Bryan Caplan  

Konner on Child Labor and Vain Dreams

Advantages of Mortgage Loans w... TSA Wins Another Round...
More interesting stuff from Melvin Konner's The Evolution of Childhood:
In the Six Cultures Study child rearing and behavior were measured among five farming and herding societies (in Kenya, the Phillipines, Japan, India, and Mexico) and a New England town... There is almost a reversal of the relative proportions of work and learning when the industrial and intermediate-level societies are compared...

The difference between 17* and 2** percent for work and between 5* and 16** per cent for formal learning is substantial, but by most accounts this work is no more oppressive than school.  Chores too entail learning and can be a main mechanism of cultural transmission - and also of expanding horizons.  Many chores are outdoors, interesting, even fun - consider an eight-year-old driving a cattle herd to pasture... And school is certainly a chore for most children.
I'm also willing to hazard a guess where Konner lies on the jock/nerd spectrum:
Team sports teach ideals and behaviors like practice, discipline, skill, teamwork, fair play, and sportsmanship, but they may also cause pain and humiliation.  When parents shout from the sidelines, publicly showing disappointment at children's failures, team sports can be a coercive as child labor.  Furthermore, children who work on their family farms are preparing for a career that they can have, while for most child athletes a career in professional sports is a vain dream.
* Average for the farming/herding societies

** Numbers for the New England town

Comments and Sharing

COMMENTS (2 to date)
Nathan Smith writes:

In the Information Age, I think childhood is overdue for another reinvention, but state domination of education is in the way. Go, vouchers!

It was the public schools that made me a free marketeer. All those years, having one's time wasted by mediocre teachers (there were a few exceptions) when one's own self-directed reading was so much more interesting and productive. Plus the stultifying secularism of the curriculum. Living in the Soviet Union must have been like spending one's whole life in public school.

Écrasez l'infâme!

Cyrus McCormick was homeschooled and worked on the family farm and in the family blacksmith shop. Many people will accept that children will acquire "native" fluency in a language much faster than will adults. A book on the recent proof of the Poincare conjecture says that Grigori Perleman was identified early and provided with specialized instruction from childhood. A Korean immigrant student whom I tutored from third through sixth grade, who started grad school before he turned 17 and got his MS before he turned 19, told me he is the weakest student in his (US university) PhD cohort (the other candidates are all East Asians). His cousin, whom I tutored for a year while she was here, has, in Korea attended a university-connected program since at least 4th grade. I expect, like the Chinese gymnastic team, talented Chinese kids are identified early and given specialized instruction. I expect something like "native fluency" applies to most areas of human endeavor, from animal training and auto mechanics to Math and masonry. Mark Twain once wrote: "I never let school interfere with my education". Too bad so many others do. US style one-size-fits-all schooling and real education are mutually exclusive.

Comments for this entry have been closed
Return to top