Most of us Are Average, And Our Kids Are Too

Madeline LevineThe question of who this relates to, who these problems of over-parenting relate to, you know, it’s a question I get asked all the time. “You’re really just talking about rich kids.” And the answer is absolutely not. I mean, I have criss-crossed the country and I’ve spoken in some of the most affluent communities and just as many working class communities. Actually, we did some research at Stanford... the kid who’s trying to pass the exit exam is just as stressed as the kid who’s got four AP classes. So kids at all levels are dealing with the school pressure, the idea that you have to be an excellent student to do well. 

Do I think that this is the most important issue for real inner-city kids? I don’t. I think there are issues of under-parenting because moms are working two jobs and have multiple kids and lots of responsibilities. So I’d say for the poorest kids that they have bigger fish to fry. There are different kinds of interventions that are needed for them. But for the vast swath of American kids now this is the push.   

The push is, you know, your life will be determined by how well you do in school and where you go to school, in spite of the fact that our research tells us that’s not true. As a matter of fact, there is very little - there’s this great study at Yale. They took kids who were admitted, the ones who went, the ones that didn’t get to go. They looked at them 15 or 20 years later, couldn't tell ‘em apart. They were smart kids. They did well wherever they went. 

And I think a lot of this is an economic push. The tutoring industry, the College Board, which used to just give the SATs and now has huge offerings. This is a multi-billion dollar a year industry. And I always tell people, I went to a state school. The majority of CEOs in this country in the fortune 500 went to state schools. There has become a mythology, and I think it has to do with this idea of how special we are. Right? Because we’re competitive, every child has to be special.... So there’s a fancy little latte place across the street from where my kid’s school used to be. After we dropped them off all the moms would wait in line and get their lattes, and we would talk. And I would just kind of hang back, and all the moms were saying things like, “Everything is great. Our family's terrific. My kids are going to the best schools.“ And I would kind of listen to this conversation and go, no, because I’m seeing half of your children and they are not doing great at all. So there is this notion of having to be special and not vulnerable, right? If you’re in a competitive blood sport you can never be vulnerable.  

So, are our kids incredibly special? Absolutely, in deep and profound ways... By definition, most of us are average. And it’s, you know, it’s like when I speak to an audience, it’s like applause until I get to, “You know, most of your kids are average.” And then there’s like dead silence. But the reality is, most of us are average, too. I mean, if you do this little exercise and go back and look at what you’re really outstanding at. So like - you know, I like to speak, I like to write.  When I leave this interview somebody will have to take me downstairs or else I will end up, you know, at NYU instead of in this building because I have no sense of space or spatial relations. And that’s true for most people. 

The business community - Gallop Poll just did a huge poll on like CEOs, high-level managers, and they found that out of 16 and 32 qualities, you needed to be really good at three to five. So this, like, this straight-A business, most of our kids aren’t that. All this discussion about ivy’s and prestigious schools, most of our kids don’t belong there. 

And on a personal level, I’m very interested in the way, because of the differences in my three sons, I'm very interested in the way that we sort of lionize a small group of our kids and push these other kids out to the margins and, I think, miss tremendous opportunities for them to become -- contribute -- major contributors to our society. 

Directed / Produced by Jonathan Fowler & Elizabeth Rodd

Parents hate to hear it when Madeline Levine tells them, "You know, most of your kids are average." But the reality is, most of us are average, too.

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This article was originally published by our sister site, Freethink.

For the first time, researchers appear to have effectively treated a genetic disorder by directly injecting a CRISPR therapy into patients' bloodstreams — overcoming one of the biggest hurdles to curing diseases with the gene editing technology.

The therapy appears to be astonishingly effective, editing nearly every cell in the liver to stop a disease-causing mutation.

The challenge: CRISPR gives us the ability to correct genetic mutations, and given that such mutations are responsible for more than 6,000 human diseases, the tech has the potential to dramatically improve human health.

One way to use CRISPR to treat diseases is to remove affected cells from a patient, edit out the mutation in the lab, and place the cells back in the body to replicate — that's how one team functionally cured people with the blood disorder sickle cell anemia, editing and then infusing bone marrow cells.

Bone marrow is a special case, though, and many mutations cause disease in organs that are harder to fix.

Another option is to insert the CRISPR system itself into the body so that it can make edits directly in the affected organs (that's only been attempted once, in an ongoing study in which people had a CRISPR therapy injected into their eyes to treat a rare vision disorder).

Injecting a CRISPR therapy right into the bloodstream has been a problem, though, because the therapy has to find the right cells to edit. An inherited mutation will be in the DNA of every cell of your body, but if it only causes disease in the liver, you don't want your therapy being used up in the pancreas or kidneys.

A new CRISPR therapy: Now, researchers from Intellia Therapeutics and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals have demonstrated for the first time that a CRISPR therapy delivered into the bloodstream can travel to desired tissues to make edits.

We can overcome one of the biggest challenges with applying CRISPR clinically.

—JENNIFER DOUDNA

"This is a major milestone for patients," Jennifer Doudna, co-developer of CRISPR, who wasn't involved in the trial, told NPR.

"While these are early data, they show us that we can overcome one of the biggest challenges with applying CRISPR clinically so far, which is being able to deliver it systemically and get it to the right place," she continued.

What they did: During a phase 1 clinical trial, Intellia researchers injected a CRISPR therapy dubbed NTLA-2001 into the bloodstreams of six people with a rare, potentially fatal genetic disorder called transthyretin amyloidosis.

The livers of people with transthyretin amyloidosis produce a destructive protein, and the CRISPR therapy was designed to target the gene that makes the protein and halt its production. After just one injection of NTLA-2001, the three patients given a higher dose saw their levels of the protein drop by 80% to 96%.

A better option: The CRISPR therapy produced only mild adverse effects and did lower the protein levels, but we don't know yet if the effect will be permanent. It'll also be a few months before we know if the therapy can alleviate the symptoms of transthyretin amyloidosis.

This is a wonderful day for the future of gene-editing as a medicine.

—FYODOR URNOV

If everything goes as hoped, though, NTLA-2001 could one day offer a better treatment option for transthyretin amyloidosis than a currently approved medication, patisiran, which only reduces toxic protein levels by 81% and must be injected regularly.

Looking ahead: Even more exciting than NTLA-2001's potential impact on transthyretin amyloidosis, though, is the knowledge that we may be able to use CRISPR injections to treat other genetic disorders that are difficult to target directly, such as heart or brain diseases.

"This is a wonderful day for the future of gene-editing as a medicine," Fyodor Urnov, a UC Berkeley professor of genetics, who wasn't involved in the trial, told NPR. "We as a species are watching this remarkable new show called: our gene-edited future."

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