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Saturday, August 06, 2016

Homeschooled Weirdoes and the Culture of Conformity

B.K. Marcus

Remember that weird kid in school? I don't mean the really scary one. I mean the borderline oddball. The one you had to talk to a bit to spot the weirdness. The boy who never knew what TV show everyone was talking about. The girl who, when you asked her what her favorite music group was, answered some long name that ended in "quartet." The kid who thought you meant soccer when you said football.

How did you treat that kid? (Or were you that kid?)

In "Homeschooling, Socialization, and the New Groupthink," I suggested that the most useful definition of socialization is "ensuring that a child becomes sociable, that he or she develops the intelligence and social reflexes that promote peaceful and pleasurable interactions." I also suggested that some of homeschooling's critics might mean something more sinister: indoctrination into a particular vision of society.

But after reading my article, third-grade schoolteacher Heather Lakemacher, commenting on Facebook, pointed out yet a different meaning of socialization: not seeming weird.

This is the real reason, she said, "why this stereotype of the poorly socialized homeschooler exists." Whereas I had only addressed adult perceptions of homeschooled children, the true culprit, she said, is other kids:
Many of us who were educated in a traditional school have vivid memories of meeting other kids our age who were homeschooled and thinking, "Oh my god! This kid is so WEIRD!" It's entirely possible that the child in question grew up to be a happy, well-adjusted, productive member of society. …
However, I think the stereotype exists because of the power of those childhood interactions with a peer who just didn't behave in the way we were expecting them to behave. That's not an argument against homeschooling, but data will always have a hard time dispelling emotionally charged memories.
She's right. Odd kids can make a lasting impression.

Grownups regularly note how polite my homeschooled son is, or how he'll talk to them at all when so many other kids clam up and fail to make eye contact. Adults find his lack of awkwardness with them charming. But what do schooled kids see?

Diane Flynn Keith, a veteran homeschooling mom and author of the book Carschooling, writes that homeschooled kids are, in fact, "not well-socialized in the traditional school sense."
I hate to be the one to break it to you, but there's nothing "normal" about our kids. Your homeschooled child is odd compared to the schooled population because they have not experienced ongoing school-based socialization and standardization. …
They haven't been indoctrinated in the same way. They have not been steeped in the popular consumer culture to the degree that most schooled kids have been. They are not adult-phobic and peer-dependent. ("Yes, My Grown Homeschooled Children Are Odd — And Yours Will Be Too!")
And most of the time, homeschooling parents love that about our kids — and about homeschooling in general. We don't want them to be standard. Whether we admit it or not, we tend to think they're better than the standard. But it's true that our socially flexible and resilient children can be puzzling to their traditionally schooled peers, and vice versa.

So why does the assessment of weirdness flow only in one direction? Why don't homeschooled kids think the mainstream schoolchildren are weird?

One answer is that our kids know the mainstream experience through television, movies, and books. They may not always track the finer distinctions between Degrassi High and Hogwarts, but they certainly know a lot more about schools and schooling than mainstream kids know about education outside a classroom.

But I think that even without the pop-cultural lens on the schooling experience, homeschooled kids are just less likely to see anyone as weird. It's just not a part of their semantic reflexes. Instead they think, "I don't get him," or "I'm not into the same stuff she is."

As a result, homeschooled kids aren't just more tolerant of diversity; they're probably also more diverse. And that's a lot of what gets labeled weird by those who are better assimilated into the mainstream culture.

What's probably obvious to anyone familiar with homeschooling is that it's good for the emotional health of kids who don’t easily fit in. What is less obvious is the damage that a culture of conformity does not just to the oddballs in that culture but also to the kids who conform with ease — and to the liberty of the larger society.

For over half a century, studies have shown that the need for social acceptance not only changes our behavior but can even make us perceive the world differently — and incorrectly.

In the early 1950s, psychologist Solomon Asch conducted a series of experiments on the dangers of group influence. When presented with simple problems that 95 percent of individuals could answer correctly when free of group influence, 75 percent of Asch's test subjects would get the answer wrong when it meant concurring with the group.

In 2005, neuroscientist Gregory Berns conducted an updated version of Asch's experiments, complete with brain scans to determine if the wrong answers were a conscious acquiescence to social pressure or if, instead, test subjects believed that their group-influenced wrong answers were in fact correct. Not only did the subjects report that they thought their wrong answers were right; the brain scans seemed to confirm it: they showed greater activity in the problem-solving regions of the brain than in those areas associated with conscious decision-making. And the nonconformists who went against the group and gave correct answers showed heightened activity in the part of the brain associated with fear and anxiety.

