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How I Unexpectedly Find Myself a Case Study in the Future of Parenting Information

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The novelist William Gibson has famously said, "The future is already here--it's just unevenly distributed." This past week, Families and Work Institute and The Conference Board co-convened our annual business Work Life Conference around the theme of the "new normal'--what the future is expected to bring and how we might respond.

As I participated in the conference, I found myself realizing--surprisingly--that my forthcoming book, Mind in the Making is, in some ways, a case study on providing parenting information in the 21st century. Here are some key trends we discussed as the "new normal" and a few thoughts on how they relate to Mind in the Making:

1. Change is propelled by curiosity
Although he wasn't a speaker at this conference, I begin with the words of Seth Godin from this book, Tribes. Godin discusses the role of curiosity in propelling change. He writes that curiosity "has to do with a desire to understand, a desire to try, a desire to push whatever envelope is interesting."

It was curiosity that propelled my journey that led to Mind in the Making. I needed to reconcile two images that conflicted with each other.

The first image comes from interviews I conducted with children from the third through the twelfth grades, asking them about their experiences in learning for a study I was planning to conduct. Despite the fact that these children were from very different backgrounds and communities--I found many of them turned off by learning. When they talked about learning, their eyes were flat, their faces dull and devoid of expression.

My experience echo the findings of the High School Survey of Youth Engagement conducted by the University of Indiana. This survey of more than 81,000 student found that only 39% go to school to learn (compared with 73% who go to school to get a degree, 69% because of their friends, and 58% because it's the law).

The second image is a very different kind of image. It is an image of babies and young children. They are voracious learners, absolutely unrelenting, in their attempts to see, to touch, to understand, and to master everything. The fire in their eyes is burning brightly.

And so this multi-year journey has been a quest fueled by curiosity to reconcile these two images--of too many older children turned off by learning and of babies and young children who can't stop learning.

2. In the world of information overload, "curators" of information are key

Lisa Witter, Chief Strategy Officer of Fenton Communications made this point at the conference. In 2010 alone, she said, there will be more information generated than at any other time in history. We will navigate this flood of information by having curators--like curators in a museum--who help us filter it.

I now realize that is what I have done. By interviewing and, in partnership with New Screen Concepts, filming 75 of the leading researchers on the science of children's development and learning, I have immersed myself in this developmental research and neuroscience so that, like a curator, I can bring it to parents and teachers.

The ten-year forecast by the Institute for the Future describes one of the trends they foresee as "neuro-futures." Bob Johansen, Distinguished Fellow from the institute said at the conference that advances in neuroscience will make it more practical. And that has been a goal of Mind in the Making, where there are hundreds of suggestions for translating research knowledge into what we can do everyday.

3. Learning is a conversation

Garrett Graff, Editor of the Washingtonian Magazine said at the conference, "everything is a conversation." For far too long, learning as been seen and practiced as pouring information into empty vessels. In the new world of on-demand, multi-media information, that image has to shift. Yes, of course, there are times when we need to learn something from someone but we need to be very engaged in the learning process as well.

The old ways of providing parenting information didn't work for me--though at the time, I may not have seen what I was doing as creating a conversation. But now it's clear that's what I have done. In the Vook (coming soon!) and on the Mind in the Making website, we share the actual experiments of researchers conducting their studies so that parents and teachers can experience these for themselves. My daughter calls it unlocking the doors of academia and making the actual research accessible to everyone. And these experiments are fun, fascinating, and insightful. They fit the new image of learning as a give and take, learning from each other.

More importantly, many parenting and teaching materials to date have been a guilt-trip that--consciously or not--make us feel that what we have done is wrong. When learning becomes a conversation, a give and take, we learn things but we also feel inspired.

4. Storytelling is front and center to new (and old) ways of communicating.

My mission in creating Mind in the Making has been to spur a movement to keep the fire in children's eyes burning brightly as they grow up. In doing so, I share the stories of many parents and teachers.

I hope that you will now join us on this mission and share your stories.

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