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Trusting What You're Told: How Children Learn from Others [Englisch] [Gebundene Ausgabe]

Paul L. Harris

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18. Mai 2012
If children were little scientists who learn best through firsthand observations and mini-experiments, as conventional wisdom holds, how would a child discover that the earth is round - never mind conceive of heaven as a place someone might go after death? Overturning both cognitive and commonplace theories about how children learn, "Trusting What You're Told" begins by reminding us of a basic truth: Most of what we know we learned from others. Children recognize early on that other people are an excellent source of information. And so they ask questions. But youngsters are also remarkably discriminating as they weigh the responses they elicit. And how much they trust what they are told has a lot to do with their assessment of its source. "Trusting What You're Told" opens a window into the moral reasoning of elementary school vegetarians, the preschooler's ability to distinguish historical narrative from fiction, and the six-year-old's nuanced stance toward magic: skeptical, while still open to miracles. Paul Harris shares striking cross-cultural findings, too, such as that children in religious communities in rural Central America resemble Bostonian children in being more confident about the existence of germs and oxygen than they are about souls and God. We are biologically designed to learn from one another, Harris demonstrates, and this greediness for explanation marks a key difference between human beings and our primate cousins. Even Kanzi, a genius among bonobos, never uses his keyboard to ask for information: he only asks for treats.

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In Trusting What You're Told, Harris argues that the longstanding idea that kids should be self-learners who gain knowledge mainly from their own explorations and observations is flawed. In the book's introduction, Harris notes that we adults could barely get through the day without information from other people. It's the same with kids, he says...Harris' book explores lots of interesting ideas, including the impact of a mother's level of education on a child's inquisitiveness and why kids trust what they learn from their parents. -- Julie Rasicot Education Week blog 20120525

Über den Autor und weitere Mitwirkende

Paul L. Harris is Victor S. Thomas Professor of Education at Harvard University.

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Die hilfreichsten Kundenrezensionen auf (beta) 5.0 von 5 Sternen  2 Rezensionen
8 von 9 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen makes one wonder about the Montessori method 9. Juni 2012
Von S. Elliott - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe
The central question of the book is whether young children are more like scientists or anthropologists--i.e. whether they figure things out for themselves or rely on the testimony from others. Obviously they do both, but much of life is simply too inaccessible and ambiguous for them to figure it all for themselves. They must rely on others for many things, no matter how independent they are or are allowed to be, and they can be remarkably discriminating from an early age in whom and to what degree they trust.

This was a fascinating book that I need to re-read more carefully after gulping in down in 24 hours. The implications are deep.
5 von 5 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen How children build their ability to trust and understand the world 31. August 2012
Von Matt Mitterko - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe
I really enjoyed this book. It's reader-friendly, and is a good example of philosophically-informed social science. Harris takes for granted children's ability to reflect on their own, in order to further explore what children do when they don't rely on their own judgment. He argues that, contrary to predominant theory, children learn and develop cognitively in large part due to their reliance on and their ability to find trustworthy people. The standard argument Harris is facing states that children develop their ability to reason in light of evidence they themselves obtain, making them into little empiricists who are looking for reliable phenomena to understand the world. However, as Harris puts it, "There is no inevitable march toward objectivity or enlightenment" for children through their own rationality. In his view, testimony leads children to adopt beliefs that are particularly sensitive to the communities to which they belong, and are informed by those people that children learn to trust.

I found the book's arguments to be intuitively appealing throughout. Harris painstakingly provides evidence from his own studies as well as others' work to support his thesis. He is very careful to consider various hypotheses about the observed behavior of children throughout the book, to be sure he's interpreting the phenomena correctly. As those of us who've spend significant time with children know, interpreting their behavior can sometimes be a challenge, and Harris works hard to address a variety of plausible hypotheses in every chapter. Also, the book is written to chart children's development linearly, which allows him to show how cognitive development throughout childhood builds on testimony at various phases of a child's life.

The most fascinating chapters, to me, were those that explained the development of specific cognitive processes that children used to develop their own reasoning skills. For example, in chapter 5, he describes how children's trust in caretakers during preschool years means that children will rely on those they are familiar with, and therefore trust, more; at age 4, there is a shift, where children become more willing to trust someone based on their reliability in truth-telling, rather than familiarity. In chapter 7, Harris discusses the unique case where children (ages 6-10) have actively decided to become vegetarians for moral reasons, independent of their family's beliefs. He demonstrates that understanding harm via testimony is actually fairly common for children of this age, but that this form of moral judgment is unique, though exactly why, he's unsure (he considers three hypotheses for why independent vegetarians think of animals differently than other children).

I'd definitely recommend this book to anyone interested in children and cognitive development, testimony and how it shapes the development of our rational judgments, and anyone who wants to read a careful and well-constructed social science book.
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