‘How To Be A Person’ Teaches Kids That Mastering The Small Things Can Have Big, Ethical Benefits

The sounds of Texas.

By Joy Diaz & Caroline CovingtonSeptember 16, 2020 12:34 pm, ,

Catherine Newman’s book, “How to Be a Person,” came to be out of necessity: her 17-year-old daughter didn’t know how to clean a bathroom, and she didn’t want to learn how from a person. So, Newman went to the library to find the “photographic, encyclopedia of chores for kids,” but that book didn’t exist. So she wrote her own, and included how-tos on all kinds of topics, not just chores, like how to have conversations, how to apologize and how to contact a political representative. She says the book is a tool to help kids become “interdependent,” not just independent. When they learn these basic life skills, she says they’ll be better equipped to take on bigger challenges like racial injustice.

“How does that relate back to vacuuming? On top of everything else, everything still needs to happen. It’s like, we’re out protesting, and then we’re back cleaning the bathroom – this is human life,” Newman said.

“I do warn kids that if you learn to sew on a button, you will be the designated button-sewer-onner for your entire household. So that skill comes with a caveat.”


Author Catherine Newman (Credit Ben Newman)

“Some of the stuff seems really unrelated to ethics, like how do you use a vacuum cleaner. But in the end, someone’s going to need to vacuum, and if your assumption is that it’s not you, that, for me, is an ethical conundrum.”


“Teaching kids to say to somebody, ‘What can I do to help?’ is this enormous gift, both to them and to everyone in their lives, that you teach this skill of making yourself available to be helpful. I think it’s really vital for kids’ mental health right now.”

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