THE MYTH OF THE FIRST THREE YEARS by John T. Bruer

THE MYTH OF THE FIRST THREE YEARS

A New Understanding of Early Brain Development and Lifelong Learning
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KIRKUS REVIEW

An educator takes issue sharply with the currently popular notion that the first three years of life are crucially important for optimal brain development. Bruer, president of the James S. McDonnell Foundation, which funds research in mind, brain, and education, examines how folk beliefs about child development (as the twig is bent, etc.) became wedded to brain science. This union has, he asserts, led to what he calls the Myth, spread by the Carnegie Corporation’s reports Years of Promise and Starting Points, the 1997 White House Conference on Early Childhood Development and Learning, and the Rob Reiner Foundation’s I am Your Child public education campaign; these reports, he claims, are producing undue anxiety in parents and mistaken public policy. Bruer warns that when policymakers adopt the belief that only in the first three years of a child’s life can any real differences be made, programs to help older children and adults are threatened. According to the Myth, that brief period, when the brain is rapidly forming synapses connecting nerve cells, provides a critical window of opportunity in which enriched environments and increased stimulation can help children build better brains. Advocates of the Myth, charges Bruer, have oversimplified and misinterpreted what neuroscience has revealed about synapse formation, critical periods, and enriched environments. Bruer looks at the research in these three areas, examines their implications for early childhood education, and concludes that research findings do not support the Myth. In his closing chapter he has reassuring advice to concerned parents of young children (stop worrying, but do see any vision or hearing problems are fixed promptly) and some stern counsel for the rest of us: be highly skeptical of any claims that human beings do not continue to learn and benefit from their experiences throughout life. In other words, abandon the Myth. Bruer has fired a well-loaded gun across some establishment bows. (For a different look at learning in the first three years, see Alison Gopnik et al., The Scientist in the Crib, p. TKTK.)

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-684-85184-9
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Free Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 1999