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In this Rotman Lecture, co-sponsored with Western Alumni and the London Public Library, renowned author Alison Gopnik asks us to think about parenting as a relationship.


Caring deeply about our children is part of what makes us human. Yet the thing we call “parenting” is a surprisingly new invention. In the past thirty years, the concept of parenting and the multibillion dollar industry surrounding it have transformed child care into obsessive, controlling, and goal-oriented labor intended to create a particular kind of child and therefore a particular kind of adult. I’ll argue that the familiar twenty-first-century picture of parents and children is profoundly wrong–it’s not just based on bad science, it’s bad for kids and parents, too. Drawing on the study of human evolution and my own scientific research into how children learn, I’ll show that although caring for children is profoundly important, it is not a matter of shaping them to turn out a particular way. Children are designed to be messy and unpredictable, playful and imaginative, and to be very different both from their parents and from each other. The variability and flexibility of childhood lets them innovate, create, and survive in an unpredictable world. “Parenting” won’t make children learn—but caring parents let children learn by creating a secure, loving environment.


Alison Gopnik is a professor of psychology and affiliate professor of philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley. Her research explores how young children come to know about the world around them. Professor Gopnik’s current research focuses on how children learn about the causal structure of the world—how some things make other things happen. She is the author of several books, including the New York Times bestseller, “The Philosophical Baby,” and, most recently, “The Gardener and the Carpenter: What the New Science of Child Development Tells Us About the Relationship Between Parents and Children.”

Read more about Alison Gopnik.






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