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robertogreco : ionaopie   2

The Culture of Childhood: We’ve Almost Destroyed It
[previously posted here: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/freedom-learn/201609/biological-foundations-self-directed-education ]

"Children learn the most valuable lessons with other children, away from adults."



"I don’t want to trivialize the roles of adults in children’s lives, but, truth be told, we adults greatly exaggerate our roles in our theories and beliefs about how children develop. We have this adult-centric view that we raise, socialize, and educate children.

Certainly we are important in children’s lives. Children need us. We feed, clothes, shelter, and comfort them. We provide examples (not always so good) of what it’s like to be an adult. But we don’t raise, socialize, or educate them. They do all that for themselves, and in that process they are far more likely to look to other children than to us adults as models. If child psychologists were actually CHILD psychologists (children), theories of child development would be much less about parents and much more about peers.

Children are biologically designed to grow up in a culture of childhood.
Have you ever noticed how your child’s tastes in clothes, music, manner of speech, hobbies, and almost everything else have much more to do with what other children she or he knows are doing or like than what you are doing or like? Of course you have. Children are biologically designed to pay attention to the other children in their lives, to try to fit in with them, to be able to do what they do, to know what they know. Through most of human history, that’s how children became educated, and that’s still largely how children become educated today, despite our misguided attempts to stop it and turn the educating job over to adults.

Wherever anthropologists have observed traditional cultures and paid attention to children as well as adults, they’ve observed two cultures, the adults’ culture and the children’s culture. The two cultures, of course, are not completely independent of one another. They interact and influence one another; and children, as they grow up, gradually leave the culture of childhood and enter into the culture of adulthood. Children’s cultures can be understood, at least to some degree, as practice cultures, where children try out various ways of being and practice, modify, and build upon the skills and values of the adult culture.

I first began to think seriously about cultures of childhood when I began looking into band hunter-gatherer societies. In my reading, and in my survey of anthropologists who had lived in such societies, I learned that the children in those societies — from roughly the age of four on through their mid teen years — spent most of their waking time playing and exploring with groups of other children, away from adults (Gray, 2012, also here). They played in age-mixed groups, in which younger children emulated and learned from older ones. I found that anthropologists who had studied children in other types of traditional cultures also wrote about children’s involvement in peer groups as the primary means of their socialization and education (e.g. Lancy et al, 2010; Eibl-Eibesfeldt, 1989). Judith Harris (1998), in a discussion of such research, noted that the popular phrase It takes a village to raise a child is true if interpreted differently from the usual Western interpretation. In her words (p 161): “The reason it takes a village is not because it requires a quorum of adults to nudge erring youngsters back onto the paths of righteousness. It takes a village because in a village there are always enough kids to form a play group.”

I also realized, as I thought about all this, that my own childhood, in Minnesota and Wisconsin in the 1950s, was in many ways like that of children in traditional societies. We had school (which was not the big deal it is today) and chores, and some of us had part time jobs, but, still, most of our time was spent with other children away from adults. My family moved frequently, and in each village or city neighborhood to which we moved I found a somewhat different childhood culture, with different games, different traditions, somewhat different values, different ways of making friends. Whenever we moved, my first big task was to figure out the culture of my new set of peers, so I could become part of it. I was by nature shy, which I think was an advantage because I didn’t just blunder in and make a fool of myself. I observed, studied, practiced the skills that I saw to be important to my new peers, and then began cautiously to enter in and make friends. In the mid 20th century, a number of researchers described and documented many of the childhood cultures that could be found in neighborhoods throughout Europe and the United States (e.g. Opie & Opie, 1969)."



"Children learn the most important lessons in life from other children, not from adults.
Why, in the course of natural selection, did human children evolve such a strong inclination to spend as much time as possible with other children and avoid adults? With a little reflection, it’s not hard to see the reasons. There are many valuable lessons that children can learn in interactions with other children, away from adults, that they cannot learn, or are much less likely to learn, in interactions with adults. Here are some of them.

Authentic communication. …

Independence and courage. …

Creating and understanding the purpose and modifiability of rules. …

The famous developmental psychologist Jean Piaget (1932) noted long ago that children develop a more sophisticated and useful understanding of rules when they play with other children than when they play with adults. With adults, they get the impression that rules are fixed, that they come down from some high authority and cannot be changed. But when children play with other children, because of the more equal nature of the relationship, they feel free to challenge one another’s ideas about the rules, which often leads to negotiation and change in rules. They learn in this this way that rules are not fixed by heaven, but are human contrivances to make life more fun and fair. This is an important lesson; it is a cornerstone of democracy.

