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Endangered Minds

Why Children Dont Think And What We Can Do About It
By Jane M. Healy

Reading Group Guide

    Discussion Questions
    1. The author suggests that the "habits of mind" -- and even the brains -- of today's students have been changed by contemporary media and fast-paced lifestyles. Do you think it is possible? If so, have you seen any evidence to support this assertion?
    2. What might account for the fact that young children's IQ scores appear to be rising at the same time older students' academic achievement scores are a cause for widespread concern?
    3. The concept of "critical" or "sensitive" periods implies that if appropriate stimulation is lacking at the time when the brain is most receptive to it, the resulting skill development may be impaired. Acquiring the accent of a non-native language is given as an example. Can you think of any other life skills for which there seem to be critical/sensitive periods?
    4. Chapters 4 and 5 stress the importance of language development for a wide variety of academic and personal skills. Which of these skills might be especially important for today's youngsters' future success, and why is language development involved? Can you think of any others that are not mentioned here?
    5. Have you noticed any specific problems with listening abilities or critical thinking in today's culture? How would you rate the quality of language available in various media? Comment on the potential effects -- political, social, or economic -- for a society in which young people grow up unaccustomed to "elaborated" language or unable to comprehend material requiring extended reading or listening. Would our culture be improved or diminished with less complex language usage?
    6. Research suggests that children are learning language skills before they even begin to understand or say words. What do parents or other caregivers do that is important in this development? React to Dr. Scheibel's comment, "...I think it would be very important to tell parents that they are participating with the physical development of their youngsters' brains to the exact degree that they interact with them, communicate with them."
    7. The author implies that some cases of "learning disabilities" are more a question of a misfit between child and school than of something "wrong" with the child. Comment on this view-point. Should we change our schools to fit today's kids? Is it possible that much of the "disability" called ADHD is actually normal behavior in a developmentally inappropriate school setting (e.g., too restrictive, too pressured, or too permissive)?
    8. Discuss the issue of whether "biology is destiny" (i.e., if you inherited it, it can't be changed) as far as learning is concerned. How much importance would you place on heredity or environment in accounting for learning or behavioral differences among individuals? (Don't worry if you don't have a final answer -- neither do the scientists!)
    9. Can you speculate about why there is still so little objective research about how television or other video use affects children's brain development? If you were planning a research study, what specific questions or hypotheses would you like to explore?
    10. Do you have experiences in your own life to support or discount the negative influences that the author attributes to excessive TV viewing?
    11. Most children's programs spawn commercial products related to a show's characters. What do you think this trend says about our culture's attitude toward childhood? Would you defend such marketing efforts or not?
    12. Why do you think research consistently finds differences in the way adults talk to children among different socioeconomic groups? What implications does this have for a kindergarten teacher?
    13. Summarize some of the issues involved in testing students for academic "competency." Why is it harder than it looks? Debate what your school district's policy should be in testing children to determine whether they should pass a grade or graduate.
    14. What do you remember best about your school experience? On this basis, what advice would give to someone who was trying to start a new school from scratch?
    15. Comment on the discussion presented in Chapter 15 about whether or not the evolution of the human brain is being changed by electronic media. What examples of nonverbal reasoning are given here? Do you think that either verbal or nonverbal reasoning is better than the other? What is most commonly valued in most schools? Do you agree with this emphasis? Why?
    16. Comment on the author's suggestion that curiosity may be the human brain's most important attribute in the long run. If you had to propose one intellectual quality as most important for "future minds," what would it be?

About the Author

Jane M. Healy
Brent Bingham/

Jane M. Healy

Jane M. Healy, Ph.D. is a teacher and educational psychologist who has worked with young people of all ages, from pre-school to graduate school. She has been a classroom teacher, reading and learning specialist, school administrator, and clinician. She is currently a lecturer and consultant, and the author of three books about how children do (and don’t) learn, Your Child’s Growing Mind, Endangered Minds, and Failure to Connect. She and her work have been featured in national media such as CNN and NPR. She has twice been named “Educator of the Year” by Delta Kappa Gamma, the professional honor society of women educators.  Jane and her husband claim they have learned most of what they know from raising three sons and enjoying six grandchildren.