The Daily Beast ran a list recently called 15 Signs You’ll Raise a Genius. The web page is less sensationally and perhaps better titled, Smarter Kids and How They Got That Way. What’s noteworthy about this list is that it is one of the few articles that I’ve read anywhere that provides links to the primary research (peer-reviewed journal articles) that support the author’s claims. So hats off for that. We need more of it. It’s an interesting collection of what are mostly correlations, i.e. kids who are smart are more likely to have x or kids who did y scored higher on the SAT, etc. Correlation is not necessarily the same as causation. For instance, the music lessons could be the cause of higher test scores or a confounding variable like the relative affluence to afford music lessons and all that comes with it may be the actual cause. So interpret the results as you will. That said, I was particularly interested in item #5 in the list – books in the home:
A child who is raised in a home containing at least 500 books is 36 percent more likely to graduate from high school and 19 percent more likely to graduate from college than an otherwise similar child raised in a home containing few or no books.
The finding is taken from the article Family Scholarly Culture and Educational Success: Books and Schooling in 27 Nations by Evans, et al. published in the journal Research in Social Stratification and Mobility. The authors of the study used the number of books in a home as a quantifiable measure of “scholarly culture” in the home. The paper says,
The scholarly culture hypothesis holds that reading provides cognitive skills that enhance educational attainment, a cultural toolkit. A home in which books are an integral part of the way of life will encourage children to read for pleasure, thereby providing them with information, vocabulary, imaginative richness, and wide horizons…For example, the larger the home library, the better children perform on standardized reading tests, net of parents’ education, across a broad range of countries…Because it generates skills and knowledge central to schooling, scholarly culture should enhance educational achievement in all societies, rich and poor alike; in all political systems, Communist and capitalist alike; and in the past as well as the present.
That last part, about the past and the present, got me thinking about the future. What will a scholarly culture look like in the future. Will the family’s “cultural toolkit” be measured by the number of Kindles in the home or number of books on the Kindle library? Will the family’s scholarly culture be as readily internalized if it is less visible? I’m interested in seeing where this research leads in the future, because I think it will have important consequences. In the meantime, journalists, more links to the research in your articles, please!