Monday, December 8, 2008

Sex and the single child...

Psychologists have known since the '90's that we "model" behavior that we see, and that we're more likely to model behavior that we witness from those actors whom we respect or like more. Actor, in that sense, meaning anyone who executes a given action, so it can refer to computer game characters, television show characters, or real people.

I was a pyschology student in the early 1990's, at The Citadel, and the obvious logical conclusion of the research in question (which was mentioned repeatedly in our texts) was that people behave in a manner similar to that which they witness their idols/heroes behaving.

Now, the primary objective of the research then was, I think, to convince the education establishment that corporal punishment was evil and resulted in our raising violent children who would respond with force every time they became angry. This belief is reinforced by the fact that, as I am now a teacher, fellow teachers tell me that it was the mid-'90's when corporal punishment was phased out completely. Even here in South Carolina where it is still legal by state law, school boards everywhere have banned it, and professional education organizations speak of it as if it were akin to pedophilia.

I find it amusing in a dark way that, while we have removed that tool from our toolbox as educators, children have not become any less violent, and are instead modelling behavior based now not on their teachers, but on the games they play and the television they watch. But no one in education wants to address that, because it's not our place to tell parents that their precious little snowflakes should watch less TV, play fewer violent videogames, and play outside more. It IS our place to criticize parents if they use corporal punishment or any other physical punishment (I thump my kids in the head as a "warning," for example. Have been given the evil eye by several teachers for it, too).

Finally, I'd like to point out that the abolishment of corporal punishment has fundamentally changed the nature of the relationship between teachers and students. When someone can cause you pain at will, they are not likely to be your friend. You fear them. You might respect them, especially if they are fair, but you have a big wall of separation between you. The loss of corporal punishment in the schools has led to the loss of this "wall," and that leads directly (in my opinion) to the epidemic of young teachers having sex with their students.

The confluence of the loss of corporal punishment, driven by a misunderstanding of the studies you mention in your column, and the continued and even increased sexualization of popular culture, is sowing the seed of a tremendous change in teacher-student and even adult-child relationships. The worst part is that we won't recognize the impact of these two factors until 5 or 10 years AFTER we reach a point where we say "this behavior is beyond the pale."

So, in short, our culture is unavoidably going to continue to become more septic.