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Cultural indoctrination aspects of school


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First, I know indoctrination has a bad connotation, but I'm not meaning it in the always bad way here. One of the jobs of schools, as was mentioned in the terrible Harvard Magazine article, is cultural indoctrination. That article already has a thread devoted to it, but I have a three part question. 1. What aspects of American culture do you think American schools should impart to all students, as possible? 2. What aspects of American culture do you think schools are actually imparting? and 3. How does homeschooling for into this for you? (Specifying America is just to give this really broad topic some focus, but thoughts based on observations of other nations' schools are certainly welcome.)

One example to illustrate my thinking: Different cultures around the world have different ideas about how to show respect. In America, we typically remove hats when entering a building and especially in formal settings. Many schools enforce this as a rule to teach children what is expected by society at large, though this is perhaps fading. In this particular example, a home schooled child who never heard this rule might suffer slight embarrassment in a first job type setting if they had to be told to remove a hat and then looked around and realized everyone else already knew, but it would likely be no big deal. Other aspects of culture could be more disconcerting, especially if the child had been raised in a family that differed significantly from the general culture.

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The hat example is super interesting to me.  When I was in school, hats weren't allowed as part of the dress code, except on crazy hat day, where of course everyone work a hat in the building.  It wasn't ever about it being polite to remove a hat when in a building, it was just dress code, like no spaghetti straps, no curse words on your t-shirt, etc.  I am not sure anyone ever made any sort of connection between no hats at school and it being polite to remove a hat in a building.

But, it's also really not difficult to expose a kid to something like that.  You just tell the kid when you take the kid places.  It's not like homeschool kids never enter buildings.

You know what I have been most happy about my kids "missing out on" with them being homeschooled?  The expectation that they have to grow up so fast.  Especially with girls.  The idea that girls should be interested in boys in elementary school, or are expected to be interested in make up or clothes and that kind of stuff, my girls don't experience that sort of pressure and expectation, and I am so glad for that.   I really noticed it when dealing with Girl Scouts.  Most of the troop goes to school, and sometimes when they get together, I can see this "show" where they feel like they have to act a particular way.  But then, when they have been over here just to play and hang out....they get to just be kids.  It's as if it becomes ok for a 10yr old girl to play with barbies again.  

 

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In a multicultural country like the US I don't actually see schools as important imparters of culture; at least, not more important than other sources of cultural transmission such as family, community, religious institutions, and media.

In a country with a more cohesive culture such as Japan schools do serve a very important function in cultural transmission--very intentionally so.

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3 hours ago, maize said:

In a multicultural country like the US I don't actually see schools as important imparters of culture; at least, not more important than other sources of cultural transmission such as family, community, religious institutions, and media.

In a country with a more cohesive culture such as Japan schools do serve a very important function in cultural transmission--very intentionally so.

I agree that schools don't have a cohesive plan for cultural indoctrination in America, but I think they still do indoctrinate. Some parts are intentional, if haphazard. It is unquestionably accepted that one should use the toilet before or after an event. Having a need in the middle is an embarrassing problem. Other things are taught, I think, accidentally. It is hard to get out of the mind set that the grade is the most important thing. Anyone who really stops to think knows it shouldn't be this way, but many parents who have thought and agreed that learning trumps grades still feel panicky when their children are in danger of a B in elementary school. As HappySmileyLady mentioned, many if not most kids learn that imaginative play is for the very young. School is probably not the only source of that, but it's an important one.

Clearly, if we can't accept nation wide math standards, we're not remotely likely to accept nationwide cultural standards, and I don't know what body to possibly trust to set those standards. "Fraught" would be the understatement of a lifetime in regards to that.

Still, thinking along those lines made me wonder, what are the beliefs we want our  nation's children "to accept without question?" Not that there should be a stigma against questioning them, but a sort of "default position" we expect everyone to take. For example, "Racist beliefs aren't just factually wrong, they are morally indefensible" is one that most schools transmit pretty clearly and most people find that appropriate. "The default language if the US is standard English" is a pretty safe one, too, but it often gets paired with much less acceptable beliefs that I would not want transmitted.

Edited by xahm
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I teach, at home, (at least I try to) those same aspects of American culture that I think would be essential in a school, but which are also controversial.  Chiefly I think we do well to teach American students to love their country (so that they have high expectations for it, that they celebrate and cherish what is wonderful in American history and culture, and they are highly motivated to acknowledge wrongs done and to move society closer toward the ideal) AND to teach students that other peoples are right to love and to celebrate their own countries.   I think it is good to inculcate values of democracy, service, excellence, and the preservation of a free & generous marketplace of ideas, among other values that are part of the American identity. 

I also value pluralism as key to American values and successes. 

I do not believe that any value should be held unquestioningly, though I think it is essential that children have some values as core values which are largely assumed and on which the ethical structure is based.  However, as they grow to maturity our children should expect that even the most core values can and will be questioned by other intelligent persons of good will, and they should be able to sit with the discomfort of having moral people articulate and hold core values that are different. 

I doubt that most schools are doing a particularly good job of transmitting these elements of culture, because teaching love of country is frankly unfashionable right now: it is easily confounded with nationalism.  Schools are doing a good job of teaching a general pluralism, though not the broad-minded and respectful pluralism I have in mind.  That is to say, it is hard for anyone to teach students to create a space for dissent on issues they hold dear, and it is certainly hard for schools to do this. 

