the network for radical unschooling families
I realize I'm coming to this conversation late but I'd like to offer a contrasting perspective. (I am April's husband, Jeff. I'm a high-school drop out turned doctoral candidate; I am a college professor and teach philosophy and sex and gender.)
First of all, you might notice that at least two folks indicated that their sons played these violent games with their fathers. If your son's father encourages such violent play rather than discouraging it, then it will be difficult to move away from. Second, someone wrote " think it's natural for boys to love guns and war." This is sheer nonsense. 1/4 women in the U.S. are raped. Are men naturally predisposed to sexual assault? I think not. Much of the issue here is that men and boys are being taught and encouraged to exemplify a very violent form of masculinity.
As a father of three children, including one son, and the son of a nuturing war-hating father I can tell you that men are not limited to such shallow, unrewarding identities. While it may be the case that we should all tolerate children's explorations, even into difficult realms such the realities of the world we live in, it is shere apathy to ignore the fact that we create ourselves through our actions. This is something John Holt realized when he explained we knew very little about human "nature" (not to mention male and female "nature); rather, what we know is that through our decisions in life and our commitments we forge our own individual realities.
If our children spend their days and nights engaged in violent war-like play, we should be little surprised when they grow up and wish to join the armed services rather than, for instance, care for children as stay-at-home fathers or primary caretakers and co-parents. I am no conservative pro-censorship advocate; but it is important that someone state what is clear, we do not simply "become" what "nature" or "god" determined we would be at or before birth. Rather we form or create ourselves throughout our lives. So while we often take our children's interests to be "natural" results of their "inherent" interests, we're often seeing the product of their socialization. Just yesterday my wife and I heard two separate mothers discourage sons from entering the "boy" isle. Thus boys soon learn that they are suppose to play with only "boy" toys; and of course most "boy" toys on the toy isle are restricted to violent play, whereas girl isles encourage domestic activities and nutrurance. In short, this is gender, which is a social construct. It is not nature. Our boys are not natural lovers of death and destruction. For their sake I hope we all introduce them to other ways of being.
As philosopher Elliott Cohen writes: "....sexually violent and dehumanizing pornography, has made wanton cruelty, sexual sadism, and destruction of human life a marketable commodity in contemporary Western society. Such desentization through graphic depictions of sex and violence has made it easier to tolerate exposure in real life, and there is some evidence to suggest that it encourages at least some very susceptible human beings to imitate what they have seen" (Cohen 2009: 5).
Finally, I strongly encourage you to watch Jackson Katz "Tough Guise" (1999), which addresses men, masculinity and violence. Here is a summary I recently wrote:
In his documentary, Tough Guise (1999), Jackson Katz draws on a varied survey of the pop-culture landscape to make the case that the dominant model of masculinity, what he calls a “tough guise,” is one that normalizes extreme toughness and routine disregard for individual safety and health; rugged individualism at the expense of interconnection with others; and violence as one of the salient expressions of true masculinity. In particular he points out the way in which sport’s culture promotes more than friendly competition, but also athletic expressions of humiliating brutalization and domination. Katz also shows how horror films and shock-jocks such as Howard Stern frequently link violence and sexuality. Horror films, for example, frequently display women typifying “ideal” beauty in sexually suggestive posses or clothing (or lack thereof) moments before they become victims of assault. Katz further cites Stern’s contention that, had he participated in a school shooting, he would have had sex with some of the hostages—the implication of course is rape—before turning the gun on himself. As Stern put it, he would “take them out with sex” (quoted in Tough Guise). In short, hegemonic masculinity promotes a normalization of sexual violence and the idea that sexually degrading women is an act of masculinity.
Thanks, all, for the responses. I especially needed to hear that other parents had young ones for whom this was a favorite activity! My 5 y.o. would definitely be the one on the brightly colored cushions in the kids' department reading gun magazines!
With regards to his comments, "But I like war, so I like it when people die," and "Since I like killing, I can watch this," I have a feeling, though I don't know for sure, that he's testing the boundaries of his own comfort level, and kind of defining for himself what he likes about this subject and what he doesn't. The way he says it, I suspect he's blustering a little bit, and I think that could be a really good thing, something that gets him closer to the idea that one doesn't have to accept ideas whole-hog, but can still be interested and enjoy certain parts.
Stacie, I appreciate your suggestions of ways to clarify it; the times that I've tried something like that (I think I was just more straight-forward: "Really? I thought you didn't like it when animals got hurt."), he's dug his feet in even more. I got the feeling that he was defending a position, and that he didn't think I was asking from a place of genuine, nonthreatening curiosity. And of course, he was right!
