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The Myth of the First Three Years: A New Understanding of Early Brain Development and Lifelong Learning Paperback – April 5, 2002


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press (April 5, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743242602
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743242608
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 5.9 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,496,271 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Will listening to Mozart's symphonies make your newborn smarter? Is your child's brain unalterably "hard-wired" by age 3? Don't believe the hype, trumpets educational consultant John T. Bruer, Ph.D., in The Myth of the First Three Years. A powerful political element has put its spin on dated, unrelated, and inadequate research, he says, christening it "the new neuroscience." According to Bruer, both Mozart and a study of one-eyed kittens are spuriously linked to the future success of our nation's children and are being used to propel a platform of welfare reform. Disgruntled by the lack of hard, scientific evidence behind the latest policy push, he asks, "But just what is the connection, for example, between the 100 billion nerve cells, developing healthy brain circuitry, and selective TV watching?"

Countering the central tenets of the myth by exposing the research upon which it is supposedly based, Bruer finds, "Apart from eliminating gross neglect, neuroscience cannot currently tell us much about whether we can, let alone how to, influence brain development during the early stage of exuberant synaptic formation." And contrary to the myth, up-to-the-minute research actually informs us of the remarkable plasticity of the brain and its power to continue learning throughout life. Perhaps most insidiously, "the Myth rejects strong genetic determinism in favor of early neural-environmental determinism.... The argument is but one rhetorical move away from an early-environmental version of the Bell Curve."

Less a tool for parents than a fascinating case study for students of political science or public relations, The Myth of the First Three Years slams the policy machine that has hijacked the new neuroscience and redirected it to finance a new wave of entitlements. --Brian J. Williamson --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Bruer, president of the James S. McDonnell Foundation in St. Louis, has written a provocative analysis of public response to the science of brain development. His argument is a combination of anti-big government conservatism and rigorous scientific method. Criticizing the media and misguided politicians, he argues that brain-development studies have been misrepresented in an effort to reserve public money for early childhood public services. He suggests that funds would be better spent on lifelong services, like skills classes for parents and caregivers. Along the way, he levels some well-deserved criticism at reports in the media that misinterpret and oversimplify scientific studies in order to support a popular agenda and cautions against confusing learning that must take place in a developmental sequence with other learning that can occur throughout life. Because his thesis will raise a fair amount of controversy, this book would add balance to any child development collection. Recommended for public and academic libraries.AMargaret Cardwell, Georgia Perimeter Coll., Clarkston
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

3.5 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

47 of 47 people found the following review helpful By Joan on September 7, 2001
Format: Hardcover
I'm going to start by disagreeing with a reviewer below. Dr. Bruer is not suggesting that we ignore our kids! Rather, his valuable book makes the simple point that neuroscience does not "prove" that the experiences of the first three years profoundly and irreversibly influence the remainder of life. It is true, Dr. Bruer points out, that abnormal and/or abusive environments do indeed damage kids. However, provided the child experiences normal care (a standard which varies greatly worldwide), he should develop normally. According to Dr. Bruer, There is no good nueroscientific evidence that "enriched" environments lead to better brain development.

Dr. Bruer also points out that there may be good reason to believe that the brain remains plastic (changeable) throughout life. That's good news for those who came from less advantaged environments! It's also a relief for parents who for whatever reason could not give their children the good start they would have liked to give.

This book is important to read for two reasons: first, it gives a good example of how science can be misinterpreted or even "created" in order to further a pre-set goal. Second, it sheds some light on a potentially dangerous effort to introduce super-early education programs for all children, disadvantaged or not.

But I am holding back a star because Dr. Bruer fails to qualify his arguments with an important point. Even if the first three years do not of themselves determine the course of life, these are the years when habits are formed and the parent-child relationship is established. In other words, if we handle kids well and spend lots of time with them in years 1-3, we are much more apt to continue to do so in years 4-6, 7-9 etc.
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48 of 57 people found the following review helpful By William on December 10, 1999
Format: Hardcover
The myth of the first three years cogently discusses the science behind, or lack or science in many cases, the claims about children's development that are made by many organizations and reports frequently reported on by the mainstream media. It seems to have become "common" knowledge that a child may not be as smart if they do not get certain educational and environmental elements in the first three years of life. Bruer shows, with scientific backup, that children will not suffer if they do not hear Mozart, get grilled by flash cards, or watch flashy geometric shapes on TV. He explains that children do need specific things in order to develop correctly, but those items are usually present in a "normal" environment. The argument that children will be smarter if the hear classical music does not have hard science behind it, but it amazing how prevalent the belief actually is. This is an important book for parents, educators, researchers, and politicians!
The prolix nature of the book is the only complaint I have. I guess this may be expected in a book that does need to devote a good amount of time to discussing the science behind these claims, but it could have been a good 100 pages shorter in my opinion. Scientific texts do not have to be boring. This important book should be on the list of a lot of the movers and shakers, though I suspect it isn't!
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28 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Christopher L Hubbell on May 8, 2001
Format: Hardcover
After shelves upon shelves of books, magazines, and essays have been written about the brain science behind our childrens' developement, we finally have a book that actually discusses the evidence rather than shaping it for a particular goal. Mr. Bruer is not an advocacy group. He's not a political action committee. He has researched his book thoroughly, sourced it, and even interviewed the original scientists whose studies were horribly misinterpereted, misconstrued, or just plain misused. If you listen to the media, there are mountains of data regarding the connections between your baby's environment, and his/her brain developement. Mr. Bruer lets us hear from the scientists themselves that this is not true. They tell us that what little scientific evidence we have regarding such connections is incomplete, and should not be extrapolated to any practical parenting curriculum. In sum, we should raise our kids with common sense, love, and care. What a comfort that such a time-honored notion should still prove true.
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55 of 70 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 1, 2000
Format: Hardcover
First, the strengths of the book. It provides an alternative view to the frantic parents who are trying to do everything for their kids and in fact, are overdoing it. I completely agree with his points about too many parents getting obsessive about the first few years with their children.
But here are three things that I find troubling. 1) The very research studies he tries to debunk in other's findings are the same ones he uses to support his own position. He says you can't use the basic neuroscience to justify the more practical end uses, then he uses basic neuroscience research to support his own position.2) He ignores a huge body of research from studies on attachment, emotional abuse, physical abuse, drug abuse and neglect that supports the critical value of early emotional involvement and the delicate caregiver-to-child process of attunement. This is the underpinnings of emotional intelligence--which may be more important than the standard cognition. 3) He ballyhoos the current trend in schools towards a more brain-based approach, saying that it'll be 25 years before we can apply neuroscience to classroom learning. That's dead wrong. Thousands of educators are already using strategies and programs based on recent research. He apparently doesn't know about them--maybe he does not visit cutting edge schools. As an example, the technology of FastForWord (a software that is treating phonological deficits) is just one of several hearing improvement programs. Other teachers are using research on emotions, stress, memory and the brain's structural constraints to enhance teaching--and scores are going up. Bruer is well-meaning, but not in touch with the cutting edge of learning.
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