Monday, August 13, 2018

My Reading Thoughts, Summaries and Connections: The Social Animal by David Brooks - Chapter 7 (Norms)

Erica is introduced in Chapter 7. From my understanding, Erica and Harold will eventually connect and get married and then the book will follow the rest of their lives together. Erica does not come from as stable or as afluenct a background as Harold and so creates the opportunity in this chapter to dig into the impacts that social-economic status (SES) has on development and personality.

Erica comes from a mixed-racial family with her mother being Chinese and father being Mexican American. It also seems that her mother experiences mental health issuse that create osilating periods of stable middle-class living and unstable lower-class living. In the lower times, Erica takes on an adult role as it appears that her mother becomes entrenched in the world of addictions in these times. Her parents are not married but both parents and both are actively involved in her life in a sporatic way. This chapter gives a glimpse of her in her elementary years trying and failing to get into a charter school followed by another glimpse as she gets closer to high school when she once again pushes to get into a charter school. At this point she succeeds in getting in, although in an unorthodox way.

Weaved into the introduction of Erica, this chapter addresses several SES-based differences: parenting approaches, language exposure, stress hormone levels, impact on internal narratives...etc. The chapter also introduces the concept of "emergence" while explaining the theory of the charter school that is being developed in Erica's neighborhood. This is a topic that is always fascinating to me as it represents the need to always dig deeper than what we can first understand on the surface level. At one point in the chapter, the author makes reference to the fact that the brain itself is an emergent system and gives the example of how the idea of an apple is not contained in a single neuron but rather emerges out of the firing of a pattern between millions of neurons. This circled my thoughts back to Chapter 4 and the mention of how with continued exposure to concept the subtleties of the understanding improve. Thinking beyond something as concrete as an apple, it speaks to how as these connections grow and change, the physical structure of our brains actually also change. To me it really speaks to how you can look at some concept today and see it completely different from how you saw it last year or a few years ago (or sometimes even yesterday). It isn't just that you have gained more knowledge but that the physiological make up of your brain has changed in ways that have different neurons firing together around the concept. For me this speaks to the need to be intentional about trying to connect what is new to what we already know; to take the time to engage with new information that is coming to us... and even to take the time with old information because there are probably experiences between this exposure and the last exposure that change the way it makes sense.

Below I have included the visuals of what jumped out at me while reading this chapter. Clicking on each graphic should make it larger and easier to see.

Following the presentation of the idea that poverty is an emergent system, the author goes on to explain how the charter school felt they could then address poverty by surrounding the person living in poverty with a different culture so that they aborb the new habits of thought and behaviour.. and that you are conscious to keep surrounding them so they do not slip back into old familiar ways. As I read this, I found myself quite uncomfortable with the approach, particuarly given the informaiton shared earlier in the chapter about some of the child rearing approaches that we seem to be starting to realize are important like having time to play freely, being surrounded by extended family, playing with peers of different ages...etc. As I read this chapter I kept thinking back to a Ted Talk that I recentely watched about community builders that I'm going to share below. It seems to me that there has to be better ways than approaching it from building a "counter-culture". 

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