Sunday, April 14, 2013

Partnering with "Homeschoolers Anonymous"

Perhaps at one point, the homeschooling movement was so fragile that it couldn't deal with any scrutiny, but that is no longer the case.  It has now become a thriving educational option with a lot to offer.  And, as one of many educational options--like public school, Christian school, Catholic school, Montessori school, etc--it is time to allow a balanced approach to the discussion that shows the good, the bad, and the ugly.  Along with the great success stories of homeschooling, there are many other stories of pain, neglect, and abuse that were enabled or exacerbated by homeschooling.

That is why I'm so excited to partner with a new website called Homeschoolers Anonymous.  Although it's not even a month old, already so many former homeschoolers have found their way there to share their stories.  As many of those former homeschoolers know, it is difficult to decide to share these stories.  Within fundamentalist Christian homeschooling, we were trained to see ourselves as representatives of a movement with a fragile reputation, and we were taught that every personal failure and struggle was nothing more than our own spiritual weakness, unconnected to our homeschooling experience.  But now, in sharing our stories and hearing others, we are finding healing and strength, most of all from knowing that we are not alone, not crazy.

Please listen to our stories with empathy, even if your homeschooling experience was positive.  Instead of immediately and only jumping to defend homeschooling, please ask yourself what can be done to reduce the potential for harm within homeschooling.   Instead of merely pointing out that harm also happens within other educational options, let's actually try to address these problems.  It's difficult to share our stories, and we don't want our stories to be wasted.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Motivating vs. Controlling Children

I absolutely adore my sweet, sensitive little boy.  He melts my heart with the hugs and kisses he shares even with his toys, the way he beams "Mommy! Mommy! Here go!" as he brings me bowls of pretend food,  the way he belly laughs when we play chase, the way he loudly tells himself, "No, no!" when breaking a house rule, and the way his lower lip sticks out when he is about to burst into heart-felt sobs.

Looking into his adorable little face, I just can't imagine ever hitting him, no matter what his mood or what he has just done.  I know that being hit by his parents would break his sensitive little heart, not to mention my own.  Although I can't say with certainty that spanking is always wrong for everyone, I absolutely know that it is wrong for my son, wrong for me, wrong for my family.

And luckily for me, it seems that research backs up the results of parenting without the dynamic of strong punishment.  In his bestselling book "Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion",  Dr. Robert Cialdini describes a very relevant study on using different types of persuasion on children.

In the study, the children--all boys ranging from age 7 to 9--were divided into two groups.  For one group, each boy was shown an array of five toys, then threatened with punishment if he played with the most attractive toy, a robot.  When the researcher left the room for a few minutes, almost all the boys avoided the forbidden toy.

However, the other group of boys, who also each saw the same five toys, received different treatment.  They were simply instructed not to play with the robot "because it is wrong," with no threat of punishment.  When the researcher left the room, almost all of those boys also avoided the forbidden toy.  In other words, these two approaches produced the same immediate results.

The most interesting part of the study came six weeks later, when the same boys met with the researcher again.  This time, the researcher didn't give any special instructions about the robot when leaving each boy alone in the room with the same five toys.  Of the group of boys who had previously been threatened with punishment, 77% chose to play with the robot during the second visit.  Of the group of boys who had simply been instructed rather than threatened, only 33% chose to play with the robot during the second visit.

How can we account for this difference?  The book explains,
"Social scientists have determined that we accept inner responsibility for a behavior when we think we have chosen to perform it in the absence of strong outside pressures.  A large reward is one such external pressure.  It may get us to perform a certain action, but it won't get us to accept inner responsibility for the act.  Consequently, we won't feel committed to it.  The same is true of a strong threat; it may motivate immediate compliance, but it is unlikely to produce long-term commitment.
 All of this has important implications for rearing children.  It suggests that we should never heavily bribe or threaten our children to do the things we want them to truly believe in.  Such pressures will probably produce temporary compliance with our wishes.  However, if we want more than just that, if we want the children to believe in the correctness of what they have done, if we want them to continue to perform the desired behavior when we are not present to apply those outside pressures, then we must somehow arrange for them to accept inner responsibility for the actions we want them to take" ("Influence," Kindle location 1526-1537).
This certainly resonates with my own experience.  I know that I felt very little agency over my life and my choices while growing up, and as I discovered in the freedom of adulthood, very very few of the lessons of my youth "stuck."  So now as a parent, I will try as much as possible to promote mutually respectful dialogue, disagreement, and compromise, so that my son doesn't have to realize that he has no idea who he is when he becomes an adult.