Another interesting point from Peter Gray – on how we perceive children

I found this notion of the shifting relationship between mankind and ‘nature’ and how it shapes our notions of child-rearing thought-provoking:

“Finally, I’d like to suggest an additional reason for the difference between hunter-gatherers and subsequent societies in child-rearing methods. Agriculture brought to human beings more than a new way of procuring food. It introduced a new way of thinking about the relationship between humans and nature. Hunter-gatherers considered themselves to be part of the natural world; they lived with nature, not against it. They accepted nature’s twists and turns as inevitable and adapted to them as best they could. Agriculture, on the other hand, is a continuous exercise in controlling nature; it involves the taming and controlling of plants and animals, to make them servants to humans rather than equal partners in the natural world. With agriculture, I suggest, humans began to extend this idea of control over nature to other aspects of the natural world, including children.
Our own notions of child care and education are founded on agricultural metaphors. We speak of raising children, just as we speak of raising chickens or tomatoes. We speak of training children, just as we speak of training horses. Our manner of talking and thinking about parenting suggests that we own our children, much as we own our domesticated plants and livestock, and that we control how they grow and behave. Just as we train horses to do the tasks that we want them to do, we train children to do the tasks that we think will be necessary for their future success. We do that regardless of whether the horse or child wants such training or benefits from it as an individual. Training requires suppression of the trainee’s will; it requires a concept of disciplining others that was foreign to hunter-gatherers.
Hunter-gatherers, of course, did not have agricultural metaphors. In their world all plants and animals were wild and free. Young plants and animals in nature grow on their own, guided by internal forces, making their own decisions. Each young organism depends, of course, on its environment, but its way of using that environment comes from within itself. The young tree needs and uses the soil, but the soil does not instruct the sapling as to how to use it. The young fox’s environment includes its two parents, who between them provide milk, meat, comfort, and continuous examples of fox behavior; but it is the kit, not the parents, who determines when and how it will take the milk, meat, comfort, and examples. The parents to the kit, like the soil to the seedling, provide part of the substrate that the youngster uses in its own way for its own purposes. And that is the general approach that hunter-gatherers took toward child care and education. They provided part of the substrate, not the directing force, for their children’s development.” (p.50)

This last paragraph seems to be tarred by ethnocentric and very broad claims, but the point it makes is still a good one. Gray’s reworking of agricultural metaphors is also of interest.

Ref: (italics in original; emphases in blue bold mine) Peter Gray (c2013) Free to LearnWhy unleashing the instinct to play will make our children happier, more self-reliant, and better students for life. Basic Books: New York

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About backyardbooks

This blog is a kind of electronic storage locker for ideas and quotes that inform my research... literary research into fiction for young adults (with a special focus on New Zealand fiction). Kiwis are producing amazing literature for younger readers, but it isn't getting the academic appreciation it deserves. I hope readers of this blog can make use of the material I gather and share by way of promoting our fiction. Cheers!
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