Saturday, November 24, 2007

Why Hold On?

The Lost Children: A review of Hold On To Your Kids by Jen at Et Tu?
HT: The Cates at Why Homeschool?

She quotes the authors of the book:

As children grow, they have an increasing need to orient: to have a sense of who they are, of what is real, why things happen, what is good, what things mean. To fail to orient is lost psychologically -- a state our brains our programmed to do almost anything to avoid. [...]

What children fear more than anything, including physical harm, is getting lost. To them, being lost means losing contact with their compass point. Orienting voids, situations where we find nothing or no one to orient by, are absolutely intolerable to the human brain.

We discussed the topic of teenage mutation at Real Learning a couple of weeks ago. Another book that is interesting to read in this regard is A Tribe Apart. I wrote a tiny review of it here. The book starts by describing several kids in about 5th or 6th grade -- pretty much normal kids interested in baseball and Barbies -- and traces their lives until their graduation from highschool. The transition is remarkable. Generally speaking, the kids "come through" on the other side, but there are tragic exceptions, and even the survivors have battle wounds.

Some homeschoolers "mutate" (for lack of a better word), and some kids who go to school don't, of course. My thought is that peer dependency is much more the source than simply the fact of homeschooling or not -- you can have peer dependency AND homeschooling, and you can have schooled kids who stay away from peer dependency, whether because their families are strong, or their interests are bigger than the system, or perhaps the school itself has a strong healthy culture of its own that counteracts the tribalism. Temperament plays a part too.

Plus, there are kids who take on some of the trappings of the tribe, but only as a sort of game or adaptive trait. It is part of their natural development to try out new things, to explore and experiment and grow in understanding of different ways of life. This is not the same thing as peer dependency itself. To me, dependency means what Catholic doctrine calls "attachment" -- something that has the symptoms of an addiction.

Homeschooling can preserve a culture, though, that works against peer dependency. By taking the kids away from the age ghetto, spending time with them, discussing things with them and allowing them time and space to develop talents and skills, you give them opportunity to develop longterm qualities and skills, not the transitory ones generally valued by the peer culture. I wrote about this once before, in Enculturation, not Indoctrination.

There is still a sort of dependency, I suppose. As Neufeld says above in the quote, kids have a need to orient themselves; they are not able to develop in a void. This is his very case for developing a family culture. An imperfect family is better than an immature peer culture, though of course most dysfunctional families are so precisely because they share the competitiveness, co-dependency and immaturity of the peer culture.

I think sometimes the State and those who believe in the effectiveness of "experts" cringe a bit when they think of parents actually being allowed to influence their kids. Isn't that a sort of child abuse? What if they mess up? What if they inculcate doctrine that I happen not to agree with? What if they raise young adults that thrive outside of the cultural mainstream, who have a strong ethnic or religious identity? Doesn't that mean the society will be fragmented?

One of the victories of the state over the parents has been a rhetorical one; accusing the parents of indoctrination so that school becomes "freeing".

"Every child in America entering school at the age of five is insane because he comes to school with certain allegiances to our founding fathers, toward our elected officials, toward his parents, toward a belief in a supernatural being, and toward the sovereignty of this nation as a separate entity. It's up to you as teachers to make all these sick children well--by creating the international child of the future." Dr. Chester M. Pierce in an address to the Childhood International Education Seminar in 1973
HT Dana at Simple Pleasures.

Reading stories like this one give me a further sense of WHY kids form peer dependent bonds -- for they don't do it arbitrarily, of course. They do it because their psychic survival seems to depend on it in some way; it seems like a solution. When the grownups seem crazy, weak, fearful and arbitrary; and the peers seem to have strength and talent and offer some hope of a kind of safety, no matter how contingent.... well, there it is. And I think that the more the system tries to take over the function of parenting, the more stupid decisions like this will crop up, because parenting is essentially personal and organic, while systems are not.

To quote Jen's quotes of the authors of Hold On TO Your Kids, again:

No wonder, then, that "cool" is the governing ethic in peer culture, the ultimate virtue...It connotates an air of invulnerability. Where peer orientation is intense, there is no sign of vulnerability in the talk, in the walk, in the dress, or in the attitudes. [...]

Peer-oriented kids will do anything to avoid the human feelings of aloneness, suffering, and pain, and to escape feeling hurt, exposed, alarmed, insecure, inadequate, or self-conscious. ...

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