Ask Children But Don’t Rely On Their Answers

Here’s my review of Ellen Galinsky’s, Ask the Children, that I also posted it on Amazon.  This review is part of my efforts to reduce and, ultimately, eliminate reliance on survey research as a method for finding out what’s really going on.

Ask Children but Don’t Rely on Their Answers

It’s usually beneficial to ask children (I’ll expand on this later), but don’t do what Galinsky does in this book and rely on their answers. That’s because answers to questions—as documented by extensive research (much of it discussed in my book, The Problem with Survey Research)—are skewed and made unreliable by all four components of the asking method: respondents, asking instruments, situations or environments in which questions are asked and answers given, and by askers themselves. Galinsky acknowledges (unintentionally, I presume) the unreliability of answers when she describes numerous and significant “discrepancies” in answers of children and parents concerning time spent together in certain activities and in other instances (pp. 58-83). She also admits that parents tend to answer questions in “a socially desirable way” (p. 58) and that means their answers may not be accurate; moreover, parents, most likely more so than children, “exaggerate” (p. 76).

To be sure, not every answer to every question is incorrect; thus, there may be some correct information in this book. But when all you have are answers, you can’t distinguish between accurate answers and answers skewed by a sense of what’s socially desirable; between accurate answers and exaggerated answers; you can’t determine which of the discrepancies reported by children and parents are accurate which are inaccurate. The only way to know if answers are correct or accurate is to check or verify them with information from observation, experiments, or other non-asking sources. Galinsky does not check her answers with information from non-asking sources; all she has is unreliable information.

As mentioned above, it’s usually beneficial to ask children because children (as is true for parents and everyone else) like to express themselves. Those who’ve had their say (in this case, children) feel better; perceive to a greater extent than those who’ve not been asked and haven’t expressed themselves, that askers have interest in, or are concerned about, them and, thus, they’re more willing to participate and provide desired answers which, of course, benefits askers (in this case, Galinsky).

Two other characteristics of this book are worth mentioning. First, the title is deceptive. Ask the Children is mostly about parents: what parents say, how they could be better parents, and so on.

Second, although Galinsky only has answers to questions, only has what children and parents say they do and think, she drops “say they” (or “stated”, “report”, or some such), in an effort to convince us she’s telling us what they actually do and think.  For example, she writes: “a book about how kids see their working parents” (p. xiii) rather than: a book about how kids say they see their working parents. On the next page she writes: “the views of parents and children” rather than: the stated, or reported, views of parents and children. Galinsky and all other askers have good reason to drop “say they”. If they inserted in their written and spoken texts, “say they”, or the like, every time they reported respondents’ answers, readers and listeners would correctly conclude that askers are only writing and talking about what people say, and everyone knows that what people say often does not correspond to what they actually do or think or (probably less often) who they actually are.

About georgebeam

George Beam is an educator and author. The perspectives that inform his interpretations of the topics of this blog–-as well as his other writings and university courses -–are system analysis, behaviorism, and Internet effects. Specific interests include quality management, methodology, and politics. He is Associate Professor Emeritus, Department of Public Administration; Affiliated Faculty, Department of Political Science; and, previously, Head, Department of Public Administration, University of Illinois at Chicago
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