Jeff, I feel like there are so many things to respond to in your comment that I hardly know where to start. I'll start with this comment:
"Much of the issue here is that men and boys are being taught and encouraged to exemplify a very violent form of masculinity."
My point, and I believe the point of the other posters, is that my son does not identify any video games as violent nor does he associate them with masculinity. My stepdaughter, who is 16, also plays these games. She is not violent or masculine. Many women play first-person shooter video games, which you seem to either not understand or to be purposely ignoring in order to make a point.
"If our children spend their days and nights engaged in violent war-like play, we should be little surprised when they grow up and wish to join the armed services rather than, for instance, care for children as stay-at-home fathers or primary caretakers and co-parents."
There are so many offensive and inappropriate assumptions in this comment, it's hard to believe you fit them all in. My dad spent 22 years in the Army (including 2 tours in Viet Nam). He also hated war, I haven't met anyone yet who extolls its virtues. He then retired when I was 7, and became the (kind and gentle) stay-at-home dad while my mom went to work. Do you think such people don't exist in the military? I was active duty myself for 5 years (including one deployment to Iraq). I also hate war and violence. I have since become a stay-at-home radical unschooling mother to 3 sons (and twin girls on the way). My husband is currently active duty in the Army, and is one of the kindest and most patient fathers I know. He has deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, and also hates war. He is also a radical unschooling father, supporting all of his children in the pursuits they love. His father served in the Korean War, hates war, and is a kind and gentle man and wonderful father and grandfather. I find it hard to believe that you know not one person who has served in the military who would fit this description, man or woman. Whether or not you agree with the government, or the military, you should certainly not disparage those who choose to serve their country, or even worse to assume that they choose to serve because they are violent war-mongering individuals.
If our children spend their days and nights engaged in violent war-like play, we should be little surprised when they grow up and wish to join the armed services rather than, for instance, care for children as stay-at-home fathers or primary caretakers and co-parents.
By that standard, though, it would be utterly shocking to discover young people with free access to and a great love of pretend warfare who are peaceful, caretaker sorts, right? Go meet some unschooled teens who've had free access to video games, though, and that's what you'll find - gentle, compassionate people. Those unschoolers who do choose professions in the military or police force, moreover, do so out of a strong sense of morality and desire to protect others.
Our boys are not natural lovers of death and destruction. For their sake I hope we all introduce them to other ways of being.
I'm guessing you're pretty new to radical unschooling if you're still thinking in terms of "what to introduce". It takes a good bit of deschooling to get beyond that idea. Learning comes from everything and anything. A strong opinion expressed in a moment of stress introduces violence to the life of a child. A gentle reaction, apology, softness and an effort to make better choices introduces problem solving, compassion, caretaking. Step away from "how/what to introduce" and see learning and exploration flow and swirl all around - its spectacular!
Trust that your boys are not lovers of death and destruction! Don't get all tied up worrying that you have to guide them away from that - they don't want unhappiness and hardship and hurt in their life unless those are the only (or best) ways to get attention and love. Support your boys in their passions so that they value their deep, strong feelings, and help them find ways to express their negative feelings in ways that let them grow as people, rather than limiting them to knee-jerk, bestial reactions or merely the suppression of those. You can do all those things without ever saying no to pretend violence - and you may come to see pretend violence differently, as a way in which people play with the dark sides of their personalities without ever, once, harming another soul.
I have two boys ages 8 and 5. The 5 yr old especially loves to play games that involve someone "dying." It used to bother me as our other 2 children are girls (21 & 19) and I never encountered that type of play when they were younger. Now I just play along and frequently find myself lying on the floor with my tongue hanging out while I "die." LOL! :-)
The problem with your observations is that you are mistaking socialized behavior for so-called "natural" biological behavior. No one questions that girls identify with pink and babies while boys identify with blue and fighting. This is not the case with my children; for my 7-year-old daughter and 6-year-old son blur all of these distinctions. The point is that what many parents perceive as organic processes---those as described above---are rather reflections of socialization. Notice that no one responds to the observation that fathers are primarily those participating in such behavior. Boys don't just wake-up with a desire for aggression.
