Is it them? Or is it us?

I saw this amazing blog post on one of my Facebook groups. It is by a clinical psychologist, Bruce Levine, who writes about how societal coercion, those shoulds and musts that we learn early and fear to ever break, is perhaps the root cause of mental illness. He relies upon studies and anecdotal evidence comparing our Western societies (and Eastern to an extent) to the indigenous populations whereby cohesion and community are more important than ‘getting things done.’

He spends a great deal of time discussing how different parenting is within these indigenous societies. He talks about how children are seen as individuals with their own needs and rights. How beyond supplying them with access to food, water, something to keep them warm and a place to sleep the children themselves make many of those choices for themselves. When to sleep. When to eat. When to wear clothes and when to run around naked.

One source that he quotes is Jared Diamond, author of From the World Until Yesterday (2012). Diamond has actually worked with indigenous people in New Guinea for nearly a half century. In his book, Diamond uses terms such how laissez-faire parenting which has abundance of nurturance and a minimum of coercion. He says that this parenting style is “not unusual by the standards of the world’s hunter-gatherer societies, many of which consider young children to be autonomous individuals whose desires should not be thwarted.” Diamond states:

“Other Westerners and I are struck by the emotional security, self-­confidence, curiosity, and autonomy of members of small-scale societies, not only as adults but already as children. We see that people in small-scale societies spend far more time talking to each other than we do, and they spend no time at all on passive entertainment supplied by outsiders, such as television, videogames, and books. We are struck by the precocious development of social skills in their children. These are qualities that most of us admire, and would like to see in our own children, but we discourage development of those qualities by ranking and grading our children and constantly ­telling them what to do.”

Levine compares this to our own societies when he says:

Modernity is replete with institutional coercions not present in most indigenous cultures. This is especially true with respect to schooling and employment, which for most Americans, according to recent polls, are alienating, disengaging, and unfun. As I reported ealier his year a Gallup poll, released in January 2013, reported that the longer students stay in school, the less engaged they become, and by high school, only 40% reported being engaged. Critics of schooling—from Henry David Thoreau, to Paul Goodman, to John Holt, to John Taylor Gatto—have understood that coercive and unengaging schooling is necessary to ensure that young people more readily accept coercive and unengaging employment. And as I also reported in that same article, a June 2013 Gallup poll revealed that 70% of Americans hate their jobs or have checked out of them. Unengaging employment and schooling require all kinds of coercions for participation, and human beings pay a psychological price for this. In nearly three decades of clinical practice, I have found that coercion is often the source of suffering.

And I thought…this is the best argument I have heard for unschooling in a long time. Yes, I cannot provide my daughter with that type of nurturing society that is free of coercion. BUT I can give her that type of home and education through home education and unschooling.

But my mind did not stop there. One of the unique measures that Levine uses to compare indigenous societies with our modern world is the prevalence of schizophrenia. He quotes several studies that show this mental illness is virtually unknown among those indigenous tribes. And I had an ‘ah-ha’ moment…I could not stop myself from wondering…what about autism?

Do not get me wrong, I am not the type who believes that it is vaccines or viruses or food additives or smog or (insert theory) that causes autism. I believe that it is much more complex than that…a combination of factors.

What I do wonder though is…would these people even notice? Would it matter? Or would this type of laid-back, “laissez-faire parenting which has abundance of nurturance and a minimum of coercion” lower the anxiety in our children to the point that their behaviors virtually ceased? Perhaps their enhanced sensory perception would even be seen as gifts in a world were nature ruled with smell, sound, taste and sight?


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