Saturday, December 01, 2007

In Loco Parentis: Mark II

I was a college student in the early sixties, when the doctrine of in loco parentis mostly meant the college trying--with limited success--to restrict student sexual activity on behalf of the (presumed) wishes of the parents. In that form it vanished shortly after I graduated, to be replaced by an unconditional surrender to the sexual revolution: mixed gender dorms, contraceptive services, and the like. On a recent visit to a California campus, I noticed flyers advertising a talk on the subject of the G-spot.

But parents, even in loco ones, abandon one attempt to run their children's lives only to replace it with another. When I went to college there were mixers, but for the most part the matter of finding friends, romantic or otherwise, was left to the students themselves.

No longer. On the same campus I got a description of the elaborate procedures by which the college makes sure that none of their students is at risk of a solitary existence. Dorms are divided up into carefully constructed groups of freshmen--football fans in this one, movie fans in that, each group with a couple of sophomores to provide wise advice. Each group is allocated its chunk of the dorm. The year starts with a several day expedition to some carefully chosen vacation spot--in the case reported to me, sailing off Santa Catalina island, where "sailing" meant not actually controlling a sailboat but being a passenger on a tall ship.

Most of the students who described the system to me seemed happy with it, but I did wonder about what sort of wimps the present system is producing. No practice at all in evading parietal rules--most of them have probably never heard of parietal rules. And being taught that the job of finding their own friends is too hard for them, so must be done by someone older and wiser.

I gather, however, that relationships, romantic or otherwise, outside of the preselected groups are not entirely unknown.


Patri Friedman said...

My freshman year roommate and I were matched because each of our roommates decided not to go over the summer. So, pure randomness. And we're still best friends.

That said, the dorms had very different personalities, and I was definitely happiest in the one that matched me. But since the college picked the wrong dorm for me, that isn't exactly an argument for them doing the selection.

Mike Huben said...

'It is a profoundly erroneous truism, repeated by all copy books and by eminent people when they are making speeches, that we should cultivate the habit of thinking of what we are doing. The precise opposite is the case. Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking about them.'
Alfred North Whitehead

Anonymous said...

It is highly unfortunate that parents feel such a desire to control the lives of their children.

Parents being in a position to heavily influence the psychological development of their offspring and having an incentive to retard it as much as possible is one of the reasons for biological maturity "too soon" and all the associated problems.

As with governments and markets, it is very likely that authority is able to have a positive influence on development and equally likely that it won't.

As with governments and markets, complete laissez-faire raises all kinds of "obvious" objections, that, upon further investigation, turn out not to be such a problem after all.

Complete laissez-faire with parents and children also raises some objections that are probably not easily overcome.

I hope, therefore, that altruism will motivate some parents to adopt a policy - of largely laissez-faire, some guidance, and as little financial support or other intervention as possible - aimed at speeding development rather than retarding it.

Jadagul said...

You're talking about Pomona College, aren't you? If not, there are some...surprising...similarities in the details.

For what it's worth, friendships outside the sponsor group are basically ubiquitous. Most halls have a few people who live there but feel like they don't belong so well, and thus hang out with other halls instead. Other halls have essentially no cohesion whatsoever. It was good for me as someone who was fundamentally a loner and didn't know how to make friends; it gave me a base to work off of. But most people make their own friends as they go, and while I sometimes have lunch with my freshman hall, I mostly hang out with other people who share interests with me and whom I consider my real friends.

And it's considered extremely unwise to have romantic relationships in the freshman year hall. So you kind of have to get out of the hall, at least a little bit...

Anonymous said...

This is off-topic, but you mentioned in a previous post that you home-unschooled your kids. Could you elaborate on exactly how you went about providing education for your kids? A blogpost on this would be truly appreciated, unless you've already wrote about it somewhere else. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

>Could you elaborate on exactly how you went about providing education for your kids?

I second. That'd be awesome.