1.1.1 Watch the video

In this video, Alison Gopnik, author of the book The Gardener and the Carpenter – What the New Science of Child Development Tells Us about the Relationship Between Parents and Children explains the main concept of his book.


Parenting model is that having a child is like being a carpenter, when you’re a carpenter, you have some respect for the materials you have. But you kind of know what you want. And not only do you know what you want, but you know how to get there, you know what the plants look like, you know what the chair is going to be like. And if you’re just expert enough, and you know enough, and you work hard enough, and you’re careful enough, and you control every single detail, enough, you know, you, you measure twice and cut once, then you end up with a pretty predictable chair.

And that’s a really good model for how school works. It’s a really good model for how work works, you set yourself goals, and you get outcomes. It’s a terrible model for what raising a child is like. And I think a much better metaphor for what raising a child is like, is that raising a child is like being a gardener. So if you think about being a gardener, you work incredibly hard, you’re sweating, you’re up to your knees, and ankles and neck and menorah most of the time.

And every plan that you have turns out wrong, everything that you decide that you’re going to do is a gardener comes out the opposite of the way that you thought it was gonna come out. But that’s not an accident, because what you really want to do when you’re a gardener is not have the biggest orchid or have the largest rows, what you want to do is create an ecosystem, a community of plants that are diverse enough and robust enough, so that when the weather changes, when things become different, that system continues to thrive. And it turns out that one of the things we’ve learned from ecology is the way to do that is to have lots of unpredictable variability.

That’s the way to have a system that’s robust. If you actually know what the outcome is, that’s good for chairs. It’s terrible for a living biological system that has to be resilient in the face of change. The way that you invent a system that’s going to be resilient in the face of change is have lots of unpredictable diversity have lots of exploration, lots of possibilities, possibilities that you can’t predict in the first place. And what I’m going to argue in the rest of this talk, is that I think that’s the picture that science gives us about why caring for children is important.

So from an evolutionary perspective, if what we wanted to do was just have a bunch of children who came out a particular way, there’s no reason why evolution couldn’t have just designed the children to come out that way. Instead, what seems to happen is that we human beings, in particular, are designed to come up with brand new ways of being brand new tools, brand new ways of acting in the world, that are totally different from the way that any generation did that before. And having this long protected period of exploration gives us a chance to be able to produce something that’s completely unexpected, completely, unlike anything that any previous generation has, has produced.