Saturday, July 18, 2015

Do American secondary school contribute to radicalization?

I've written frequently here and elsewhere about how America's K12 schools are particularly challenging for unsocial children. The uniquely American quantity of extra-curricular school-based activities--sports, clubs, student government, athletic events, dances--have transformed American junior high and high schools into institutions that are much more social in nature than their counterparts in other countries. American high schools are major centers of social gravity, with social hierarchies based more on athletic skills, extracurricular activities, and leadership than on academic interactions. Factor in the rise of mandatory group work inside and outside of American classrooms, and the social pressures are inescapable. From this, the quirky, unsocial introvert, in comparison with his counterparts in other countries, will find little refuge.

On top of this, there seems to be something particularly trying about American teenagers in particular. One Asperger dad I know sends his son to a Canadian summer camp because, as the son has observed, Canadian teenagers are nicer.

All this makes me wonder about the role played by American junior high and high schools in marginalizing, and thereby radicalizing, certain psychologically unstable and susceptible kids: the school shooters, the skin heads, and the ISIS recruits. Of course, there are plenty of other factors at play here, from the availability of guns here in America, to homegrown homophobic, White Supremacist ideologies, to the lure of the Caliphate in the Middle East. But it's worth appreciating what nasty settings those institutions that concentrate together large numbers of teenagers can potentially be--especially when child-centered ideologies empower kids to create and run the social hierarchies in settings where the adults should really be in charge.


Anonymous said...

If this were true about American schools, I think it is less true than it used to be. Also, the American trend of school as social center has existed as long as public education in the US has existed. It would be interesting to compare with other countries, and my suspicion would be that the trend is part the model of universal education in a common setting. In my mind, the example is the American small town high school, where nearly everyone in town goes to the same school, but certainly lots of folks try to recreate that idea in larger urban settings, through neighborhoods.

If congregations of teenagers are social disruptive (possibly), I'd expect teenagers to be the same everywhere (though there might be places where they simply spend less time together).


Anonymous said...

I would be surprised if Canadian teens are universal nicer than American teens, though different behaviors are considered acceptable in some social groups and not others (for example, niceness is a pretty strictly enforced value in progressive climates in the Western US). In practice that means no name calling, acquiescence to group work without complaints about problematic members (including those with various disabilities), no physical violence, acceptance of difference . . . . I think most adults would be shocked by the level of transgender/gay/lesbian acceptance in our progressive western city's schools.

Setting these rules does not change the underlying nature of teenagers, though; But, it does enforce particular rules of behavior and values.

ChemProf said...

I think you'd be surprised how much nastiness there is in these accepting, progressive students. The same students who are very accepting of gay/lesbian/transgender students (who are considered high status) can be very unpleasant to the socially non-adept (and my charter is full of refugees from that nastiness).

lgm said...

I believe its the standard of behavior taught in the home and brought to school that is the issue.
Many of the issues of violence and marginalization arise from feelings that are being expressed in noncivil ways...and because the target is not in a protected class, a lot happens before it gets to the point that the perp can be taken to court.

Anonymous said...

The issue is the institutional setting of schools and the peer dependency that fosters. It has been my experience that homeschooled kids are much less likely to exhibit these behaviors, and they tend to look at newly homeschooled kids who do (or try to) like they have grown four heads.

Tiny schools with low student-teacher ratios tend to have a similar effect.

Anonymous said...

I can't see how the current practice of grouping all kids by age, without consideration for their academic level or any disability/behavior issues, would NOT produce frustration and resentment. Struggling kids, either with academics or with social interaction, don't get the help they need. Kids at the top of the academic scale don't get the chance to learn more, new material - even by silent reading at their desk. Even worse, for both groups, is the awful (IMHO) group work or peer tutoring scenario; wherein the frustration and resentment potential is maximized. Even worse, group work brings the social dynamics of the playground into the classroom; a great opportunity for bullying and shaming.