February 12, 2008

"It's common to justify rewarding and punishing students on the grounds that these instruments of control are widely used with grown-ups, too. And indeed, there are plenty of adults who do nice things only in order to receive some sort of reward, or who avoid antisocial acts just because they fear the consequence to themselves if they're caught. But are these the kinds of people we hope our kids will become?

This leads us to the most important, though rarely articulated, assumption on which (the theory of) 'Better Get Used To It' rests - that, psychologically speaking, the best way to prepare kids for the bad things they're going to encounter later is to do bad things to them now. I'm reminded of the Monty Python sketch that features Getting Hit on the Head lessons. When the student recoils and cries out, the instructor says, “No, no, no. Hold your head like this, then go, ‘Waaah!’ Try it again” - and gives him another smack. Presumably this is extremely useful training . . . for getting hit on the head again.

But people don't really get better at coping with unhappiness because they were deliberately made unhappy when they were young. In fact, it is experience with success and unconditional acceptance that helps one to deal constructively with later deprivation. Imposing competition or standardized tests or homework on children just because other people will do the same to them when they're older is about as sensible as saying that, because there are lots of carcinogens in the environment, we should feed kids as many cancer-causing agents as possible while they're small to get them ready...

When children spend years doing something, they are more likely to see it as inevitable and less likely to realize that things could be otherwise."

Excerpted from Getting Hit on the Head Lessons by Alfie Kohn

From www.besthomeschooling.org So many interesting articles.


Maria said...

Ah, this gets into one of my pet peeves, a.k.a. The School of Hard Knocks. Early on in my hs career I had one person ask how my dd would ever manage to stand up for herself if never having to defend herself from her classmates. Huh? I snarked back to the effect of "You're right. I better go heat up the stove and put her hand to it so she'll always remember what a hot stove is like."

Can't wait to explore these links at my leisure...thanks for including them!

Heather said...

That last sentence went bouncing around my head for several minutes. I was thinking about cycles of abuse. I was thinking about cycles of addiction. I was thinking about cultural desensitization. Racism. Entitlement. How different could the world be if everyone considered, "What behavior do I want my children to see as *normal*?"

Katherine said...

Yeah, to me that last sentence was like a slap in the face. I couldn't believe it. That is the very most crucial idea for me when I get insecure about homeschool "wasting time".

I hope this is one of the most profound lessons of their childhood. So I hope, the less time they spend institutionalised, the more independent they will be intellectually across all aspects of their adult lives.

It gets at my belief that one of the most important things we are doing on a daily basis is simply Opting Out. We don't participate in anything, unless we see real value there.

Children are not sheep. They don't need to be herded. Moreover, lets not train them to herd themselves...

I mean, can't you just feel the invisible mark of the herd collar of school that you had to work and work and work to shed? I feel it implicit in that last statement.

Let them learn conformity when they take drivers ed. That is conformity of real value.

Katherine said...

I look around me at the adults I know. I see, time and time and time again, failure to think creatively about how they might get what they want. I see it in their relationship choices, job choices, money choices, childcare choices - I just see it all the time. And I think, damn. What a shame.

And I wonder why they don't put more effort in just seeing their life in some fresh unexpected way. Usually this stuck thinking is deeply tied to some profound "should" they can't let go of. And the blame for that can, at least partly, be laid at the feet of the institution these people grew up in. It is all about "should" and bizarre fabricated "have tos" and "because we said so" and "get used to the pain" and specifically DO NOT LOOK at a fresh new way.

Mommylion said...

When I was in school people always told me that I think too much. Especially teachers. Again in the workforce. Innovation was very much not my job, even if my ideas saved the company time and money.

Thinking is very underrated but "fitting in" is holy. So much so that not only do people usually not think creatively on how to better their situations - but they feel aggressive toward those that do. This sounds like I am bitter. I am not, this just frustrates me and I feel it is caused by the mentality illustrated in the article.

Anonymous said...

Hello from your Greenville friend.

I apologize for my recent disappearance. I was lost inside myself for awhile, and then took a trip to UT.

I'm writing to THANK YOU for this post, Katherine. I find myself worrying frequently that our quiet, gentle home is not preparing our children for the harshness of the world. They cry easily when people yell or do not listen. They're angered and frustrated by friends who are unwilling to compromise. I worry that this inability to deal with yelling and rudeness is a sign of immaturity, and that were they in school, they would have learned to cope with these disrespectful intrusions. I've even jokingly suggested that maybe my husband and I should yell more to help them thicken their skins.

This post reminds me that treating them gently and respectfully and using quiet voices could be teaching them to act respectfully and expect to be respected. It os not be harmful or dangerous to their development. They need not learn head-hitting....or screaming, rudeness, and the other things that make them cry, in preparation for future exposure. Thin skins will do for now.

Selfishly wishing that you would move here, and grateful that you blog, because I learn a lot from your posts,


Katherine said...

I could have saved myself a world of time and trouble not to mention money spent on therapy, if I had retained the emotional truth and depth to actually feel my anger and frustration and to perhaps shed real tears and, most importantly, to REACT to rudeness and TO EXPECT, NAY, REQUIRE myself to be treated well since I was young.

I would say, Jennifer, especially having spent time with your children, that they are emotionally MORE mature and mentally healthier than the rude children that run around my neighborhood as soon as they are let out of school.

Do I even need to say, the behavior of most children who spend their day in school is simply appalling. (And why not? Look how they are forced to live.)And the mothers of these children don't seem to notice. THEY DO NOT SEEM TO CONSIDER HOW IT COULD BE DIFFERENT.

I know these vague generalisations do not fit for everyone. A girlfriend and I concluded that the social difference I see in most homeschoolers is really due to good parenting. I do agree with that. That does underscore the point that school can not make up for bad parenting. I think school is neutral at its best and a huge part of the cycle of ugliness in general.

Because, I think most school systems are a reflection of the worst traits of dysfunctional families. They dishonor individuality. They are inflexible. They don't treat each child on an individual basis (how could they possibly?) rather the children are invisible as individuals. The children live in their own subculture at school that functions, predictably, much like life in Lord of The Flies. And this is known. I can't figure out why that is ok with so many parents...

Obviously, this aspect of the school debate touches me most deeply. In the end, for me, it is so clear that it would be unreasonable to think that school could be a place anyone would expect to produce well socialised people. How could school do that? It can't. That is what parents do. So why put young children in school? And then, for the love of God, why try to aruge that WE SHOULD put children in school SO THAT they can be properly socialised?!

I swear, it just makes me crazy every time I encounter these types of arguments.

Katherine said...

Well hells bells. Go look at Blue Yonder's post today for the most positive spin on this argument ever. One shy kid fights the age old school yard game: boys vs girls. There ya go. Positive social training vs Lord Of The Flies. Just one example.