Friday, November 2, 2012

The Early Grades

It’s sort of obvious, when I think about it: culture is formed in grade- and middle-school. The logic for that runs as follows. The values we form in childhood, the values we feel, later, as virtual instincts, later shape the collective. Their first experience, of course, is in the home. But their socialization takes place in schooling. The child encounters the social collective in grade school for the first time. There the three Rs are, you might say, almost incidental. It is the Big V that really counts.

If the home has effectively formed the child—the values gained there may be weakened, diluted, and eroded if the child’s first contact with society does not at once confirm them. And parents, time and again, stare in hopeless impotence at this process of erosion aided, as it is, by social consensus.

High school? Too late. Or perhaps irrelevant. My own memories tell me that it is the worst stage of education as ordinarily encountered. Puberty: humanity’s most biologically-imprinted age. Wise woman Montessori understood that; in that age, in her design, the abstract gives way to the tasks of social integration.

And by the time we reach college, the hope is that the individual’s values have reached a certain crystallization.

The difficult aspect here is that values have a holistic character. They can be said to represent a fusion of morality, empathy, cosmology, and intellect—but that comes later on. The child simply absorbs a kind of something: life itself. And as it ages, its powers of absorption, in that sense,  grow weaker. Montessori, again, spoke of the early “Absorbent Mind” present in children. Later that something may indeed  be parsed into components; as an adult, the child may modify this or that part of the whole. But something crucial in the whole remains, and it is that remainder that really forms culture. And that’s what we call values.

If we seek to diagnose the ills of our culture, we ought really to concentrated on the level that really matters: the home and the early grades. The ills of vast collective structures like politics, finance, media, entertainment, business, etc., are all of them traceable to failures in the home, where ambitious parents try to “realize” themselves and struggle to advance careers, and to schools that dare not teach values—indeed cannot—because they fear to overstep the line arbitrarily drawn between religion and the state. And you cannot teach values, as such, unless the cosmological component is a part of them.

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