Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Home Schooling: Family as Peer Group

My most recent post summarized The Nurture Assumption by Judith Harris, which argues that the peer group, not the family, is the important environmental influence on the adult personality.

The author partly qualifies that claim by observing that, for some children, the family is the peer group. She gives as an example the case of a black worker with four daughters who decided that they were all going to be doctors–and ended up with one doctor and three other professionals. The way he did it was by making the family the set of people with whom his daughters chiefly interacted, and with whose values they identified. I think that describes my upbringing as well–I was very much an outsider in school, seeing my family as real people and my age peers as at least mildly alien. I gather from correspondence with Judith Harris that it may have been true of her as well.

This suggests an important point about home schooling–it is, among other things, a way of making it more likely that your children's parents, siblings, and a few friends will function as the effective peer group. Seen from one standpoint, that means parents trying to control their children, mold them in their own image. Seen from the other side, the choice is between the parents' values and the values of a random collection of kids–and most parents know which they prefer.

There are some disadvantages to the approach, of course. I was never entirely socialized to the surrounding society; one result is that I regard argument nont as a way of expressing hostility but as an entertaining and educational activity, an attitude that can quite easily get one in trouble. And there are other ways in which most of the people around me still seem slightly alien, more so than they probably would if I had identified with my age peers when growing up. Yet, all things considered, I prefer the attitudes, values and worldview I was brought up with to those more generally prevailing.

Many years ago, my parents expressed concern as to whether they should have made more of an effort to bring their children up in their ancestral religion, celebrated Hannukah instead of Christmas, perhaps sent me to Hebrew School. My reply was that I thought it better to be brought up, as I was, in the religion they actually believed in--18th century rationalism, the world view of Adam Smith and David Hume.


Anonymous said...

Oh dear. Where have all the comments gone?

Will said...

Excellent post.

In my family, much of the socialization is done within the extended family. Children's birthday parties are almost entire composed of family. It hasnt been necessarily an intentional thing. The children all have friends outside the family. But your post made me think of this situation is a different light.


Carlotta said...

As regards the issue of homeschooling as being a means by which parents control their children and implicitly manage opportunities for socialisation, it may be pertinent to point out that if the child chooses home education, he is therefore acting autonomously and is therefore implicitly not controlled by the parents as regards his choice of friends.

We can say this because the HE movement has grown the point that socialisation opportunities are numerous, and if HE parents genuinely facilitate the autonomous education of their children, these kids will be able to make proper choices in the area of socialisation, ie: the autonomously educated child is a genuinely free agent in this area.

Further, given that most children want to socialise with nice guys, they will choose to do this.

School, otoh, is likely to force children to adopt the mentality of the LCD.

Anonymous said...

If family can be peer group (and obviously it can)then Harris' ideas are not all that provocative. I would suggest that the role of family in the earlier years (? formative years)influences the choice of peer group as an adolescent. If the notion that cultural affinities developed in the home influence peergroup choices later on is too nebulous, why not start by considering the parents' choice of neighborhood. Harris is trying hard to suggest that peer associations are independent of family factors but they are not.

Todd Mitchell said...

Another interesting idea is the phenomenon of peer group as family. People in their young adult years (20's and increasingly 30's) who are between leaving their family of orientation but haven't started one a family of procreation, bond with each other in a familial way (think of the "Friends" sitcom from the 90's). The effects of nurturing via this "pseudo-family" unit might be interesting research.

Anonymous said...

David, if your parents had celebrated Chanukah instead of Christmas, and sent you to Hebrew school and had you Bar Mitzvahed, and if they had taken you to shul twice a year, you would still be an "18th Century rationalist". The end result might have been that you'd 'feel more Jewish'. Most everyone I know who was brought up that way was glad about it in later years; perhaps your answer to them was because you didn't appreciate what you were missing, though they did. By the way, there's always Reconstructionist Judaism which endorses a Judaism without Supernaturalism.

Anonymous said...

Or they could have brought him up as a Cargo Cultist and sent him to Pidgin English school.

Let's be glad they left things well enough alone.

Anonymous said...

I also think it is good how in homeschooling/unschooling there is no stratification out into age-based sub-groups; a move which creates monoculture.

I always marvelled at how my unschooled friend could interact with people of all ages. I didn't see the benefit of it back when I was growing up, but now I realize he was better for it.

I think another effect of the way formal school systems organize things is that people of older age become viewed as demigod-like power figures, who dispense Right and Wrong, and forgiveness and punishment. Of course in the real world, anyone has a right to question anyone else, and no one has a right to coerce anyone else.

It would seem that all the formal system does, then, is keep the bulk of the people more ignorant than they would otherwise be, and more passive and controllable.

David Friedman said...

Some additional points in support of Joel's post.

My fifteen year old daughter has one very close friend her own age. Other than that she interacts mostly with her twelve year old brother and with adults. One evening a week she and her mother go to an early music group, one evening a renaissance dance group (both in the SCA context). Most of the other people there are adults.

A few days ago, for my birthday, we had my parents, my adult son, and his wife and children over; Patri (the son) webbed his account, with some pictures, at:
319189.html (unwrap)

Part of the fun was listening to Patri argue economics with his sister and give his brother logic puzzles. On one of them Bill apparently did better than most of the people Patri interviews for Google--also better than I did when I attacked the puzzle later.