Commenting on the implications of these experiments, author Susan Cain writes,
Many of our most important civic institutions, from elections to jury trials to the very idea of majority rule, depend on dissenting voices. But when the group is literally capable of changing our perceptions, and when to stand alone is to activate primitive, powerful, and unconscious feelings of rejection, then the health of these institutions seems far more vulnerable than we think. (Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking)
Groupthink, in other words, is dangerous to a free society. And we don’t always realize when we're not thinking for ourselves.

This kind of cognitive conformity, however, isn't fixed or universal. Not only does it vary, for example, between East and West; it has also declined in the West since the 1950s, according to a 1996 review of 133 Asch-type studies from 17 countries. That review assessed the cultures in which the studies took place to see if their results "related cross-culturally to individualism [versus] collectivism." Unsurprisingly, test subjects were least susceptible to the reality-distorting effects of the group in the more individualistic national cultures.

We should expect the same to be true of more and less individualistic subcultures. I bet homeschoolers, for example, are less likely to show the Asch effect. I suspect the same thing of the oddballs at school. 

That doesn’t mean everyone should homeschool, or that only weirdoes can be independent thinkers, but it does suggest that the more a culture values independence and diversity, the less vulnerable it will be to the distortions of conformity. And if socialization means helping kids fit in more easily with the culture of their peers, then parents of homeschoolers and schooled kids alike may want to reconsider the value of socializing our children.
B.K. Marcus
B.K. Marcus is a Contributing Editor of FEE.org.
This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

THE PULL OF NATIONALISM!

For the ‘secular’ Indian left-illiberal and their fellow-travellers in the media, ‘nationalism’ is a four-letter word. They would cut the nose to spite the face. They make heroes of twerps to scoff at the BJP and its affiliates. This and BREXIT made me recall an anecdote from my early days as an employee. It has a major lesson for all!

The company I joined as a junior employee had a German national as a consultant, looking after training. His training programmes consisted primarily of instilling positive thinking in us. He even composed an anthem for the company, which the trainees were made to recite every morning at the commencement of the day’s session.

During those days, Britain was negotiating to enter the European Economic Community, sometimes also referred to as EU. The EEC had only six members at inception; then enlarged to nine and so on.

For some reason, during one of the sessions, the topic veered round to Britain’s application to join the EEC. The German consultant said, “They declared war on us but now they are begging to join the EEC.” Now everyone knows who declared the war on September 1, 1939. But it was the pull of the nationalism for the consultant!

The curious thing was, the consultant had to flee Germany just before the war, as he was a Jew! In fact he came to India as representative of Bayer and elected to stay back because Jews were persecuted in Germany during Hitler’s reign. And yet Germany meant more to him, even after forty years of exile. That is the true spirit of nationalism.

Some of you might have heard of him or met him. His name was H. Karstein. He measured an imposing 6’ 4” with matching physique. If there was one lesson we all learnt from him, it was his love of the fatherland or spirit of nationalism!

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Mao's Cannibal Red Guards

Indian Commies enjoy a clout far disproportionate to their popular acceptance because of their exceptional knack for dissimulation. In the last general elections, the CPI and CPIM together secured a vote share of 4.03% and just 10 seats (5.43%) in the 543-seat Lok Sabha. If despite such poor acceptance, they are able to dominate public discourse in this country, it is due to the left-illiberal milieu they planted, nurtured and cultivated over the decades.

If Indian Commies were able to strut about like intellectual statesmen, it is because much less is known about the nations ruled (‘enslaved’ would perhaps be the right word) by the revolution. Lying with a straight face is not a gift given to many. Our Commie friends perfected the art of concealing inconvenient facts, which amounts to the same thing as lying with a straight face.

Only after the collapse of Communism along with the Soviet empire in 1991, honest attempts have been made to assess the human cost of the Commie revolutions in various countries. The Black Book of Communism  (1991, Oxford University Press) makes startling revelations about the number of people brutally murdered in Commie revolutions to - hold your breath - bring people to power! In the erstwhile USSR, the Bolshevik revolution - from the rise to power of Lenin through the regimes of Stalin and Khrushchev - consumed 20 million (i.e. 2 crore) lives. China had murdered 65 million people (i.e. 6.5 crore people, roughly equivalent to the population of Gujarat) in the name of Mao’s Cultural Revolution. For the Communists human life has no value as they believed in Marx’s famous metaphor, ‘permanent civil war was the violent midwife of history!’

In the 1960s and early 1970s there were sporadic reports in Indian newspapers about macabre tales of the happenings during Mao’s Red Guards Revolution. One such story was about human beings being boiled alive and the decoction obtained being drunk by the revolutionaries. It was said that the decoction obtained from boiling human beings was highly intoxicating.

Zheng Yi, a Chinese journalist, meticulously collected evidence of the macabre cannibal feasts in the remote Wuxuan region of the Guangxi province, risking his own safety and life. He had to smuggle his notes and evidence when he left China after the Tiananmen Square incident in June 1989. His book Red Memorial appeared in print in 1993. Chapter 2 of the book details the flesh banquets of Wuxuan in 1968. (Donald S. Sutton translated the Chinese title of the book, “Hongse ji’ nianbei” (1993, Huashi, Taipei) as Red Memorial. Its English translation published in 1996 is titled Scarlet Memorial.)

