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The Apprenticeship of Being Human

Why Early Childhood Parenting Matters to Everyone

Frederick Douglass truly said, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” Why?

In The Apprenticeship of Being Human, educator and social entrepreneur Graham Scharf argues that the answer lies in the nature, rate, and sensitivity of early brain development.

A child’s brain grows from 25% to 80% of its adult volume from birth to age 3, and to 90% by age 5. If a child grew in stature at the same rate, the prototypical American boy would be five feet two and half inches tall by his fifth birthday. That stunningly rapid brain growth is continual, relational, and activity-dependent. What happens (or does not happen) in those early years shapes the physical structure of the child’s brain, and impacts genetic expression. It is no overstatement to say that parenting can cause brain damage.

Unlike scholars who describe the data in the third person, Scharf tackles the issues of brain development, character formation and educational innovation in the first person. He intertwines his experiences of teaching in a failing Brooklyn elementary school as a New York City Teaching Fellow, living in endemic urban poverty, and being a full-time father of two daughters with the most important educational and neuroscience research.

This concise and illuminating book has the potential to change how we conceive of and practice parenting, and how we shape and reform educational institutions. It not only makes a compelling case that early childhood parenting matters to everyone; it offers hope that everyone has a role to play in supporting parents of young children in their critical role of building strong children.


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