Thursday, July 2, 2009

Food for Thought

"The Smithsonian Institution's recipe for genius and leadership: 1) children should spend a great deal of time with loving, educationally minded parents; 2) children should be allowed a lot of free exploration; and 3) children should have little to no association with peers outside of family and relatives."
-H. McCurdy, "The Childhood Pattern of Genius"
(in Bauer's The Well-Trained Mind)

Here are more quotes from Bauer:
"High-school students demonstrate ... "the looking-glass self" -- they evaluate their worth by looking at themselves in the mirror held up by their peers. Unfortunately, the qualities that lead to high-school success ... are precisely those that may be of least use during later life .... Is it more important that the high-school years be ones of dizzying social success followed by a lifetime of nostalgia, or a time of preparation for a successful life?"

Ouch. I know too many people who have that "lifetime of nostalgia" thing happening, regarding high school.

And what about middle school? These words from Bauer speak to the typical middle school scenario:

"The classroom places the child in a peer-dominated situation that he'll probably not experience again. And this type of socialization may be damaging. Thirty years ago, Cornell Professor of Child Development Uri Bronfenbrenner warned that the 'socially-isolated, age-graded peer group' created a damaging dependency in which middle-school students relied on their classmates for approval, direction, and affection. He warned that if parents, other adults, and older children continued to be absent from the active daily life of younger children, we could expect 'alientation, indifference, antagonism, and violence on the part of the younger generation."

I don't agree with all the possible implications of this paragraph. I'm not against a classroom model. However, some phrases here are all too familiar in my experience with middle school kids: "peer-dominated situation," damaging dependency," relying on peers (instead of adults) for "approval, direction, and affection." When you think of some 13 year olds you know, do the words 'indifference,' antagonism' and 'violence' seem to fit?

If you have children in middle school or high school, consider these social questions. Bauer is a homeschooler; she's against classroom socialization altogether. I think parents should carefully manage the amount and kind of socialization their children experience. Always keep in mind, not the kind of person your child is desperate to become because of the pressure of his peers, but the kind of character you want to form in your child. They will not always be the same.

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