The tussle between Wei Guoqing a former Communist military officer and his political rival Wu Chinnan to usurp power in the Guangxi province resulted in the killing of between 90,000 and 300,000 people. It was during the tussle that Wei Guoqing butchered his political opponents labelling them “counter revolutionaries” and “bad elements”. The tussle, the killings and the cannibal feasts continued for six months from May to July 1968. Wei ruled the province with an iron hand from 1954. 

[See Sutton, Donald S. (1995). “Consuming Counterrevolution: The Ritual and Culture of Cannibalism in Wuxuan, Guangxi, China, May to July 1968”. Comparative Studies in Society and History. Vol. 37, No. 1. January, 1995. pp. 136-172]

The New Indian Express (Hyderabad May 12, 2016, p.11) published an account of the cannibalism in Wuxuan. The report notes that the cannibalism was not the result of any famine. The paper cited an official investigation report from the 1980s:

“The cannibalism was not caused by economic reasons, it was caused by political events, political hatred, political ideologies, political rituals. The murders were ghastly.”

It comes as no surprise for those who read Zheng Yi’s book!
The New Indian Express, Hyderabad. May 12 2016. p.11

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Ambedkar & Political Correctness

If in an open forum, had you made any of the innocuous remarks listed below, chances are you are likely to be pounced upon:

Ambedkar was the Chairman of the ‘Drafting Committee’ of the Indian Constitution; there were other members who helped him write it

Ambedkar was the Chairman of the Drafting Committee’ of the Indian Constitution but he alone did not write it

Ambedkar alone did not write the Indian Constitution

The only politically correct statement about the writing of the ‘Indian Constitution’ is, ‘Dr. B. R. Ambedkar wrote the Indian Constitution.’

Sometime ago I have posted the following in a WhatsApp discussion:

“The Constitution of India was not ‘written’ (as in writing a book) entirely by B. R. Ambedkar as popularly believed, nor was entirely ideated by Jawaharlal Nehru as some seem to believe. It was the collective effort of 389 of the best and the brightest minds of the time who toiled for about three years between 1946 and 1949. Nehru proposed the ‘Objectives Resolution’ and Ambedkar was the Chairman of the ‘Drafting Committee’.

While the 1935 ‘Government of India Act’ (needless to point out, of the British parliament) formed the basis of the Indian Constitution, the wise men (and women) who formed the Constituent Assembly incorporated parts of the British, Irish, French, US and other constitutions among others into it.”

Leafing through the index (some people have such weird habits) at the end of “The Makers of Indian Constitution - Myth And Reality” (Chavan, Sesharao. 2000. Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan), I stumbled upon the word plagiarism. Curious to know what ‘plagiarism’ has to do with the writing of the Indian Constitution, I turned to the relevant page. It appeared in Chapter 4, “Draft Constitution” (pp. 51-88). According to it, Sir B. N. Rau (an eminent jurist and adviser to the Constituent Assembly) prepared the draft constitution comprising 240 clauses and 13 schedules. Sir B. N. travelled to Great Britain, Ireland, United States of America and Canada to study their Constitutions before preparing his draft. He had discussions with President Harry Truman of the USA, Prime Minister D’ Valere of Ireland and many other Constitutional experts. It was his draft that was put before the Constituent Assembly to suggest suitable modifications to the “Draft Constitution”. The Constituent Assembly appointed the following members to the ‘Drafting Committee’ at its sitting on August 29, 1947:

Shri Alladi Kuppuswami Ayyar
Shri N. Gopalaswami Ayyangar
Dr. B. R. Ambedkar
Dr. K. M. Munshi
Syed Muhammad Sa’adulla
Sir. B. L. Mitter
Shri D. P. Khaitan

The Committee elected Dr. B. R. Ambedkar as its Chairman in its first meeting on August 30. From then on, it met on forty four days till February 13 1948 and the first draft of the Constitution was presented to the President the next day, February 14 1948. The draft was put up for the public to study for eight months. On November 4 1948 it was formally presented to the Constituent Assembly for clause by clause discussion, debate and amendments.

While introducing the Draft Constitution to the Constituent Assembly Ambedkar acknowledged the role of various Committees whose reports formed the basis for drafting articles:

“The Drafting Committee in effect was charged with the duty of preparing a Constitution in accordance with the decision of the Constituent Assembly on the reports made by various committees, appointed by it such as the Union Powers Committee, the Union Constitution Committee, the Provincial Constitution Committee and the Advisory Committee on Fundamental Rights, Minorities, Tribal Areas etc.”

