I am a self-professed ideologue. I like big ideas, theories, systems, and meta-narratives. As it relates to parenting, I like the thought of my kids learning Latin and Greek in elementary school, focusing on the great texts of western civilization, and having a curriculum that tracks with the "classical" Trivium. All good stuff. I like it and we're pursuing it by putting our kids in a local Classical Christian school.
Problem is, raising and educating good kids is not about third declensions and Homer - or even about learning a certain catechism.
In "The Tipping Point," Malcom Gladwell points out several studies on parenting that show "peer groups" turn out to be the most significant contributor to behavior and attitudes in our development - over and against "nature" or "nurture." He doesn't discount the role of genetics or of family environment, but points to studies of twins and non-twins that demonstrate that our peers are the biggest influence on our trajectory into adulthood. I was fascinated to learn that kids in bad / broken homes but good neighborhoods did well into adulthood, and vice versa. If you grow up in a strong family, but you fall into the wrong crowd and are surrounded by bad examples the risk of peril is much higher.
I don't think this is quite as simple as the "socialization" argument that anti-homeschoolers make. The socialization argument seems to be more about protecting kids from geekdom. Gladwell's point is bigger than that. The point is that we are communal beings and we will adopt the standards of the community we find ourselves in - or want to be a part of.
At one level, this is not a big surprise. We all know that "bad company corrupts good character." And yet... for so many ideologues like myself, we need to think very hard about what lengths we go to pursue certain educational goals while potentially isolating our kids from the community they NEED to have with their own peers. This is not easy, as many readers will readily acknowledge. We can't let our kids roam the neighborhood anymore. Public schools are overrun with children raised by the State. Little leagues are used as incubators for professional atheletes. Finding peer groups for our children is not an easy task at all.
As my children grow older, I know that I need to focus more on this "tipping point" in the lives of my boys. I may have to sacrifice some of my educational / catechetical ideals to pursue what they need in a peer group. After all, our kids are not ideas.
As you may have noticed, I've been reading a couple of books by Malcolm Gladwell, specifically, "The Tipping Point" and "Blink." His working thesis in both books is that the major movers in behavior and thought are not grand / macro schemes and theories, but small catalysts and subconscious reactions. Both are fascinating reads that I commend to you all.
I have to confess that I tend to agree with him - and yet I find his project unsettling. I've always been a big-picture / from 50,000 feet kind of guy. I've always leaned towards Gestalt, but Gladwell is shattering that lens. Instead of trying to see the totality of something to assess it, I need to look for smaller clues at a much lower level.
The implications of this are huge in business / marketing, theology, raising my kids, and pretty much every other area I operate. Making the switch from the macro-strategic to the micro-tactical is going to take awhile - and it scares me because I have always found comfort in meta-narratives and integrative frameworks.
Next post will be on how this is impacting my view of parenting. Stay tuned...