All my life I associated cribs with babies. In fact, I couldn’t imagine a baby without one. They are such a ubiquitous part of our baby-raising culture that they practically symbolize the concept of “baby”. When I discovered the practice of cosleeping, studied the science behind it, and decided to cosleep with my (then not yet born) baby it seemed like the most desirable thing to do. Cosleeping has been amazingly successful for us. It is such a natural, normal part of our home and life that I now find the concept of crib-sleeping rather bizarre, as though I were a visitor from a foreign culture who has just stumbled upon the idea of placing tiny babies to sleep in a little cage, separated from Mama and Daddy and any other warm, loving, human body. Of course I recognize that crib-sleeping is by far the norm in our society, but that doesn’t change the fact that my perspective is now completely different than it was before. What once was taken for granted without any thought now seems rather strange to me.
And so it has become with homelearning. The idea of segregating children by age and lumping them together in large groups with only one or two adults to guide them seems a completely unnatural and bizarre concept. I grew up in our system of age-segregation. I never gave it a second thought in all the 12 years I was in that system, nor did I when I became a parent. It was, however, one of the first things I learned about when starting down the information path that eventually led us to choose homelearning.
You often hear people say about a child “They need to be with children their own age”. But why? I honestly believe that most people have never thought past that statement. What possible reason could their be for kids to “need” to be around other kids who are just as immature and inexperienced as they are? Looking back on human history, from the tribes of early humans that lived 100,000 years ago, right up until the turn of this century, where would you ever have found such a system? In what evolutionary context can one declare that children have a developmental need to be around other children who vary in age only within a 12 month range?
And yet surely these people have not missed the nature of older/younger child interactions: how little girls look up to and idolize and mimic the older girls, how older girls love to “adopt” younger boys and girls, take them under their wing, and behave in an almost motherly way towards them. How many have not witnessed the look of hero-worship that younger boys direct towards those several years older than themselves? And yet the significance of this dynamic seems entirely lost on our society: children have evolved in the social context of small tribal or societal groups where there are unlikely to be enough children to segregate by age. Instead, when a child was weaned (naturally occurring around age 2 or 3), the child joined in with the group of all the other kids, who ranged in age from newly weaned to pre-pubescent. And what do you get when you have older children who are naturally protective towards the younger ones, and younger ones who look up to and model the older children?: a natural model whereby young ones learn social skills from those who are older and more experienced, and where older children protect the younger ones.
Compare that to modern society where children are packed together with groups of their peers. It’s the blind leading the blind. There is nobody to model proper social behaviour, problem solving skills, etc. because everybody is equally ignorant. Instead, what develops is a “Lord of the Flies” dynamic whereby children break off into groups as defined by various criteria such as the kind of music they listen to, what they wear, what their interests are (sports vs. science), and so on. When listening to a radio program about anti-bullying campaigns one day I became very frustrated when nobody, not one of the so-called “experts”, stopped to question whether or not the very nature of age-segregation was, in fact, creating the problem of bullying. I mean, they all admitted it was “ubiquitous” in schools, clubs, sports teams, etc. and yet not one of them put two and two together to see that what all these things had in common was that they segregate by age. The experts admitted that despite being aware of bullying for some time now (I’d say it really hit the public’s attention after the Columbine Massacre), and despite having put several varieties of anti-bullying programs into play, they haven’t met with such success. As a scientist, I’m offended on an intellectual level by the fact that none of them have stopped to check the assumptions inherent in their programs, the largest, unspoken one being that age-segregation is a normal and natural thing and thus any issue with bullying must be due to some other factor or factors, such as a lack of empathy (so they bring babies into the classroom), or a lack of emotional fitness (so they teach anger-management lessons) or a lack of awareness (so they teach kids to “tell a teacher” when they witness bullying). It’s simply bad science.
And so now I find myself in the unusual (yet also exciting) position of viewing so many things I took for granted before as strange. I hear parents talking about homework like it’s a good thing and I wonder, doesn’t anybody question why 7 hours of school a day, 5 days a week, is still not enough time to teach an 8 year old what they need to know? I hear kids everywhere talk about how much they hate school, even the media reflect this! (I heard on CBC kids today, of all places, a song about Autumn that included lyrics along the lines of how it sucks that our fun days are over and now we have to spend the day in school), and I wonder “hasn’t anybody stopped to ask why school has to SUCK so bad that pretty much every kid hates it??”. I mean, would THEY stay in a job that they hated for 12 years? (okay yes, some of them would, but is that the kind of person we wish our kids to be?).
Yes, it is a strange feeling being on this other side of the fence. But MAN, I am SO happy to be here!