that although the tools are important, are not essential. These parents are fully aware that it is the skill, the care, the love and the attention to details that make the difference in the education of the children.

While the carpenter parents claim to create "perfect" pieces, designed to the millimeter, gardener parents worry to sow, irrigate and let the plants grow. These parents are not obsessed with control, but leave some freedom to their children to explore the world and discover their hobbies. Of course, also allow them to make mistakes and deal with their problems, to develop the skills of conflict resolution and tolerance to frustration.

The gardener parents respect the decisions and opinions of their children, even if they do not share them. In fact, they worry to encourage free thought and reflection, because they know that is the only way to educate autonomous and self-determined people.

However, the most important difference is that the gardener parents do not claim to shape their children but accompany them throughout their development, allowing them to express their uniqueness. In fact, the disorder and variability are the main enemies of the carpenter parents. On the contrary, in a garden change is a constant and the gardener must only create a protected space in which the plants are free to grow.

The aim of education in early childhood is not to mold children to reach a pre-prototype. Children are active, curious, imaginative and playful, so the task of parents is not to cut these branches, but provide them with a safe and secure space where these features can emerge.

In fact, Gopnik says, "Our job as parents is not to mold the mind of the child, but make sure that this mind can explore the world of possibilities."

Gopnik, A. (2016) The Gardener and the Carpenter: What the New Science of Child Development Tells Us About the Relationship Between Parents and Children. Nueva York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Cook, C. et. Al. (2011) Where science starts: spontaneous experiments in preschoolers' exploratory play. Cognition; 120(3):341-349.
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