Practicing and building on the skills and values of the adult culture. …

Getting along with others as equals."



"The adult battle against cultures of childhood has been going on for centuries.

Hunter-gatherer adults seemed to understand that children needed to grow up largely in a culture of childhood, with little adult interference, but that understanding seemed to decline with the rise of agriculture, land ownership, and hierarchical organizations of power among adults (Gray, 2012). Adults began to see it as their duty to suppress children’s natural willfulness, so as to promote obedience, which often involved attempts to remove them from the influences of other children and subordinate them to adult authority. The first systems of compulsory schooling, which are the forerunners of our schools today, arose quite explicitly for that purpose.

If there is a father of modern schools, it is the Pietist clergyman August Hermann Francke, who developed a system of compulsory schooling in Prussia, in the late 17th century, which was subsequently copied and elaborated upon throughout Europe and America. Francke wrote, in his instructions to schoolmasters: “Above all it is necessary to break the natural willfulness of the child. While the schoolmaster who seeks to make the child more learned is to be commended for cultivating the child’s intellect, he has not done enough. He has forgotten his most important task, namely that of making the will obedient.” Francke believed that the most effective way to break children’s wills was through constant monitoring and supervision. He wrote: “Youth do not know how to regulate their lives, and are naturally inclined toward idle and sinful behavior when left to their own devices. For this reason, it is a rule in this institution [the Prussian Pietist schools] that a pupil never be allowed out of the presence of a supervisor. The supervisor’s presence will stifle the pupil’s inclination to sinful behavior, and slowly weaken his willfulness.” [Quoted by Melton, 1988.]

We may today reject Francke’s way of stating it, but the underlying premise of much adult policy toward children is still in Francke’s tradition. In fact, social forces have conspired now to put Francke’s recommendation into practice far more effectively than occurred at Francke’s time or any other time in the past. Parents have become convinced that it is dangerous and irresponsible to allow children to play with other children, away from adults, so restrictions on such play are more severe and effective than they have ever been before. By increasing the amount of time spent in school, expanding homework, harping constantly on the importance of scoring high on school tests, banning children from public spaces unless accompanied by an adult, and replacing free play with adult-led sports and lessons, we have created a world in which children are almost always in the presence of a supervisor, who is ready to intervene, protect, and prevent them from practicing courage, independence, and all the rest that children practice best with peers, away from adults. I have argued elsewhere (Gray, 2011, and here) that this is why we see record levels of anxiety, depression, suicide, and feelings of powerlessness among adolescents and young adults today.

The Internet is the savior of children’s culture today

There is, however, one saving grace, one reason why we adults have not completely crushed the culture of childhood. That’s the Internet. We’ve created a world in which children are more or less prevented from congregating in physical space without an adult, but children have found another way. They get together in cyberspace. They play games and communicate over the Internet. They create their own rules and culture and ways of being with others over … [more]
childhood  culture  learning  children  play  rules  age  adults  parenting  schools  petergray  2016  sfsh  openstudioproject  lcproject  self-directed  self-directedlearning  games  unschooling  deschooling  society  behavior  howwelearn  democracy  change  practice  communication  autonomy  online  internet  web  authenticity  courage  hunter-gatherers  augusthermannfrancke  obedience  willfulness  youth  generations  jeanpiaget  ionaopie  peteropie  psychology  anthropology  peers 
january 2018 by robertogreco
The Last of the Monsters with Iron Teeth | Carcinisation
"In all species, the play of the young is practice for the essential survival tasks of the adults. Human children play at many things, but the most important is the play of culture. Out of sight of adults, children learn and practice the rhymes, rituals, and institutions of their own culture, distinct from that of adults.

The Western child today is mostly kept inside his own home, associating with other children only in highly structured, adult-supervised settings such as school and sports teams. It was not always so. Throughout history, bands of children gathered and roamed city streets and countrysides, forming their own societies each with its own customs, legal rules and procedures, parodies, politics, beliefs, and art. With their rhymes, songs, and symbols, they created and elaborated the meaning of their local landscape and culture, practicing for the adult work of the same nature. We are left with only remnants and echoes of a once-magnificent network of children’s cultures, capable of impressive feats of coordination.

Iona and Peter Opie conducted an immense study of the children’s cultures of the British Isles. The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren (1959) is comparable in richness to Walter Evans-Wenz’ The Fairy-Faith in Celtic Countries (1911) on the fairy faiths, or to Alan Lomax’ collections of American and European folk music.