He then explained the rationale for using Government of India Act of 1935 as the basis:

“It is said that there is nothing new in the Draft Constitution that about half of it has been copied from the Government of India Act of 1935; and that the rest of it has been borrowed from the Constitutions of other countries that very little of it can claim originality.”

There you have it from the horse’s mouth. Ambedkar went on to say:

“One likes to ask whether there can be anything new in a Constitution framed at this hour in the history of the world. More than 100 years have rolled over when the first written Constitution was drafted. It has been followed by many countries reducing their Constitution to writing. What the scope of a Constitution should be has long been settled. Similarly what are the fundamentals of a Constitution are recognized all over the world. Given these facts, all Constitutions in their main provisions must look similar. The only new thing, if there can be any, in a Constitution framed so late in the day are the variations made to remove the faults and to accommodate it to the needs of the country.”

Ambedkar explained that while the Constitutions of other countries were used as the basis, appropriate modifications were made to suit the Indian context:

“The charge of producing a blind copy of the Constitutions of other countries is based, I am sure, on an inadequate study of the Constitution. I have shown what is new in the Draft Constitution and I am sure that those who have studied other Constitutions and who are prepared to consider the matter dispassionately will agree that the Drafting Committee in performing its duty has not been guilty of such blind and slavish imitation as it is represented to be.”

He explained why, in writing the Constitution, it was not necessary ‘to reinvent the wheel all over again’:

“As to the accusation that the Draft Constitution has produced a good part of the provisions of the Government of India Act 1935, I make no apologies. There is nothing to be ashamed of in borrowing. It involves no plagiarism. No body holds any patent rights in the fundamental areas of a Constitution.” 

Friday, April 15, 2016

Understand Sabarimala, Your Lordships!


The prime reason for Sanatana Dharma (Hinduism, in English!) to be the most misunderstood creed in the world has as much to do with politics as a lack of understanding of its core philosophy. More people drop ‘Manu Smriti’ than they drop hats without being able to quote one line from it.

Amidst all the cacophony about temple entry and gender rights, the core philosophy behind a pilgrimage to Sabarimala is lost.

The rishis of yore did penance to realise (darsana or visualisation through the mind) godhead. In order to focus the mind solely on the paramatma (Supreme Being), body and mind control were thought to be necessary. Control of bodily senses was thought to be necessary for controlling the mind. Modern science recognises there is a physiological basis to personality.

A barefoot, forty mile hike across forest tracks strewn with pebbles and stones in bone-chilling winters and a seven-mile trek across a forty-five-degree mountain is not easy. (It was originally a forty mile hike across a forest, now limited to about seven miles.) It requires rigorous conditioning of the body. The devotee practises sleeping on cold floors and walking barefoot for forty days. If this is physical conditioning, what about mind control? Brahmacharya (celibacy) requires equally rigorous mind control. In order to aid this, the devotee has cold baths twice a day, eschews spices, meat and intoxicants. A pilgrimage to Sabarimala to visit Bhagawan Ayyappa is all about brahmacharya. Wearing saffron or black clothes is a constant reminder of the need for brahmacharya.   

The exclusion of women between the ages of menarche and menopause has another reason. It is not gender discrimination but gender sensitivity, intended to spare them the rigours involved in a pilgrimage to Sabarimala. In the philosophy behind a pilgrimage to Sabarimala as in every other religious practice in Sanatana Dharma, there may be other cryptic reasons not fully understood by the laity.

The ageless scriptures of the Sanatana Dharma are beyond the ken of the Indian Constitution, amended a hundred and thirty times in sixty-six years. The Constitution entrusted Your Lordships with the duty of interpreting it. There are thousands of mundane matters that need and deserve your attention better! 

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Tehelka Sting Comes Unstuck!

The New Indian Express, Hyderabad
April 14, 2016, p. 7
Remember the fanfare with which the SECULAR media went hammer and tongs highlighting the Tehelka sting operation against Defence Ministry officials in 2001? A certain Mathew Samuel was the hatchet.

We were shown a video of a related sting operation, in which someone handed over a stack of papers to Bangaru Laxman and Laxman shoving the stack in a drawer. We were told that the stack indeed contained Rs 1 lakh in cash. The clip and its screen grab were used over and over again by the said SECULAR media as a meme for political corruption of the NDA regime. No ladies and gentlemen, the Congress party is so lily white that it did not accept a farthing from anyone!

It later turned out Tehelka itself was a Congress front. Kapil Sibal grudgingly accepted in 2013, that he gave a donation of Rs 5 lakh to the start up. He denied accepting any shares from the company, but the company's records nevertheless showed him as a shareholder.

Well, the sting operation used by Congress' CBI to nail political opponents did not stand up in court. Narender Singh, Assistant Financial Adviser in the MoD was discharged for insufficient evidence.