Since I've defined the important cultural elements this way, I'm able to teach most of them at home.  The main challenge is that our children simply don't encounter a great diversity of people: my model of American values involves understanding people and working together with them.  Also, our household & friends are on the technocrat end of things so my children have a tendency to over-value intellectual traits, IMHO.  I've been proactive about broadening their circle and am so far pretty happy with how things are going, in terms of them learning that cleverness is not a moral good, and that there are many wonderful qualities distinct to cleverness.  Different families have different assumptions: some people we know have children who need to learn that there are good people who are not, for example, religious; or artistic; or athletic; or touchy-feely 🙂

We actually got forced out of our church partly b/c I told our pastor that these were our values.  That was, in many ways, a very American experience -- goes right back to the colonists!

Stuff like hats we teach differently anyhow.  I am Quaker, and Quakers were at one point famous for not removing their hats indoors; I did have the children take their hoodie hoods off when we attended church (it was Presbyterian, not Quaker) so that their faces were visible and I tell them about the hat thing as well as what i know of its origins.  And I have the children memorize the "Pledge of Allegiance" as a cultural artifact, but I do not believe in making pledges generally and certainly not to objects.  So we learn the Pledge, and we learn why such pledges are important to some people as well as why very patriotic people might not be willing to say the pledge.  I do not teach the children to use titles such as "Mr." or "Ma'am" but do teach what they are, why I avoid them, and teach them to be respectful and polite.  More or less -- it can be an uphill battle! 

I think that most classical educators who are American will recognize much of this as familiar and find it somewhat sympathetic and somewhat different to their own ideas about education, culture, and America.  So it isn't that I believe this is what everyone should believe.  It is one path among many excellent ones. 

Hope this was at least somewhat on point RE your OP!  And thanks for the opportunity to step back from day-to-day implementation and think about these things. 

ETA: Speaking to your observation that aspects of mainstream culture can be disconcerting: I am trying to teach the children to expect that their manners and assumptions will not be mainstream.  We're working on noticing what the standards around us are and focusing on being polite, kind, clean and neat and handling any awkward moments with matter-of-factness and a sense of humor.  As above, this is a Work In Progress!!!!!

Edited by serendipitous journey
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I try and teach my children manners. Not just the manners that I learned growing up (which weren't many at all) but codes of conduct for situations that aren't apart of our everyday life experiences too.

As a family we intentionally learn about and practice situational etiquette--even if it's for something that I don't encounter often, simply because it's important for them to know.

To me, it falls on the families AND society to teach children these things. I can't be with them every second of every day, and I can't plan for or catch ever mis-step.

If one day Pal or Buddy makes a blunder in public, I suppose he'll feel embarrassed, take his lumps and move on. That's life.

 

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I think schools teach civics and the basis of the American Experiment very poorly . Actual civics and a grounding in our founding governmental principles is replaced with indoctrination about the government being a provider and protector, which is not what our constitution is about. So I teach government from the POV of someone who accepts that we are a constitutional republic with guaranteed rights, and no additional decorations.  This is one of my primary objections to public school because not teaching these principles opens the door to so many other abuses.  I am also not happy with the indoctrination that teaches, but does not explicitly say, that all children must achieve the same outcomes.  It's anathema to excellence.

Edited by Reefgazer
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22 hours ago, happysmileylady said:

The hat example is super interesting to me.  When I was in school, hats weren't allowed as part of the dress code, except on crazy hat day, where of course everyone work a hat in the building.  It wasn't ever about it being polite to remove a hat when in a building, it was just dress code, like no spaghetti straps, no curse words on your t-shirt, etc.  I am not sure anyone ever made any sort of connection between no hats at school and it being polite to remove a hat in a building.

But, it's also really not difficult to expose a kid to something like that.  You just tell the kid when you take the kid places.  It's not like homeschool kids never enter buildings.

You know what I have been most happy about my kids "missing out on" with them being homeschooled?  The expectation that they have to grow up so fast.  Especially with girls.  The idea that girls should be interested in boys in elementary school, or are expected to be interested in make up or clothes and that kind of stuff, my girls don't experience that sort of pressure and expectation, and I am so glad for that.   I really noticed it when dealing with Girl Scouts.  Most of the troop goes to school, and sometimes when they get together, I can see this "show" where they feel like they have to act a particular way.  But then, when they have been over here just to play and hang out....they get to just be kids.  It's as if it becomes ok for a 10yr old girl to play with barbies again.  

 

Meh - my daughter had her first crush at age 2. I don't think it's necessarily about peer pressure, but I am glad that my daughter hasn't been exposed to some of the public school stuff...though she certainly is at GS, skating, church, etc. 

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I absolutely think there is indoctrinaton. I think kids are molded early on to think of everything as a competition, to accept our materialist culture, to be trained to "keep up with the Joneses", to worry more about other's judgement of them (grades, transcripts, college applications, etc) than about their own values, to believe that certain topics and interests are important and others are not, that physical labor is demeaning, etc etc etc. 

That indoctrination has become my main reason for not putting my kids in school. 

(I don't think this is purposeful on the part of the teachers/schools...I think it goes way higher than that, and the teachers have bought into it as normal)

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So, I have thought about this before. I think the reason culture comes up in relation to homeschooling is not because American culture cannot be passed down without schools, but more because school is now a part of the culture. So people feel homeschoolers miss out on things like prom, detention, tests. 

In American culture school is a big common experience. Watch movies, so many include prom, detention, parent teacher meetings and so forth. So homeschooled children lack these common experiences. 

Anyways those are my thoughts over the last few years. 

After living in 4 different countries, I have seen how culture is passed on to the next generation through the means of school. Dress, interactions with authority, language, kid games, holidays, walking on the right side (gosh I so wish this was universal to have a side!) standing in lines, walking inside buildings. All these things change with culture. And schools really are a place where values and culture are taught, not always directly. Can families teach this, yes, but in most of the world the school supports the family in teaching values. 

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