These children of the recent past observed what the Opies call a “code of oral legislation” – cultural institutions for testing truthfulness, swearing affirmation, making bets and bargains, and determining the ownership of property – the adult legal code in miniature. These codes universally included a subject absent from adult law, however – that of asking for respite, what we recognize as “calling time out,” and what today’s children reportedly call “pause,” a usage imported from video games.

They had call-and-response shibboleths and rhymes about Mickey Mouse and Shirley Temple, but they also performed the rites of a calendar full of ancient meaning. In the northern countryside, they wore oak apples or oak leaves in their buttonholes on May 29 to commemorate the escape of Charles II – on pain of being whipped with nettles by other children. In the south, however, the children spent October preparing bonfires and making elaborate “guys” – effigies for burning on Guy Fawkes Day.

These children’s cultures recognized the existence of terrible monsters, and they were able to organize against these threats. In 1954, “hundreds of children in the Gorbals district of Glasgow were reported to have stormed a local cemetery, hunting for a ‘vampire with iron teeth.’ According to press reports at the time, they said that the vampire had ‘killed and eaten two wee boys.'” (Sandy Hobbs and David Cornwell, “Hunting the Monster with Iron Teeth,” in Perspectives on Contemporary Legend Vol. III, 1988). This incident was one of at least eight “hunts,” documented in newspaper articles and interviews, from the 1930s and continuing until the 1980s. Hundreds, or in one case thousands, of children participated in monster hunts that often lasted several nights – militias called up not just against the vampire with iron teeth, but also against such characters as Springheeled Jack, an unnamed banshee, and ghosts known as the “White Lady” and the “Grey Lady.” Adults in 1954 blamed horror movies and horror comics for the vampire hunt (much as video games would be blamed today), but Hobbs and Cornwell trace the children’s adversary back much further. Nineteenth-century parents (and perhaps generations before them) had threatened their misbehaving children with the fearsome Kinderschreck known as “Jenny wi’ the airn teeth,” and her characteristic dentition is displayed by ancient bogeymen from Yorkshire (Tom Dockin) to Russia (Baba Yaga).

In order to develop and express their culture and achieve such feats of coordination, children require time and space apart from adult supervision. In the West today, outside of tiny pockets, this independence is almost exclusively the prerogative of poor children surrounded by crumbling cultures that lack the will to monitor and protect them. Groups of these children still attempt organization and armed resistance (Act Two, “Your Name Written On Me”) to protect themselves from ubiquitous violence when adults refuse to do so.

Outside of pockets of extreme deprivation, children’s society is severely restricted by our practice of placing children under the equivalent of house arrest. In only three generations, children in the British Isles as well as the United States have lost their freedom to roam, their independently explorable territories shrinking from hundreds of acres to the dimensions of each child’s own back yard. This is not an accusation toward parents; their decisions reflect their judgments about their children’s safety in the world. Specifically, parents judge that there is no community beyond their doors that they can rely on to keep their children safe. Christopher Alexander’s Pattern 57: Children in the City (A Pattern Language) states that “If children are not able to explore the whole of the adult world around them, they cannot become adults. But modern cities are so dangerous that children cannot be allowed to explore them freely.” Unfortunately, this has become the case not just in large cities, but in small towns and even rural areas.

As a result, children’s society has less and less to do with the land around them – land which, anyway, they are unlikely to occupy when they become adults in our hypermobile society. Children’s society exists on the internet if at all, with raids in video games and chat rooms replacing geographically colocated monster hunts. (This is increasingly the case with adult society as well, which also lacks architectural and geographic support.) It should be noted that the internet is not the cause of these problems. Rather, the internet is the precarious reservation onto which culture has been driven, bleak and uncanny, inhuman in scale. And even the internet is increasingly monitored and reshaped by the same malignant tiling system that drove culture here in the first place. What will happen to culture when even this frontier is closed?

The failure of adult culture, both its physical architecture and its social institutions, has impoverished children’s culture. And in return, children no longer avidly train, in their play, to take over the burden of preserving and remaking adult culture. Somewhere a child alone in his room, wearing headphones, is fighting Jenny wi the airn teeth, a computer-controlled enemy in a video game. But perhaps at least it is a multiplayer game, and he has his fellows with him."
children  freedom  2014  unschooling  parenting  learning  autonomy  childhood  1959  ionaopie  peteropie  trust  culture  feer  chrisalexander  apatternlanguage  deprivation  society  housearrest  howwelearn  education  thechildinthecity  canon  internet  online  web  videogames  games  gaming  geography  place  frontier  safety  lindabarry  decentralization  schools 
october 2014 by robertogreco

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