There also seems to be significant apathy about the way institutions beyond school affect children and adults. Social institutions are not always material; they often take the form of social hegemony, norms that become dominant. I can tell you from experience teaching sex and gender that adult men and women often report of conforming to gendered norms not because they fit their biology, but because of what is called "accountability," in which those who break with convention are ostracized. Moreover, each and every one of us operates within particular frameworks, unschoolers, conventional homeschoolers, atheists, Christians, etc. Everyone masquerades their own view of the world as actuality, objective perception, God's eye view of the world, etc. But none of these are sufficiently honest. Our values significantly impact our thought and action. It is a serious philosophic error to blind one's self to the way in which our conceptions (ideas) about the world inform how we see it. Those of us confident that boys are more violent than girls experience precisely such a phenomenon. Indeed, many of our children merely replicate the gendered behaviors we ourselves exhibit in our homes. Our mouths may be closed, but so long as fathers work and mothers do the majority of the caretaking, the message to boys and girls is clear. But this is not a product of biology; this is indicated in the fact that cross-cultural analysis shows that caretaking was not always so divided; that men and women worked side by side in caring for children and tending to crops; what we see today as biology is a product of historical forces.
I often hear mothers telling me, during class, that upon reflection they realize they are less tolerant of boys crying over injuries than daughters; others tell me how they never even thought to include their daughters in so-called "boys" activities. Many of them discuss how a desire to fit in led them to "perform." And we all perform. The question is whether or not we are aware of our performances; whether or not we are critically involved in the process. Again, I think it is a troubling error to fail to realize the significant influence popular culture (music, film, video games, TV etc) has in determining the kinds of activities and interests our children have. Parents who resolve themselves to not intervene in their children's intellectual development are indirectly but quite significantly merely permitting the dominant culture to mentor their young. Again, the power of unschooling---I am not new to unschooling, but as mentioned in my profile, have lived an unschooled life---is in the recognition of the coercive affect of institutionalized, compulsory education. In addition to compulsory education, we are all significantly influenced by social institutions such as nationalism, consumerism and freemarket fundamentalism, classism, sexism, homophobia, racism, and militarism---as Rev. Dr. King put it, the U.S. is the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today, this is evident in the repression experienced by the people of Egypt by rulers propped up by U.S. tax payers like all of us on this website. I wonder, for instance, how many of us are planning to celebrate Valentine's day with chocolate, over 80% of which is produced by child laborers in Africa. Their unfreedom is perpetuated by our economic liberty. Ought this really be permitted? Or should we tell our children that our values disallow perpetuating such partices? (http://thehumanist.org/humanist/08_sept_oct/qureshi_essay.html; http://news.change.org/stories/whats-scarier-than-halloween-blood-c...)
What seems to be missing from the responses to my prior post is a recognition that experience or perception is not a passive affair. Our concepts and assumptions about the world assert an incredible power over our perceptions. When one looks at the world through the lens of racism, one finds that whites are better than blacks. When one examines the world through sexism, men have, up until the last 50 years, seen women as inferior to men. When one experiences the world through gender assumptions one sees girls who like pink and boys who like war and blue. But as John Holt explained, what is often passed as necessity is actually power holding onto the way it wishes things to reamin; old orders don’t die easily. The name for presenting social institutions as biological reality is “Essentialism.” Essentialism is a lens which we use to bolster our existing claims. Those who wish to look outside of this narrow box should look at some of the following films:
Packaging Boyhood: Saving Our Sons from Superheros, Slackers, and other Media Stereotypes, by Lyn Mikel Brown, Sharon Lamb, and Mark Tappan
Jean Killbourne, “Killing Us Softly”
Katz, “Tough Guise”
Bell hooks, “The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity and Love”
Tarrant, “Men and Feminism”
And perhaps my website: www.Condorcet.info
A few words from bell hooks, one of the most important black intellectuals in our country today:
hooks laments that while so many wish to know the cause of routine violence among boys and men nearly no one discusses “the role patriarchal notions of manhood play in teaching boys that it is in their nature to kill” (hooks2004: 11).
“As our culture prepares males to embrace war, they must be all the more indoctrinated into patriarchal thinking that tells them that it is their nature to kill and to enjoy killing. Bombarded by news about male violence, we hear no news about men and love” (hooks 2004: 11).
“Only a revolution of values in our nation will end male violence, and that revolution will necessarily be based on a love ethic. To create loving men, we must love males. Loving maleness is different from praising and rewarding males for living up to sexist-defined notions of male identity. Caring about men because of what they do for us is not the same as loving males for simply being. When we love maleness, we extend our love whether males are performing or not. Performance is different form simply being. In patriarchal culture males are not allowed simply to be who they are and to glory in their unique identity. Their value is always determined by what they do. In an antipatriarchal culture males do not have to prove their value and worth. They know from birth that simply being gives them value, the right to be cherished and loved” (hooks 2004: 11-12).