Monday, November 15, 2010

Social Conformity is Overrated

(Another response to Chris' post at A Blog About School.)

I've often heard it said that conforming to the peer group is a natural developmental phase, especially for teenagers.  I can honestly say that this is one stage I missed entirely.  I can't remember a time when I wanted to be just like my peers.  There were certainly times when I wanted to be accepted by them, or at least not actively shunned.  But to fit in and be indistinguishable from the others?  Never.

Back when my older daughter was starting at her previous private school, I had a silly conversation with the then Head.  I said that I didn't want my daughter to be scolded or punished for unfinished or forgotten homework.  The Head said, "that's OK, when she sees that everyone else has done the homework, she'll feel left out and she'll want to do it too."  Likely story, I thought. 

A few days later my daughter told me how she had started school that day with unfinished homework and a note from me stating why.  One of the other kids asked her about it and she airily said, "oh, I've got a note from my Mom -- she doesn't believe in homework."  The other kid said, admiringly, "that's great!  I wonder if my Mom would write a note like that?"  From that moment my daughter's reputation among her peers soared.

Similarly, at my recent meeting with my younger daughter's teacher and the new Head at the same school (if you think you're confused, just consider my plight!), they started taking the line that they didn't want my daughter's behaviors to continue, because "she'll start to notice she's not like the other kids, and she'll feel bad."   Really?  I think my daughter is pretty comfortable being different, as she should be.  She's Asian in a majority white environment, so blending in isn't really an option for her.

Kids used to be told to resist peer pressure, on the theory that it led to drug use.  Now educators hold up conformity as the ultimate goal that everyone agrees to.  What gives?


  1. They do seem to be viewing peer pressure in a positive light, like somehow it will make their "job" of getting the kids to conform easier for them. And the kids who don't respond to this peer pressure in the expected or "appropriate" way are considered aberrant or even undesireable. We wouldn't want kids who can think for themselves in the classroom!

  2. Educators seem to work from these assumptions:

    1.) All kids want to be exactly like their peers. This is a good thing.

    2.) Parents agree that their kids want to be just like the other kids and will go along with attempts to insure this.