For at least two or three generations now, most kids in the U.S.A. grew up in a same-age peer group. At school, we separate mostly by age until late high school. For swim lessons, Tee Ball, Drivers’ Ed, and Sunday School, nearly every small group of potential friends is our same age. And what are the consesquences?
1. We learn to compare ourselves to the most envied of the others our age. We feel pressure to measure up to the newest bike, clothes, body, significant other, activities, and so on, and then we do the same as adults. We forget that the person with the “perfect” car doesn’t have the “perfect” body or anything else; we still feel we have to measure up in every area just to be normal.
2. We learn to fear public attention unless we ask for it. Experience tell us that if we don’t conform, someone will look down on us and call us out in public. Much of our childhood experience trains us to fear those who might point out our big nose or messy hair in front of others, so we try to be like everyone else and point out others’ differences before someone can spot our own.
3. We learn to hide our uniqueness and pretend to be generic. We don’t expect to find acceptance for our oddness or respect for our experience and perspective, so we try to look, sound, and act like the “normal” role we think everyone else is so good at playing.
4. We learn to focus on ourselves for satisfaction and protection. We come to others with nothing to share instead of looking for opportunities to practice selflessness. We don’t really trust others because we have found them to be immature like us and not gentle with our vulnerabilities.
5. We learn to go to peers for guidance, direction, and information because our parents trained us to listen to the media, and the media has trained us to listen to our peers. And our peers are just as clueless as we are. We learn from the limited tragic experiences of those desperate enough to do risky things, if they survive.
6. We learn do what is expected by the bully of the peer group or the role we have accepted from the media. Cultural and peer-group standards determine our decisions and our destinies. We listen to the loud people because we think they know something, but we distrust guidance from anyone outside the peer group because they don’t understand or have a history with us.
Now, not all these attitudes stick to us, and not all of us pick them up, but the prevailing culture in our schools promotes this kind of thinking. Contrast this with the lessons learned from five or six generations ago in the one-room schoolhouse or those educated at home:
1. They had few opportunities to compare themselves to others their age. Most of their time was spent with those both older and younger, and any friend of the same age was considered a close and valuable companion, whatever their differences.
2. They were expected to stand out, to stand up, to stand firm. Parents were proud of a child that was known for their character and could articulate an opinion publicly. Risk was inherent in every aspect of life, and they were expected to take risks to do what was right and necessary.
3. Since everyone was expected to listen politely and show respect for others, everyone expected that same treatment when they contributed to the community conversation. Taking people seriously was taught, practiced, and modeled. They were taught to keep their word.
4. They learned to be careful with others, but not to give up if life hurt their feelings. They learned that only selflessness contributes to ultimate survival and success. Selfish actions were seen for what they were: self-destructive and a detriment to the community. They were dependent upon others for safety and guidance, whatever their age or standing, and they were all willing to sacrifice for a stranger.
5. They trusted their families, their experience, and God for guidance and weighed information by the character of the source, not the source’s relatability. They knew they didn’t know everything, and they knew they couldn’t trust just anyone. Life required courage and security was never guaranteed.
6. They learned to trust a person by examining their word and actions to see their character; other demographics mattered less. Bullies were to be faced and defeated, not pacified or compromised with. Loud people were known to be empty, fearful, or desperate. The quiet ones were the sources of knowledge and wit.
The multi-age family concept works! Every culture in every time throughout the world has tried it, and every faction that tried something else failed. God made us that way. Mass production-style social grouping doesn’t work. God didn’t make us that way. When will we admit the truth and change our expectations?
Add to the benefits of character outlined above the requirement of responsibility when a younger sibling or classmate needed help, the automatic respect the younger ones gave to the older ones, and the years of training for the multi-age unit they found at work, at church, in politics and government, in business, and in their own families. Doesn’t it just make more sense? Where did we get this idea that children should be grouped with their peers primarily?
After the Industrial Revolution, the cultural idea of mass-production as a way to success became more and more prevalent. It began to dominate business, churches, schools, and government, and still does in large part today. We believe we can treat most people the same, like machines. Retail store quality is the same in different locations (a good thing), we don’t serve custom-made pizza at a hamburger joint (actually…), we tailor speeches and sermons to reach the middle majority of the audience, and education follows formulas. Give them all the same information, teach it according to tried and true methods, and they’ll all retain enough to pass the test.
I suppose the notion that all students of a particular age would learn the same information at the same speed faster than a mixed-age group makes some sense, but even now, teachers are constantly challenged by wide ranges of ability, desire, and motivation within specialized groups of the same age in one subject. It would seem we have no choice but to accept the reality of the human factor in any education system we devise – that each person is unique and learns best in a small, multi-age group…like a family. And each culture is built on these multi-age relationships.
Don’t we want our kids trained for life as an adult in our culture? Don’t ask the media, and don’t let the media raise your kids. The media/entertainment industry tends to value people primarily as a renewable resource for the media’s business appetite and perpetuates the problems outlined in the first part of this article. Go back and read them, imagining the tabloids at the checkout counter or the evening news as you read. Do you see? This industry is not designed to train Godly character in individuals. That is what family was designed to do. Take your stand, and God will stand with you. Your ancestors might even be cheering for you. Game on.